Community food group embarks on a new project

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Feb. 3—WINDHAM — With the help of a new $250,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, a local group will embark on a project to connect low-income people with local farmers.

T h r o u g h the initiative, " Rooting Deep and Scaling Up: A Roadmap for Food System Equity and Viability in Eastern CT," the Windham C o m m u n i t y Food Network will partner with Grow W i n d h a m , FRESH New London, Connecticut Food System Alliance and the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.

" There is much enthusiasm and willingness on the part of partners and community members across the region to be working together and it is often difficult to create space for this additional commitment, among so many other responsibilities," Grow Windham director Sally Milius said in a press release. " This partnership grant provides a unique opportunity for us to work together and build the foundation for future collaboration."

The twoyear grant was awarded to the Windham C o m m u n i t y Food Network last November through the U S D A ' s Regional Food System Partnership Program.

The Windham Community Food Network is a project established by Grow Windham and the Windham Community


The two-year grant was awarded to the Windham Community Food Network last November through the USDA's Regional Food System Partnership Program


Food group embarks on a new project

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Regional Council.

The new initiative was inspired by the many grassroots projects in the area that arose during the pandemic, including mobile food pantries and online farmers markets.

" As food insecurity rose and grocery stores became difficult to navigate, people took an increased interest in supporting local farmers, restaurants and pantries," Windham Community Food Network Coordinator Sydney Clements said in a press release.

" We want to capitalize on this momentum and continue to make local food more accessible in eastern Connecticut."

According to its website, the Windham Community Food Network's mission is to " create opportunities for the community by building a healthy food network."

Farmers, community members, universities, food nonprofits and businesses will be involved in conversations aimed at trying to get local, nutritious food to underserved populations.

Surveys, focus groups and training sessions will be used to gather input during the project.

Partners involved with the project plan to talk about their goals during a meeting Jan. 31 that is not open to the public.

There will, however, be upcoming community input sessions as well, but those have not been scheduled yet.

" Minority groups and low- income populations are often excluded from the decision- making process around food access, despite being disproportionately affected by it the most," Vania Gallica, the community farmer at Grow Windham, said in the press release.

" The project is really about getting into the community and working together to find solutions that actually work for them. We need to bring new voices into the discussions about local food."

Clements said the group is partnering with Eastern Connecticut State University's social work program to help them put together listening sessions for the public.

The group also plans to inform the public about its project during the Know Your Farmer Fair on March 19 from 10 a. m. to 1 p. m. at the Willimantic Elks Club.

The fair is an opportunity for people to meet local farmers and get to know them.

Clements said they have partnered with " Grown Connected" for the fair, a program supported and funded by a USDA and UConn Extension program that is designed to raise awareness about farming in northeastern Connecticut.

ECSU volunteers will provide information about the project at the Willimantic Food Co-op from mid-February through April.

Plans for the fair and Co-op could change, however, due to the pandemic.

" We're closely monitoring the situation," Clements said.

Meanwhile, organizers are simply trying to get the word out about what they do.

" We're in the process of creating an educational video campaign right now," Clements said.

The Windham Community Food Network will put out information on windhamfood. org, growwindham. org and on social media, as well as on the websites of its partners.

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