Happy spring, everyone, and welcome to Autism Acceptance Month! We at the Alliance hope that you are fed, housed, warm, and able to pursue your dreams as the light returns.
This month’s meeting featured deep conversations about real issues facing our communities, our programs, and us as individuals. As our Climate Smart Ag Practices in CT Cities project unfolds, opportunities and barriers crop into our view that might have slipped by before we had some space to consider them. As the warm weather pulls into Connecticut and the growing season begins, our time gets pulled up into other tasks like planting and growing. Thankfully, these meetings keep the other items in our attention so that we can act, either alone or together, to address them effectively. I am so grateful to be a part of this network.
Common Ground High School
On March 30, Common Ground will host a workshop to help others do what they do: teach in the garden! Intended for teachers and other seeking to teach K-8 youth in the garden, this workshop features a “pay what you will” format. This format for workshops is gaining popularity among food and herbalist circles. All of this while the CGHS team works to raise funds for their Rock-to-Rock earth day team. The Rock to Rock bike race across New Haven has served as the premier fundraising event for food and nature-based organizations in the city for years now, bringing thousands of riders and watchers to New Haven each time. Stop by the CGHS website or socials to sponsor!
(Image description: a green flier featuring red sunflower blooms across the top left of the page boasts the text “teaching in your school garden: Wednesday, March 30, 3:30 – 4:30 pm at Common Ground. Connecting your school garden or outdoor classroom to curriculum” The rain date for this event is Thursday, March 31, and the cost is “pay what you can”. Scattered around the flier are images of smiling children, hands filled with seeds, people looking closely into one another’s hands, and children pouring something onto the ground from blue buckets. /end description)
Registration is now open for summer sessions at EHI. Stop by their website or social media pages to learn more and, while you’re there, check out their video series on building strong, effective relationships with horses, the backbone of EHI’s work. Patricia Kelly, the Executive Director of EHI, speaks with wisdom and grace about creating powerful, therapeutic bonds with horses that have proven crucial to healing the impacts of trauma in children and teens. See more at the EHI Youtube page here or at their Instagram page here.
FRESH New London
Springtime work days are under way at FRESH. Gathering at selected gardens across the city means that the program has to coordinate working youth ahead of time. They have been doing this by asking folks to sign up for one site per workday. FRESH manages and/or supervises gardens all across New London, so keeping that many beds in good growing order requires a coordinated effort. This and recruitment for the spring program have kept FRESH staff busy.
This youth program has been leading movie night conversations well, tackling difficult topics and opening discussions people rarely get to have. Their most current movie night and community conversation tackles dietary racism as it shows up in school food. Recruitment for the summer employment program, managed in partnership with Lauren Little Edutainment (a powerful urban farm educational organization in Hartford), is well under way, featuring weekly visits from Shanelle (the Grow Hartford youth program coordinator) to local high schools Weaver and Buckley. Work on the Health is Wealth hubs continues, and has built connections with Trinity College, particularly through a documentary about how the covid pandemic has made the impacts of racism on our society obvious in new ways. Youth leadership, urban farming, and mutual aid continues to come together in this program.
(Image description: Lauren Little, a young Black farmer and entrepreneur with short natural hair, wears a red cloth mask and plaid flannel shirt with green pants and holds a hammer in their left hand to tap a spigot into a maple tree for sap collection. This photo comes from the Lauren Little Edutainment March Maple Tapping Meetup announcement. /end description)
In addition to their work to build a community of practice with other youth food justice programs across the state through curriculum development and sharing, the GROW Windham program has kept themselves busy with the 46th annual Gardeners’ Gathering conference. This opportunity to connect with local and regional farm- and food-related businesses, organizations, and individuals offers plenty of new thoughts, opportunities, and approaches to urban farming and food justice.
The youth fellowship program is deep in recruitment phase, with one exciting new member already signed up and two more ready to join. These new leaders offer a great deal of possibility for the program and coordinator, as they already display easily recognizable leadership qualities that the program is developed specifically to enhance. In addition to these new members joining GVI’s work, staff have been connecting with others around the state through GROW Windham’s community of practice development and Grow Hartford’s campaign work. In addition, the program has been connecting deeply with the community around the fight to renew their lease on the first modern farm in Bridgeport. While the City, the landowner and lease holder, reconsiders their previous offer, the community continues to show up, demand their access to fresh food, and remind the City of their will when it comes to GVI. Thankfully, the work this org has done has won them many advocates among their neighbors, so this work will doubtless bear fruit.
The need for bees across New Haven and southern CT is driving some powerful action through the Huneebee Project. The Bee Keeper In Residence (BKIR) program for the summer is recruiting new members, and finding that the paperwork needed for young people to accept the jobs offered to them is a mighty hurdle to jump. A success for this program has been their installation of new hives at Quinnipiac University and (soon) at Southern CT State University. Both of these sites in New Haven are funded by the CT Department of Agriculture, as is the effort to install hives, a BKIR, and a tool shed in Bridgeport. More news on this once a site is located and engaged. Please stop by and support their annual fundraiser (which ends on Monday, 4/4) here.
