Goodbye Sarah!

Friday, July 10 marks the final day of service for Sarah G. McDermott, one of our three Americorps VISTA volunteers.

Sarah and her fellow VISTA Joe help out at the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center

Sarah and her fellow VISTA Joe help out at the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center

During her one-year term, Sarah provided vital support for the Health & Nutrition Working Group. She spearheaded a cookbook fundraiser project, collaborated with her to co-VISTAs on a Food Action Plan, and volunteered with ACHIEVE's Cooking Matters programs to teach nutrition and cooking lessons to schoolchildren. The council won't be the same without you, Sarah!

Take the buyCTgrown 10% Pledge!

If you haven't already, you should head over to buyCTgrown and take their 10% local pledge. By taking the pledge, you agree to spend at least 10% of your food and/or gardening expenses on local, CT grown products. The site helps you track your local spending week by week, and you can see how you compare to other people taking the pledge in the state. When I last checked the site, 215 people and 82 businesses, had already spent over $130,000 locally. And that number is sure to be higher when you check it next. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense, and really isn't all that difficult. Not only are you helping support CT businesses, but you are also guaranteeing that at least 10% of your food and/or gardening budget will go towards delicious, healthy, high-quality CT products. So take the pledge. What do you have to lose? And after you pledge, take some time and browse for local food and organizations in your area.

A Community Garden Primer

A garden is an extraordinary tool for community development. Gardens provide a site for education and a source for fresh vegetables. They've been shown to increase property values and reduce crime, and the work can help foster new relationships between community members. But building a garden can be a daunting task - so we've broken down the five must-haves for building a garden:

1. People

Where will you find community members who would be interested and able to maintain a garden? If you're close to a school, talk to teachers and administrators. A public library might have a program coordinator. And at a senior center, you may find talented gardeners itching for a hobby.

While you'll eventually need at least five to ten people to get the garden running, many will come from your choice of site. When you're just getting started, what you really need is just a few folks to farm the garden's structural core. They don't have to have a lot of gardening skills, they just need to be willing to learn and to put in the time necessary. And ideally, they should be fun -- you'll be spending a lot of time together!

2. A Site

This one often comes with the people. While schools are a wonderful place to start, they can be closed off to other interested community members. Think about the places folks gather and look at the affiliations of the people you're working with. If nobody belongs to a public library or community center with open land, then it's time to start investigating the possibility of renting an empty town lot.

The actual requirements are basic: any fairly open space with a lot of sun will do; if you’re using raised beds, you don’t need to worry about the soil – I once started a school garden on top of a concrete parking lot, and that was fine! Just make sure you can get at least six hours of sun, and that you have access to water--and check the zoning regulations, to make sure that agriculture is an acceptable use of the lot you've chosen.

If you do decide to use the soil that’s already there, be sure to have a soil test done! This should be available for free to CT state residents through the UConn Agriculture Experiment Stations

3. Structure

There are a couple different ways to structure a community garden. Many offer the option to rent plots – so if there are ten raised beds, you might have nine of them rented to the nine people helping to start the garden, and one that everyone helps tend for the community. This structure allows gardener's to feel ownership--and if one person messes up or doesn’t put in the work, they don’t get the rewards.

Another option is to have everyone take care of all of the beds. You can have regular workdays, with a coordinator from the core team who delegates and coordinates the day's tasks. This is more likely to help people learn about gardening and to foster collaboration – but you’ll have to figure out how to split the harvest!

4. Materials

This is the fun section. For your garden, you'll need tools, soil, and seeds. But first, you'll need to figure out whether or not you're planning to do raised beds and whether you'll use the soil that's already at your site or rely exclusively on new soil. If you decide on raised beds, you'll need:

  • Lumber - either naturally rot-resistant or treated with a safe preservative
  • Measuring tape/hammer/nails
  • Landscape fabric - for the bottom of the bed; newspaper and cardboard also work as a cheaper alternative
  • Coarse stone or pea gravel (optional) - this can go at the bottom of your bed for drainage
  • Compost and topsoil - mix and fill your beds

If you're not into building boxes for the beds, you can also just double-dig your existing soil, digging up rows and mixing the soil with your compost - be sure to test your soil PH and texture! You can also purchase a pre-made box in any number of styles. And one more tip - if you're not on soil, you may want to cover the ground in mulch to reduce the heat reflection.

If you're looking for a tools list, there are a few basics:

  • Trowels - this is your basic planting tool
  • Shovels & spades - for planting, breaking ground, and moving soil
  • Rake - for spreading compost and topsoil
  • Hand fork - for breaking up clumps
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Gloves
  • Watering Cans & hose

If you've got bushes, you may also want a pruner. And if you decide to start your own seeds indoors in the spring, you'll need fluorescent lights and watering trays.

In the long run, you may also want to think about a compost turner, rain barrels, and/or tubes for a drip-tap irrigation system. While any of these items might be a fun winter project for your gardeners, they're not necessary at a brand new plot.

