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Connecticut

Farm to School Goes Year Round in the Northeast

Over the past few summers, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs have been elevating meal quality and encouraging program participation by serving seasonal menus, utilizing high quality ingredients, and providing nutrition education activities. We’ve heard of such farm to summer activities – the embedding of farm to school principles within summer meals programs – from practitioners all around the country. Here in the Northeast, summer 2016 brought a wave of coordinated programming, and National Farm to School Month is the perfect time to celebrate this trend that is supporting healthy kids and communities all year long!

Two Small Growers Form Unusual Partnership

When you meet farmers Gordon Bednarz and Brenda Sullivan, two words come to mind—polar and opposites. But the pair has joined forces in a unique way – sharing land and growing food as partners, without a formal partnership.

And it’s working!

He is the owner of Bednarz Farm in his hometown of Glastonbury. Gordon’s family has been farming there since the 1920s. He farmed his family’s land before and after he graduated from college and throughout his career with the State of Connecticut. Bednarz’s love for the land and dedication to his roots leads him to continue the tradition of old fashioned, New England farming.

Meet Connecticut Earth Team Volunteer: Misha Rosado

At 5’1”, Misha Rosado is a tiny, 16-year-old powerhouse whose least favorite thing is to sit around with nothing to do. So, in addition to school and a part-time job, she donates 60-80 hours each year as an Earth Team Volunteer for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

You may wonder how this bright and very funny teen—whose interests include gymnastics and playing the flute—got involved in the agency. To her, the NRCS staff in Connecticut are like family. They practically are, seeing as how her dad has worked there for 32 years.

USDA Grants Helping the Specialty Crop Industry Reach Food Safety Goals

Across the country, farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops - or specialty crops - are being asked to be certified in USDA’s voluntary audit program, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).  From restaurants and hotels to schools and institutions, wholesale buyers want to ensure the fruits and vegetables they purchase meet food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  One challenge for growers in many states is the lack of in-state auditors to perform the GAP certification reviews.

One solution has been to leverage another USDA resource to educate and train producers, handlers and buyers on-farm food safety practices. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops which includes supporting GAP certification audits. Since 2006, these grants have launched over 107 GAP and Good Handling Practices (GHP) outreach and training projects, and funded 116 GAP/GHP cost share projects through State departments of agriculture.

The Northeast Regional Climate Hub Applauds its Champions of Change

The White House recently recognized 12 Champions of Change for their leadership in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture. This week we will meet them through their USDA Regional Climate Hub, today featuring the Northeast’s Anita Adalja, Herman “Trey” Hill and Jennifer “Jiff” Martin.

USDA’s Northeast Regional Climate Hub works to bring land managers in the Northeast the science and other tools that can help them adapt to changing weather/climate conditions. Many farmers, ranchers and land managers are already leading efforts to develop and demonstrate the value of sustainable agricultural practices that benefit soil, air, and water quality while helping to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions.  Educators and advisors have also been crucial in bringing science-based, sustainable, and climate-informed agricultural practices to the agricultural community.

New Legislation Brings Projects in Reach for Rural Connecticut

The first week of August brought an important milestone for communities in Connecticut. I was pleased to be on hand as our Governor, Dannel Malloy, held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 458. This legislation is significant because it changes the maturity date for municipal bonds issued in conjunction with any water, waste, or community facility loan from USDA Rural Development from an original 20 years to a 40 year bonding term. Of the 169 towns in the state of Connecticut, 69 of those have populations under 10,000. This makes them eligible to receive loans from USDA Rural Development through our community facilities program. This act will make repayment on such loans affordable for small towns that are in need of essential community facility additions and improvements.

Private Lands Conservation Helps Put New England Cottontail on Road to Recovery

Wildlife and working lands go hand in hand. Today, thanks to the hard work of private landowners and land managers, the New England cottontail will not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Widespread habitat loss since the 1960s impacted New England cottontail numbers. But people like Rick Ambrose have restored habitat on private lands, putting the cottontail on the road to recovery. I had a chance to visit Rick’s place today in New Hampshire, seeing how he worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to voluntarily restore the young shrubby forests the rabbit needs.

Land-Marking: Returning to 9/11 Living Memorials Projects and to the People who Continue to Shape, Create and Attend to their Meaning

Living memorials serve as a reminder of fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends—but also of the power of community to reflect, rebuild and renew. Our research suggests that living memorials demonstrate the role of nature in contemporary times not only as a symbol, but as an innate and purposeful response to loss that calls forth a common humanity and compassion for others.

In other words, they demonstrate how people use nature to be resilient to loss.

Back to School Checklist: Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are at the top of USDA’s back to school list, and just in time for the new school year, the Pilot Project for Procurement of Unprocessed Fruits and Vegetables is making it easier for schools in eight states to purchase them. The 2014 Farm Bill authorizes the pilot in not more than eight states participating in the National School Lunch Program, and provides them with an opportunity to better access nutritious foods. The pilot also helps create and expand market opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers, opening the door for a variety of vendors, small growers, food hubs and distributors to supply unprocessed fruits and vegetables to participating schools.   

So far, five states (California, Connecticut, Michigan, New York and Oregon) have spent over $600,000 through the pilot from February through June 2015. Several California districts contracted a produce distributor to connect local and regional producers with schools to receive peaches, cauliflower, apricots, and kale from their state. Students in Oregon are chomping on pears from the Pacific Northwest, while many Connecticut and New York schools are feasting on Macintosh apples from Massachusetts orchards and Empire apples from New York. Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin were also selected for the pilot and will begin receiving deliveries of fruits and vegetables in the coming months.

School Lunch Equipment Grants Help Provide Healthier Meals to Students Nationwide

USDA supports our tireless school nutrition professionals as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults. To further assist schools, USDA announced the availability of $25 million in National School Lunch Program (NSLP) equipment grants for Fiscal Year 2015. These grants help schools obtain much needed infrastructure to better serve nutritious meals, support food safety efforts, improve energy efficiency, and expand participation in school nutrition programs.

Here are some examples of how these grants have benefitted schools in the past: