Building Communities: Brass City Harvest

UConn Extension empowers communities by building a network of awareness and knowledge. One example of this is Brass City Harvest, Inc. in Waterbury. Extension educators in our greenhouse and Master Gardener programs worked with Susan Pronovost to build the capacity of 501(c)3 organization. Susan shared her organization’s work with us

Brass City Harvest, Inc. is also supported by the City of Waterbury, the Waterbury Development Corporation, Waterbury Health Department, and various foundations and cultural groups. For more information visit: https://www.brasscityharvestwtby.org and http://extension.uconn.edu.

Issue:

Brass City Greenhouse

Brass City Greenhouse. Photo: Leslie Alexander

Brass City Harvest in Waterbury develops a local and regional food system that increases access to fresh food, creates urban farmland, speaks to the nutritional and dietary needs of the community, and provides new sales channels for farmers to sell their products.

Chronic disease and obesity rates continue to spiral upwards in Waterbury because there are so many food desert neighborhoods. Waterbury also has a very substantial amount of brownfield or at least lightly contaminated land that stand as testament to our once-proud industrial past. Repurposing this land for agricultural use is critical for public health, fresh food access, and to promoting green space in urban neighborhoods that lack it.

Connecticut’s farmers face many economic challenges; increasing sales channels through robust farmers’ market networks, wholesale opportunities, and other economic development projects that utilize agriculture as an industry and a career path are key components to addressing long term sustainability issues in the farming community and inner city communities such as Waterbury.

What has been done:

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program gave me the skills to conduct efficient and reliable urban farming in a manner that brings great impact to the community and is reasonable in terms of business model implications. In addition to various urban agriculture programs, this organization regularly conducts trainings (seed starting and container gardening). Brass City Harvest provides consultation for new gardeners, has conducted workshops on greening the municipality and addressing food security, and regularly speaks to leadership groups from various foundations and civic organizations.

Outcomes:

The greatest outcome for Brass City Harvest and the City of Waterbury is that prior to our existence, there was never talk about green space, urban farmland, or sustainable means to address food security. In less than ten years we have developed core programs to address food security by growing and harvesting more than 12,000 lbs. of fresh food, hydroponic crops, and fresh fish that is entirely donated to emergency food providers and senior centers in Waterbury. We have engaged more than 500 individuals and households in our healthy cooking and nutrition classes. We have increased sales of fresh farm food through the utilization of public entitlements by 500%.

Impacts:

The broader social, economic civic and environmental benefits of our program to the community speak to addressing food and environmental justice issues. Much of our population lacks the economic mobility to either become more self-reliant or to leave their current housing – which is often cheaper in poorer neighborhoods – for better living conditions in more middle class neighborhoods that typically provide more services such as access to supermarkets, and also have fewer environmental issues.

As an example, one of our programs teaches emancipated minors in the school system who are either pregnant or who already have children, how to recognize and cook fresh food. Inner city youth who are on their own have no role models. There is no one to teach them the difference between an apple and a beet – they both look red. Brass City Harvest does what it can to assist young parents in making wiser nutritional decisions for themselves and their children and we show them how easy it is to have a small kitchen garden by a window or on a small patio. Understanding the audience is critical to such basic, grassroots outreach.

Intermediate and long term effects will largely be dependent upon the continued expansion of Brass City Harvest’s infrastructure and role within the community that will address some of the needs of the state’s farmers, provide fresh food in some strategic corner stores, expand urban farmland to reclaim and repurpose even more contaminated and blighted land, and establish a true food and nutrition center that combines the concepts of farm-to-table into one package that can be tailored to each specific audience.

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