Finally? Pick some seeds! You'll want to set up a bit of a planting committee, but you can start with:

  • Tomatoes and basil (same bed) - be sure to start the tomatoes indoors
  • Lettuce, arugula, swiss chard - super easy and they produce a ton of food
  • Garlic - plan in late summer, pick it in the spring
  • Thyme, rosemary, sage - herbs are easy, delicious, and überproductive.
  • Marigolds - part of an integrated pest management system, they can help keep undesirable insects away from your garden.

Those are just a few of our favorites. Really, you can plant anything. Just go to a store and read the backs of the seed packets to get a sense of when/what/how to plant. As part of the long-term plan for your garden, you’ll want to rotate nitrogen fixing plants like beans--but you don’t have to think about that during the first year.

5. Rules:

At any garden, people can get touchy about whether or not they can use fertilizers, pesticides, etc. Set those ground rules ahead of time, and it's much more likely you'll be making positive relationships at the garden. Happy planting!

Wood Stoves and Pancakes Make Good Meetings

Is there a better setting for an early morning meeting than the warm, sunlit loft of a Ledyard farm? Add in the scent of woodstove wafting about the rafters and a breakfast of buckwheat pancakes and you have the latest Agriculture Working Group meeting, which took place on Wednesday, November 13, at Aiki Farms in Ledyard, CT.

Working group members get down to business

Working group members get down to business

After satiating our appetites, the group got down to business. We discussed the implementation plan that will go up to the steering committee in December. Foremost on member's minds, though, was the controversial Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FSMA would impose restrictions that may make business very difficult for small farmers; for more detailed information on the FSMA, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's guide.

Bob treated us to samples; Paul Jakoboski of St. Francis House is eager to try the sprouted seedlings.

Bob treated us to samples; Paul Jakoboski of St. Francis House is eager to try the sprouted seedlings.

After the meeting, farmer and Zen Buddhist Monk Bob Burns showed us around his farm and dojo. We were treated to a lesson on the sprouted seeds Bob grows for local restaurants and farmers markets and a tour of the greenhouse where Bob grows wheatgrass and mixed greens throughout the winter months.

The morning proved a much needed alternative to the usual office meeting, and showed again that some of the best conversations happen over food (especially pancakes). A huge thanks to Bob and his assistant Josh for making us feel welcome.  

If you're interested in joining the agriculture working group, send an e-mail to nlcfpc@uwsect.org - at our next meeting, Bob has promised to provide omelets!

Yale Food Symposium

Two weekends ago I had the great fortune of attending the Yale Food Systems Symposium, at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES). It was two days of rousing conversations around urban agriculture, food justice, systematic change, and more. Needless to say, I was energized by meeting so many other people doing amazing work all over country.

Friday kicked off with a keynote address from UC Santa Cruz’s Julie Guthman, who offered her fiery critiques and views on the current “alternative” food movement. She started with the history of the alterative food movement, its origins in the organic food movement, and how it has shaped not only environmental and health issues, but social issues as well. Her critique was that this system merely provides alternatives, and doesn’t work to contest what’s wrong. It’s still focused on the consumption not production end of things. She garnered a lot of pushback from the audience with her beliefs that grassroots organizations and movements are not enough, and that they are simply covering up the issue, not solving it. Guthman also asserted that one of her issues with the alternative food system is that it still doesn’t resonate with the masses, that it is still seen as somewhat of an elitist movement. Her address was an interesting way of starting off the symposium, causing me to think a bit differently about what the next two days would entail, and to look at things with a more critical eye.

I attended three workshops over the course of the weekend. The first was on Food Policy Councils, moderated by Mark Winne, one of the most well known names in Food Policy Councils. The four panelists each discussed their organizations, and how they work with food policy within the state of Connecticut. All of the councils on the panel were involved with government in some way, whether on a local or state level. They mentioned the value of working with academia, especially in regards to research. The next workshop I attended was about Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP), which matches funds when SNAP recipients use their benefits at the local farmers market. For example, if someone were to use $10 in SNAP at the farmers market, they would receive an additional $10 through the DVCP, for a total of $20 to use at the market. Wholesome Wave has shown that this program reaps huge benefits for the farmers, consumers, and local economy. They found that for every $5 in new SNAP benefits, $9 is generated in economic activity. The final workshop was on Urban Food Systems. While the main objective of urban farming might be food production and increasing access to local, healthy food, urban farming is so much more than just food. It creates socio-psychological experiences, cultivates individualism, reconnects people with nature, helps build strong communities, and much more. Our current food system has dual burdens of malnutrition and food insecurity. Nutrient-dense food is expensive and inaccessible by many, while energy-dense (and often unhealthy) food is cheap and widespread. Urban farming looks to combat both of these issues, repairing our broken food system.

 There were two keynote panels, entitled From Strategic Action to Systemic Change, and A Critical Dialogue on the Future of Food and Agriculture Studies. The former pointed out the importance of having a multi-disciplinary approach and forming strategic partnerships in order to change the food system. Selvin Chambers, from the Food Project in Massachusetts, mentioned having the right people the table, and making sure that it is a win-win for both sides. One of the more interesting points made during the panel on Saturday was the need for more good members, not just good leaders. In order for the movement to succeed, there needs to be visibility, and that comes with more good members. M. Jahi Chappell also stressed the importance having the power to leave, and to know when to leave when things aren’t working out. There is no use sticking around and working in a broken system. He said there needs to be equality in democracy, and that we need to oppose the inequalities, sentiments that were echoed from Julie Guthman’s keynote address the day before. Both panels created a lot of conversation, sometimes even heated debates, and were a great way to get everyone in the same room discussing the same issues.