Institute for Community Research
Our new Executive Director is settling into her role with an eye toward change, growth, and strength, as is our new Board President. There are many projects being discussed and picked apart to see if they fit at ICR. Our youth homelessness work through the Youth Action Hub (YAH) continues to strive to make housing accessible for young folks across the country. In other areas, the partnership with HFS, ROOTS, and GVI is leading to intergenerational community conversations between teens and seniors. The project these conversations are a part of is intended to gather information about the experiences of the food system teens and seniors have in common, clarify needs, and assist our neighbors to express these needs for the formulation of the food policy advisory council’s statewide food system plan. In addition, our NRCS funded Climate Smart Agricultural Practices (CSAPs) project is beginning to gain steam. The first CSAPs educational session is being offered in New Britain at the Museum of American Art on April 21, focused on soil health and testing. Register here, and let Kat know if any youth or staff would like to attend, as they can receive transportation support and stipends for this event.
Keney Park Sustainability Project
Breathing in the last clear breaths of down time, KPSP is supporting other local efforts while they finalize their plans for this spring’s planting and programs.
New Britain ROOTS
On March 27th, the New Britain Museum of American Art hosted the first Gardening 101 workshop with Corey Thomas & Joey Listro of New Britain ROOTS. The first of six free workshops, Gardening 101 is a crash course for beginning gardeners. The Art, Health & Wellness Workshop Series with New Britain ROOTS is part of the Greater New Britain Community Seed Library program. Each workshop will explore different gardening topics, including this Gardening 101, seed-saving, propagating, introducing children to the wonder of gardening, and more. Through this series, community members will learn the skills they need to grow their own food while sustaining the community seed library as a community resource. ROOTS received the Catalyst Grant from the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain to launch four community seed libraries located at the Berlin, New Britain, Plainville, and Southington public libraries. The Greater New Britain Community Seed Library is a free program committed to empowering community members to feed one another by offering seeds and education. Through the time-honored tradition of seed saving, libraries will encourage participants to celebrate biodiversity and nurture locally adapted plant varieties, all while fostering community resilience and a culture of sharing.
Image description: a projected powerpoint image featuring the text “what to plant?” with a list of crops gardeners might like to grow this season is shown at the front of an audience gathered in a room. A young person wearing a mask and holding note cards stands at the front of the room, facing the audience.
Nonprofit Accountability Group
NAG has been working hard to get groceries into families’ hands. Given the increase in SNAP funding (which is about to end) these families have experienced due to the pandemic, the need for food is slightly reduced, but the need for other basic goods continues. To address this shift in need, NAG has moved from supplying grocery cards to “big box” cards, allowing for neighbors to use the funds in ways that meet their needs. In particular, Walmart cards can be used to obtain groceries, socks, or most anything in between. The effort to identify pathways to secure housing continue, with the renewed call to identify and connect with landlords with good reputations, available housing, and open minds. To contribute to fund- or information-raising efforts at NAG, please head here.
Nourish My Soul
This has been an exciting spring for NMS. They signed a lease on a new indoor program space, have engaged new farmers to utilize the acres of land made available to them, and have leased growing space between the school and town park, increasing their focus on farm to school growing. Their online University has been very active, pulling in new “students” from around the globe. Their success in this approach has encouraged them to ponder launching a similar platform focused on improving adults’ ability to work with youth. This seems like a good way for the community of practice work at GROW Windham to share their work! To learn more about their online University, check it out here.
Much like KPSP, the Solar Youth crew is weathering the winter as well as any of us can manage. Other than recent discussions with Senator Gary Winfield (listen here), ED Candace Wright and the crew have been laying low to marshal their energy for the coming spring.
Summer of Solutions
The SoS crew has been working hard, publishing fundraisers and seeking donations in kind (such as shelf stable food, toiletries, etc). The upcoming garden bed rental season (opening April 20) is on the horizon, with internships close behind. See their fundraising requests here.
Exciting things unfolding for the Alliance! We have the opportunity to attend the Soil Health workshop at the New Britain Museum of American Art on Earth day, April 21 (register here) (please reach out to Kat for transportation and stipend support for this event). In addition, Jane Brawerman, the Executive Director of the Connecticut River Coastal Conservation District, has offered an introduction to CSAPs workshop for interested youth and staff, pending sign-ups. To sign up for this workshop, please connect with Kat.
One of the premier events of the year for CT Conservation Districts, our partners in the NRCS project, is the Envirothon competition. This event takes place in May in Tolland, and will be open for youth from the Alliance to tour, see the displays, and ask questions of professionals in conservation science as well as the young competitors on site. To learn more about Envirothon, read here. As always, for support for youth and staff to attend, please reach out to Kat.
Finally, it is time to begin planning for our summer event. Each summer (barring a global pandemic), the Alliance creates opportunities for the young folks we work with to get together, learn from one another, and share their joys, trials, and hopes. Plus we feed them. Would you and your programs’ participants like to guide planning for the event this year? Kat will do all of the phone calling, running, reservation-making, and paying for things, but we need to make this event about what matters to our participants. Transportation, food, and hopefully interpretation services will be covered, but what shall our agenda look like? Reach out to Kat to plan a site visit for event idea generation and planning.
Image description: a garden with a slate stone walkway through the middle and strawberry patch nearest the camera shows bare soil around the base of plants, a practice that leads to water loss, increased weeds, and often poor outcomes. Bird fencing is stretched over wooden posts and beds are labeled with small white garden signs. Tomato cages filled with green plants stre