Eastern Connecticut CD and its partners designed the project to address needs in food security, conservation and capacity-building for the region’s urban growers and their communities. It utilized three initiatives, interdependent and intentionally varied in their geographic reach and programmatic scope:
- Support GROW Windham to build a new 0.5-acre model community garden, and to assist with implementing conservation practices and provide funds to support a new garden coordinator position.
- Develop the new garden into a center that demonstrates conservation practices in urban agriculture and teaches community members about the values and implementation of them.
- Collaborate with growers and urban ag organizations to create a new network, modeled as a community of practice, to build capacity and community among these groups.
ECCD and GROW Windham designed and developed five Workshop-Workdays held in the new model garden, named The Thread City Family Garden. The half-day events were hands-on programs on soil health, water quality, water conservation, composting and integrated pest management. ECCD and GROW staff blended instruction with the construction and demonstration of practices and principles. Attendees, Windham Youth CORE members and volunteers participated in the following: evaluated soils and investigated soil health (mulch, cover crops, reducing till/disturbance, species diversity); excavated and amended urbanized soils for fruit trees planted; constructed a woodchip trench and soil berm between the garden and adjacent river, to protect water quality by managing runoff (the soil berm was planted with small-fruit crops); constructed individual soil berms for fruit trees on a slope, to reduce runoff and conserve water; constructed a variety of compost bins to demonstrate and trial each type; planted annual flowers and perennial herbs to increase food for pollinators. In addition to what was completed by attendees through the workshops, ECCD provided regular technical assistance to GROW Windham, including: soil tests for nutrient analysis and screening for metals; arranged visits to farms and urban-agriculture programs; and non-chemical control of gypsy moth caterpillars.
In partnership with GROW Windham, EECD connected with other urban growers throughout the district – an area of 1,150 square miles with several urban communities and higher-than average food insecurity. Representatives from community gardens, urban-ag organizations and ag-education programs joined meetings to share ideas for a new network focused on supporting community growers in eastern Connecticut. Through a series of meetings, discussions about the region’s challenges and needs led to a statement of purpose and work plan. The network, calling itself the Eastern Connecticut Community Growers Network, shares resources (e.g. garden materials, seeds, harvest documentation methods), is actively recruiting new members, and has led to new and strengthened relationships among its members. For ECCD, the network expanded the reach of technical assistance and collaborations. For example, they aided NRCS-CT in collecting soils from eight urban farms and community gardens to screen for trace/heavy metals (pXRF analyzer), and this technical assistance was provided at no cost to the growers.
The new community of practice, the Eastern CT Community Growers Network, has steadily grown in size and become a self-sustaining group. In addition to establishing their own email group and shared-document drive, members are looking for grant opportunities on which to collaborate. Specific to ECCGN goals are grants that will enable members to develop programs on growing nutritious food and linking conservation in urban areas to public health. Members have agreed to meet quarterly and are considering presenting as ECCGN at future events in the region.
ECCD will continue to participate in the network and work with other partners, such as NRCS-CT and the State of Connecticut, to connect ECCGN members to resources, technical assistance and new partners to promote their success and growth. ECCD continues to participate in the Windham County Community Food Network as a member of its sub-group focusing on “growing spaces.”
Educational materials developed and resources compiled in this project are permanent and will be available from ECCD, GROW Windham and other partners for years to come. GROW Windham has a Resources webpage, which includes all educational materials from this project (ECCD’s new webpage is under construction and will have a page on conservation in urban agriculture). When the ground thaws, permanent educational signs about conservation practices and structures in the new model community garden will be installed.