Though only two days, I felt exhausted (in a good way, of course) from the knowledge I’d gained, the people I’d met, and the energy the symposium gave off. I left Saturday evening with a new look on the food system, food justice, and the work that I’m doing. And of course, there was the pizza party that followed. You just can’t go wrong with brick-oven pizza.

 

Three Bits of Wisdom from Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pepin--brilliant chef, prolific author, funny Frenchman--recently joined forces with Wholesome Wave founder Michel Nischan for a lively conversation at the Groton Public Library. The two were absolutely brilliant. If you know us, you also know how much we love wholesome wave - but for this post, I want to focus on those little bits of wisdom that bubbled up from the beloved French chef.

Note: It's better If you read the quotes with an accent.

1. Don't go overboard:
"If you go to a restaurant, and they bring you a carrot, and they say 'this carrot was born on the seventh of May...'"

Good, healthy, enjoyable eating isn't about following the words of an idol--and Jacques doesn't want to be your guru. If you can eat something organic, that's wonderful. If one ingredient in your meal is local, that's cool--don't beat yourself up about the occasional conventional beet or the extra cream you sometimes add to your coffee.

And yes, if you were wondering, the two chefs did reference this portlandia sketch.

2. Use the whole fish--and the whole ocean.
"We don't buy any interesting fish..."

The subject of seafood and sustainability was brought up repeatedly, and every time Michel Nischan gave a carefully considered answer: use the Monterey bay guide, eat but don't eat too much, enjoy. Jacques? Jacques told us the story of a visit to the aquarium with a small herd of other chefs. When asked to name a few of the fish, they could barely manage to identify ten--out of over two hundred species! Which, of course, means that we're only eating ten. As Jacques pointed out, there are plenty of fish in the sea, so there's no reason to keep overfishing any one.

And, the french chef argued, when you do eat fish, don't waste. He'd just eaten blackfish liver, and he advised us to grind up whole rockfish for bouillabaisse. The advice holds in every realm, from pigs to beets to bugs. The point sticks in my mind because Jacques hammered it in by example, asking a hog farmer in the front row if he had any pig's blood...

Live near us? If you're looking for sustainable seafood and interesting fish, you can't do any better than Miya's Sushi in New Haven.

3. "Cooking is the purest expression of love"

When I eat by myself, Jacques said, I eat over the sink. For him, there was no point in cooking up a top-notch meal--even though he could, even though he would enjoy it--because cooking is fundamentally about feeding others. And feeding others, of course, is fundamentally about loving them.

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The Groton Public Library is hosting food-centric events throughout the month of October. Find out more at  http://www.gpl.org/

Sarah and Madeleine Volunteer at FarmAid

Every year, musicians, farmers, and advocates gather for Farm Aid, a concert in support of family farmers. It's the longest running benefit concert in the United States, and this year it was in the (fairly) close town of Saratoga Springs, NY. We took a volunteer shift with the green team so we could spend the morning meeting other advocates and farm folk from the area. We were pretty excited to see the concert, too!

We headed to the Homegrown Village first. Advocates and farmers lined a pavilion, dishing up facts--did you know? Farmers receive only 16 cents of every dollar we spend on food--and sharing information about their organizations. At the CT Northeast Organic Farming Association booth, we signed up for the organization's winter conference (it's in Wilton on March 8!) and chatted with John Turene. He's the president of Sustainable Food Systems, an organization that consults with schools and hospitals on improving the quality of their dining options. We also met some folks from Farm Hack, who told us all about their bicycle-powered seed propagator. They're about sharing the newest tech in sustainable agriculture, so you can find plans and ideas over at farmhack.net/tools. Wholesome Wave was there with samples of the coupon incentives they hand out for EBT users at farmer's markets, and Skidmore had a whole table filled with samples of the region's wild edibles.

Audience members learned the basics of breakfast ingredients in the Homegrown Skills Tent

One of the best aspects of the festival is its loyalty to its mission. Willie Nelson doesn't skimp on anything food-related: concert-goers could get homemade apple cider donuts and fresh veggies at GrowNYC's youthmarket stand; volunteers got to eat the locally-sourced sweet potato salad and the grass-fed pork loin served up in the VIP catering tent. Yes, volunteers and farmers count as VIPs at Farm Aid!

Next up? Four hours next to a compost bin trying to make sure that recyclables went in recycling, food and paper in compost, and foil snack bags in landfill. I found it even more challenging than my nlcfpc job - but there were plenty of conversations to keep the task fun, and I particularly appreciated the high fives I got from the waste reduction advocates.  After Sarah and I finished our shift, we sped up to the venue to hear Neil Young laud the family farmers in the audience. A few hours at the trash bin, we agreed, was a low price for such a fun and educational day.

This year's sold-out concert helped fund the Farm Resource Network and provide grants for farmers and advocates; you can find more information at http://www.farmaid.org/.  We also livetweeted the event--if you missed it, you can find a play-by-play on the @nlcfpc twitter by searching for #farmaid. 

Gleaning for the Food Center

On Thursday August 13th the New London County Food Policy Council Americorps VISTAs, along with Pfizer volunteers from Groton Solid Dose helped the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut harvest corn and tomatoes to be donated to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center from the Connecticut Agriculture Station's Griswold Research Farm.

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Healthy Eating On A Budget

Yesterday evening I attended the Healthy Eating on a Budget Program at the Sprague Community Center in Sprague, CT. The guest speaker was registered dietitian Jennifer Fetterly, the community nutritionist for Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action (TVCCA). The program included tips for making healthy as well as thrifty meals, tips for smart shopping, healthy recipes and samples of those recipes. The discussion also included helpful tips on food safety and how to prolong the shelf life of perishable items such as meats and vegetables.

healthy.jpg

 The healthy and thrifty meal of the night was spiced lentil tacos with cumin-lime coleslaw and baked apples. Jen explained that lentils were a cheap, easy to make, nutrient dense substitute for meat and that lentils are easier to make than other types of beans because they do not have to be soaked. The meal was very tasty, and those who felt intimidated by the thought of making lentils before certainly did not feel that way by the end of the program.      

NOFA NY Conference

NOFA-NY Logo.jpg

Two weekends ago I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Northeast Organic Farming Association New York (NOFA NY) winter conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. There were farmers galore, delicious foods, music, and many interesting and informational workshops. The conference was held over three days, and I attended many workshops, two of which I found to be very helpful and pertinent to my work in the council.

My first workshop of the conference was on a Friday, and it was a Food Policy Council Forum. Various regional food policy council representatives, as well as the state policy council, gathered together to update each other on goings-on within the state of New York. The goal was to create a network of food policy councils within the state, to collaborate, bounce ideas off of each other, and to serve as a resource and information center. It was interesting to listen to the updates from different policy councils, in a different state, and to hear that very similar issues arise regardless of location, structure, etc. One of the most interesting presentations came from Samina Raja, an associate professor in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo. She spoke about the formation of the Buffalo Food Policy Council, and the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP). They are doing some amazing things in Buffalo, and it showed that even a city with a rough past, in a tough situation can overcome obstacles to better the lives of its inhabitants. MAP is an organization devoted to educating youth about the benefits of local, healthy eating. They believe that everyone should have access to healthy, local, culturally appropriate food, and do so through their education programs and urban farm. Though the forum felt a bit disheveled at times, the passion was always there, and it got me energized knowing that I was not alone in changing how we eat in this country. I also saw that food policy councils are at the very least a place for people with similar concerns, ideas, and expertise to come together around an issue that affects us all, and help each other in a common agenda, making it easier for everyone to see success.

The other workshop that provided the most useful information was on Sunday, about integrating a school garden into a middle school curriculum. Wayne Gottlieb is a 7th grade science teacher at DeWitt Middle School in Ithaca, NY. He helped build a 6,000 square foot garden at the school, which he incorporates into his classroom, along with other teachers, who incorporate it into everything from art to social studies.  Wayne went through what it took to finance, build, gain support, and maintain the garden, giving helpful tips throughout on how we might build our own school garden and incorporate it into our local schools. He shared information on everything from who to get on board in the beginning to how he got the school cafeteria to buy the produce. He provided a timeline of work on the garden, what to do in winter, spring, summer, and fall. Aspects of his workshop could easily be replicated in schools throughout New London County. I truly believe that every school should have a garden, and hearing about the success of Wayne’s garden only solidified my belief, and the knowledge that is very doable.

I also attended workshops on urban farming in the United States and Cuba, on beginner farmers and the struggles and successes they face, and on living a life of resiliency in today’s world. All were brimming with information and people who are doing their part to make the world a better place through the food system. There’s nothing I like more than spending a weekend in a beautiful town with a group of foodies, changing the world, one bite and seed at a time.

Source: http://www.nofany.org/

Hunger in CT and New London County

 

Imagine a day when you weren’t sure if you or your family would have food on the table. Now imagine that day was every day. This is the reality for about one in seven Connecticut residents, and that number appears to be on the rise. The face of hunger is diverse, effecting children, single parents, seniors, working families, and so many more. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) estimated that 15% of Connecticut residents did not have enough money in the first half of 2012 to purchase the food that they needed. Why didn’t they have enough money for food? In a study done prior to the recent recession, 42% of Connecticut residents had to choose between food and utilities, 34% had to choose between food and rent, and 30% had to choose between food and medical care (CT Food Bank). What would you do if you had to choose between putting food on the table for your kids and risk being evicted because you couldn’t pay your rent? Would you keep your home for a little while longer but go hungry? This is a decision far too many people in Connecticut have to make on a daily basis. Hunger is happening right here in New London County, too. Approximately 12% of New London County residents are food insecure (Feeding America), and 54% of these people don’t qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Some of us won’t face these difficult choices in our lives, but chances are we know or will meet someone who does. So what can we do? The first thing to do is to remove any stereotypes or stigmas we associate with hunger, as these only make the situation worse and perpetuate the problem. Host a food drive, or encouraging your place of work to do so, and donate food to the Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center in New London, CT. These are two great and simple ways you can help alleviate hunger in Connecticut. On December 29th, the Gemma E. Moran Food Center will have a truck parked in front of the Garde Art’s Center in downtown New London, CT, and will be taking donations of non-perishable foods from 10am-10pm. Together we can help ease the hardships for those who are going hungry in Connecticut and New London County. 

Child Hunger in New London County

Child hunger is an issue that affects communities across the country – including our community of New London County. The statistics are startling. According to Connecticut Food Bank, 16.9% of New London County’s children, nearly 10,000 young individuals, were food insecure in 2011. This means that on a daily basis, 10,000 children did not know where their next meal, if one at all, would come from. But New London County’s children aren’t the only ones going hungry. In 2011, Connecticut had the 5th highest increase in child poverty in the U.S. and more than 150,000 children throughout the state are currently food insecure (American Community Survey census and Child Food Insecurity 2012 Study).

How can you help? The first step for many of us is to acknowledge that these issues exist in our communities. We can all begin by starting to bring the issue of child hunger into more conversations, more frequently—because this issue affects all of us. Child hunger contributes to failure to thrive and poor performance in school. The repercussions of these outcomes can and do affect these individuals, destined to become our neighbors and coworkers, later in life. You can also help by hosting a food drive at your place of work, at a community center or at a local school. Then take the food items you receive during your drive to a local food pantry or food bank, like the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor Food Center. We invite you to be a part of the solution every day of the year – and especially on December 29th, the day of the Robert Irvine LIVE! event at the Garde Arts Center in New London. We are challenging the New London County community to fill United Way of Southeastern Connecticut’s brand new Mobile Food Pantry. This refrigerated truck will hit the roads of New London County beginning next year, offering fresh produce and shelf-stable pantry items to food insecure individuals and families throughout the county at no cost to them.  The Mobile Food Pantry will be parked near the main entrance of the Garde Arts building and will be accepting donations of healthy, non-perishable food items from 10a.m. until 10p.m. on December 29th. We hope to see you there!  Together, we can take the necessary steps to end child hunger in our community. 

 

Raise High the Trellis, Gardeners

Alright everybody, time to get nostalgic. Think back to your school days as a kid (however long ago that may or may not have been). Now think of the most beautiful day, sun warming your face through the classroom window, beckoning you to forgo English class to enjoy its rays. Wouldn’t it be great if rather than being a distraction, those glorious sunbeams became part of the classroom experience? Ladies and gentlemen, enter the wonderful world of Garden-Based Learning (GBL).

GBL brings the classroom outside, incorporating hands-on, real world activities to a broad range of curriculum and subjects. At the center of GBL is, of course, the garden. Here students learn how to grow tomatoes and lettuce, how to compost and create nutrient-rich soil, about pollination and plant cycles, and how to work with each other to build a bountiful space for food and education. And these lessons can move into the classroom as well (only on rainy days, of course). Nutrition education can be paired with taste testings of food picked that morning, highlighting not only the importance of a healthy diet, but the knowledge of where that food came from. In a time when kids are being bombarded by advertising aimed at getting them to scarf down sugar-laden cereals and greasy fast-food, any exposure to fruits and vegetables is a welcome change.

Now, some people might brush this all off as hippie ideas that couldn’t possibly amount to an actual education. But the benefits of GBL are well documented, and they are astounding. Students who participate in GBL show higher GPA’s and test scores, and a better understanding of math and science. Teachers reported higher classroom morale and a more positive attitude towards learning. Not surprisingly, those students who had access to GBL showed an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables. The education children receive in the garden will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Check out this database of research supporting GBL, compiled by the California School Garden Network (csgn.org)

GBL has positive effects that extend beyond the school environment as well. What better place for a community to get together than around a garden, with the focus being the future generation? School gardens bring in community members and parents as volunteers in building and maintaining the gardens. Local organizations can get involved through donations, funding, and more. Longtime collaborations are formed, as well as more than a few new friendships. Really, what argument can you come up with for not having GBL at a school? 

With the beginning of classes looming closer and closer, I think it’s time that schools started looking more seriously into incorporating GBL into their curriculum. Since it is too late in the season to start growing many vegetables, fall is a perfect time to plan, gather funds and a workforce, and build garden plots and beds, so that everything is ready for spring. It’s time that kids stopped looking longingly out windows and embraced that sunlight. The future generation needs to be educated on the food system, so they can make decisions that will change it for the better. A child’s future, as well as the future of the country and even the world, can be shaped so drastically, all with the help of a simple garden. So why invest in Garden-Based Learning? Why not?

 

The New Age of Food Banking

This month marks a new year for the policy council! It might seem odd to celebrate a new year on August 1st but for the council the summer months are when new VISTA are added to the project. As a new VISTA I feel excited to be a part of such an exciting movement at such an early stage in its development. The previous VISTAs have done an amazing job collecting research, building capacity, and pooling resources for the council. Now it is up to my counterpart and I to take that data and make it work for our community, and we couldn’t be assigned this task at a better time. The technology available today provides us so many possibilities and will be an advantage in the next year for presenting information and creating a clearinghouse that truly serves the council and more importantly our community.

Last Thursday, we were lucky enough to be hosted by the Greater Boston Food Bank where we learned that advances in technology have allowed the emergency food system to go above and beyond to service eastern Massachusetts. GBFB is located in South Boston and the three year old building is LEED Silver certified. Help from their dedicated donors, staff, and volunteers have clearly helped to provide them with a green facility which supports current operations with a lot of room to grow.

We met with Member Services Manager Gary Krist, who gave us a five-star tour of the amazing facility. We started in the marketplace where Krist explained that member agencies who show up 15 minutes early for appointments can shop on-site for a variety of items that have shorter shelf-lives such as milk, squash and zucchinis. We moved to the enormous warehouse where Krist showed us storage areas for dry goods, refrigerated and freezer stored goods.  The agencies use a completely online ordering system, and they can change their orders as many times as they want before they are locked in 48 hours prior to pickup. The computer system also allows them to choose their pickup date, time, and even the warehouse door that they will drive up to for pick up. The food that the agencies choose from is typically donated and free of charge except for an occasional shared maintenance fee. GBFB weighs all of the incoming and outgoing food in order to measure their waste or “dump rate”. The recent development of an outreach program designed to distribute food that is nearing expiration has helped to decrease the dump rate from 4% to less than 2%. Krist showed us volunteer areas where donations are inspected and sorted for storage, or outsourcing. Krist explained that items like pet food are commonly outsourced to other organizations that have a better system for donating it to more relevant member agencies.

Another innovation at GBFB is their unique tiering system which keeps agencies striving for high performance and the best practices. Agencies are categorized by a tiering system which ranks them a 1, 2, or 3, 1 being the best. The ranking is based on scoring factors such as hours of operation, an agency that is open later than 5 pm will have a higher score. Another factor is client-choice; agencies who offer clients the highest level of choice receive the highest score. Tier 1 agencies receive priority member services from the food bank. Agencies are also required to submit a monthly report to the food bank as well as maintain Servsafe food safety certification. These requirements help to assure that all agencies are using the best practices and knowledgeable about food safety.

GBFB Dietitians use a ranking system to keep agencies informed about nutrition as well. They use a toolkit referred to as CHOP or the Creating Healthy Options Program. The program is similar to programs like Nuval in that it gives food a score based on nutrient content; however it differs by only comparing foods to like foods. Produce all receives the highest score but they don’t compare meats to bread products.

GBFB has a current goal to serve 1 meal per day to every person in their district. They are using cutting edge geo-mapping software to log useful data and keep track of how many meals they are serving and progress towards meeting their goal. “According to the mapping we have met our goal, but I know we still have a lot of work before we really reach it and when we do our next goal is to serve 2 meals a day to everyone who needs it” Krist explained with a hopeful smile. It is clear that the entire staff is proud of their operation and setting an example for similar facilities across the country. We are grateful to the GBFB Staff for hosting us for the day and look forward to using their inspiring progress to better our council and community in the upcoming year.

 

Hunger: The Elephant in the Room

Posted by Genevieve

So it came and it went: the Experience. Did you feel it to your core? Or maybe just for a few days. At least it was on your mind and that’s a great start. So what was our not-so-hidden agenda in facilitating this experience? We want to tackle that big word, HUNGER, and the subsequent silent killer, obesity, that is lurking in our community (we like to call these together “heartbreaking hunger”). They both usually come hand in hand and have the same root cause, which is lack of access to good, healthy food.

Many acknowledged there were parts of the Experience that weren’t like the real thing. Everyone’s situation is different and we did our best to mimic and experience. Still, in the end, we got some insight into trying to eat well around here without convenient luxuries that more money will afford. Did it show that access to this good, healthy food is definitely a problem in our community?

Following is a cloud of words and bits that were part of the hearth of our discussion for the week:

"feared, took a closer look, sacrifices, cutting out, expensive, budget, straining, planning,stretching (dollar, mind, patience, creativity), I don’t’ like this feeling, non-variety, cravings, missing, not satisfying, in reality, crap!, on sale, necessity, plan our meals, grin and square it!, scarcity is taking a toll, luckily, limited, weren’t able to purchase, I hung in there, pay attention, fill up, thinking about food, would have, stressful, getting tired, factored into, I miss bread, I didn’t buy, I was craving something sweet, I soooo wanted to cheat, a more substantial lunch, a longing, craving, and thirst in my body, empty spot, threw down a blueberry muffin, pretty scarce, least expensive, generic, more freedom in my choices, always look forward to the next meal, eat out or splurge, more healthy choices, wish I hadsomething other than, it’s so hard sticking to, had planned on, I had to eliminate, I’m saving them, leftover, in hopes that, I couldn’t imagine, wanting more to eat, concerned, I was so hungry, slap on the hand for me"

Clearly, many felt some discomfort. We got some tips, recipes, resources. We learned to plan and to be let down; planning meals and juggling life is easier said than done.  While we were struggling to stay full, the “should” of the food plate was a whisper of a thought in comparison to our grumbling stomachs and overpowering thoughts to shove comforting, substantial meals down our hatches (well maybe not everyone’s experience… what a week, right? It was only a week, so quit your whining.) We thought about food a lot, even when we weren’t hungry. People are told they should do this and that, but it becomes straining after a while. There has to be a better way; we’re not robots and we need backup plans. It’s hard to have one with low budgets.

This is where communities step in. We’re all human and we’re all in this together. Our food system is more connected that one would think! Healthy foods should be cheaper and easier to access. Our emergency food nets could be better. It shouldn’t be so hard to throw together a healthy meal (and what does healthy mean anyway?!) We should support one another and our community’s farmers. It’s a huge tangled up ball and we need to start picking at it.

So we could easily go on with our lives as normal from here, but let’s make the most of this Experience shall we? Let us grow as a community and learn from our experiences. Let’s start a discussion and support the programs and initiatives that are trying to pick at all of these problems.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Hold a food drive.
  • Thanksgiving is coming up: Charter Oak Credit Union is holding a turkey drive. So isLiberty Bank.
  • Call 211 to find your local food pantry and donate time, money, or food.
  • Give your local farmers business.
  • Teach your kids about eating healthy.
  • Create an account on the Council’s website to get updates on New London County initiatives, the upcoming farm bill, or anything we might need support with.
  • With every dollar you spend, you make a statement. Eat healthy so that businesses know that's what our community wants!

I can guarantee that someone in New London County is going to bed heartbreakingly hungry tonight. We have to change that. We are better than that. We can be better than that. Won't you help? 

 

In Your Words: Shopping and Stopping and Price Comparing

Posted by Jessica

I went shopping on Sunday.  I was pretty confident that I would be able to buy all that I needed for the week.   I first made a list of items that I needed, which I don't usually do.   Off to to store #1: Walmart.  I do not usually shop here, but I thought they may have significantly lower prices than Stop &Shop or Big Y.   I bought most of my dry products here, (oatmeal, pasta, sphegetti sauce, red beans, jello, canned fruit, bananas, tuna, chili packet). I also bought my chicken for the week.  I was pretty surprised that Walmart had organic chicken, which was $3.31. (Most of the time I buy organic meat, or at least try to).   So, I bought a package of the organic chicken and a another non organic package of chicken. I also bought my eggs at Walmart.  Typically, I buy Cage Free eggs, but that was totally out of the question so, I settled for a half a dozen "regular" eggs which were $1.04.    I spent a good portion of my money here and had not really bought any fresh vegatables or fruits.   I was pretty afraid that I would not have enough money to buy them.

To Store #2:  Stop & Shop.   This is where I usually do my shopping.   I was mad at myself for not heading there first. The meat and poultry were on sale and I could have bought the chicken that I had just bought at Walmart, for a cheaper price.  Crap! :(   Here, I bought (apples, onion, red potatoes, tofu, 2 bags of frozen veggies, kiwis, lentils). I felt like people were staring at me, because I kept going back and forth to the scale to weight my items. Oh well.  I was pretty excited about buying the tofu because it was $2.50!  And that is Stop and Shop's regular price.   I thought this would be a great addition to any of my meals because it has protein and its taste will conform to whatever meal you put it in.   

So, after buying food for the week, I realized I went over buget, by about .40 something cents  Whoops!  I had bought 3 apples, so I decided to take one of the apples out and eat it before Monday, (which I did).  I figured that the each apple was about .40, because they were 1.29/lb, and I had bought about a pound of apples.

My Observations Today:

1. Walmart is great place to buy items in big quanities or in bulk.

2. Walmart's produce isn't that great. I'm happy I bought most of my fruits and veggies at Stop & Shop

3. It's always great to by fresh fruits and vegetables, but frozen veggies and are next best thing and sometimes cheaper.

4.  I really did not need to buy the Jello, it wasn't a necessity.

As soon as I got home, I made soup for the upcoming couple of days.  Chicken, dumpling, lentil soup, with potatoes, and a little bit pasta. (Sounds weird, but its really good)   This will last me about 3-4 meals.  

 

In Your Words: Groceries and Calculations

Posted by Amy

I set out this morning with my two year old and braved the crowd at Walmart.  I have never been the biggest fan of Walmart for several reasons including lack of variety in some of my favorites including Kashi brand products, Stonyfield yogurts and the very unattractive produce selection.  However more recently I find myself shopping there on a more regular basis for the following reasons my products are cheaper, it's about two minutes from my house and I can also get my toiletries at a much better price than big grocery stores.  We have been very fortunate to this past season to have received fresh vegetables from my father in laws bountiful garden.  We have found ourselves eating many more vegetable based meals and I planned ahead by jarring tomatoes and freezing corn and zucchini.  I have also enjoyed buying from local farmers either at local farm stands or farmer's markets as you will see I have used for this week.  

I found much more planning was needed this week as well as a much more defined grocery list and of course I knew how essential it was to stick to it.  The thing I did find a bit of difficulty with was items I had in stock already or what I would call "leftovers" and how to calculate them out.  Also my husband and I  are very fortunate that my parents have our son most of the week and they provide all his meals and snacks at no cost.  So for this week I will send all drinks, snacks and meals along with him.  I have also asked that if they did provide something that wasn't in his food bag that they let me know what it was.  For this reason as well as some of the "leftovers" I have a remainder of $6.30 of my $81 budget for a family of three that I am putting aside.  I had planned to hit a larger grocery store or farmer's market to obtain a few more produce items but think I will have to hold off on that for now.  Another challenge, getting my husband on board!  Of course he signed up for it right away but then as I started doing more planning and asking him what would be good for lunch, he started to have second thoughts.  And, of course a two year old who is finding his independence, especially at meal time.  I have found some creative ways to get fruits & vegetables in his diet but like many moms dealing with a more picky eater can be a daily challenge.  

That's it for now since the napping child was awoken by his sister dogs barking loudly.  I will blog soon with my grocery list and more experiential feedback.  

 

SNAP Experience Fellow Participant...Rep Joe Courtney!

Congressman Joe Courtney is participating in the SNAP Experience along with his wife Audrey and daughter Elizabeth!  It seems as if they've made sure to have snacks covered with thrifty popcorn :) Although they could not fit the full experience into this week along with all of us, they have committed to make it work by starting their SNAP Experience a little early. Following is a sample of their first day:

Day 1: Thursday, October 20, 2011

Breakfast: generic cereal with small portion of banana

Lunch: egg salad, carrot, apple

Dinner: one black bean enchilada

Follow their experiences through their blog posts or his twitter site. Thanks to the Courtney family and godspeed!

 

Sharing the SNAP Experience...$32.59 for Miles of Aisles

 

Posted by Genevieve

 I decided to buckle down today and go do my shopping with the whopping $32.59 that’s allotted for the week. After doing a bit of planning, I decided on rolled oats and fruit for most breakfasts, and found a few ideas to tackle for lunches and dinners. These include stews, sandwiches, and grain salads. Destination #1 was Big Y in Groton, CT. After about 40 minutes of back and forth in the aisles with my huge rattling cart (calculator, pen, and wrinkled-up list in hand), I came out with the following:

  • Generic rolled oats (18 oz)- $2.29
  • Natural peanut butter- $2.29
  • Dried chickpeas (1 lb bag)- $1.79
  • Half-dozen eggs- $1.59
  • 2 cans of tuna at $0.50 ea- $1.00
  • 1 bunch scallions- $0.99
  • Bananas (1.95 lbs at $0.79/lb)- $1.54
  • 1 head green cabbage (2.04 lbs at $0.50/lb)- $1.02
  • 1 head garlic- $0.84
  • 1 bunch kale (0.66 lb at $1.29/lb)- $0.85
  • 1 onion- $0.95
  • 1 CT local acorn squash- $2.57
  • 7 CT local Macoun apples (2.76 lbs at $1.29/lb)- $3.56
  • Carrots (1lb bag)- $0.99
  • 1 lemon- $0.69
  • 2 sweet potatoes (1.77  lbs at $0.88/lb)- $1.56
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (on sale)- $0.88

When the difference in price for local vs imported produce wasn’t more than $.30 I opted for local. I wanted bulgur but was frustrated by the large bags. I didn’t want to pay for a huge amount I wasn’t going to use completely during the week. I felt the same way about the tea boxes (my source of caffeine this week!), and also felt that there must be a better choice of bread rather than choosing to pay $1.99 for high-fructose corn syrup white bread, whole grain sliced bread for $4.59, or $4.99 for fresh bread loaves. For Destination #2, I went to Fiddleheads Coop in New London, CT. I found that they had fairly good prices for bulk foods, and offered a good way to buy only a little bit of what you needed at a time. They also had good choices for unprocessed local foods. Here I refined my grocery bundle and came out happy, ready to tackle the week. This is what I got: 

  • 1 loaf local rye bread- $2.50
  • Golden flax seeds (0.13 lb at $1.60/lb)- $0.22
  • Loose assam black tea (0.08 lb at $18.50/lb)- $1.48
  • 1 pint CT local whole milk- $1.50
  • Bulgur (0.72 lb at $1.80/lb)- $1.30

 Grand Total: $32.40

Hopes are high (especially for the possibilities with that $0.19 in discretionary spending!) but who knows, once reality sinks its teeth into this whole affair, if I’ll come out feeling full and well-nourished. You’ll notice I didn’t get very much meat; I was thinking the tuna, eggs, chickpeas, split peas, and peanut butter will be enough protein to keep me full. I was also walking a fine line in trying to stay under budget and spend money towards sustainably grown purchases (I got a few local items, no organics made the cut). Alright… it’s time to dive in. Good luck everyone, and send us comments about your grocery store battles and first days! (email:  nlcfpc@uwsect.org)