Bridgeport, CT – When Bridgeport culinary artist Dave Benot was looking for Bridgeport-grown hot peppers for his Angry Hot Sauce, he looked no further then Green Village Initiative’s Reservoir Farm, an urban farm minutes from the Beardsley Zoo. When Benot needed mentoring he worked with Chef Raquel Rivera-Pablo, who runs A Pinch of Salt, a catering, education and job training business in Bridgeport. Benot now sells his sauces at Bridgeport farmers markets and other markets throughout the state. This micro-business success story is a building block in creating a critical mass of food entrepreneurs in Bridgeport. This effort is what Green Village Initiative (GVI), and its partners are focused on for the near future.
A recent generous grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will help expand this collaborative work. “Bridgeport-grown and Bridgeport-made is where we are going,” says GVI Executive Director Cristina Sandolo. “With this Community Food Projects grant we are building the foundation for a just, equitable, community-run food system in Bridgeport. This grant will help GVI not only expand access to fresh, local food but create opportunities for Bridgeport families and entrepreneurs to create new products and lead economic development. We believe Bridgeport can be a model for a thriving local food economy.”
Green Village Initiative, already a pioneer in urban farming and youth leadership training in Bridgeport – they run Reservoir Community Farm, support Bridgeport’s school gardens, manage 12 community gardens, and grow over 4,000 pounds of food for the community – is also at the forefront of building a robust infrastructure for new food-related businesses.
With NIFA funding GVI is leading a four-year effort to make Bridgeport a model for urban cities everywhere that want fresh food for all residents. GVI and its project partners will expand the availability of fresh, local food, create new opportunities for self sufficiency among families and entrepreneurs, bolster production of Bridgeport-made food products, and foster local economic development.
Efforts are already underway, a few highlights from this past year include:
- The year-long GVI Urban Farmer Training Program in partnership with UConn Extension, is in full swing with almost a dozen students.
- GVI’s Reservoir farm stand is now a multi-vendor farmers market, featuring the Urban Farmers in Training and a small farming business Park City Harvest.
- 10 high-school aged youth, hired as GVI’s Youth Farm Crew, received Food Leader Certificates for farming and learning about food justice.
- GVI and CTCORE-Organize Now! have launched a Food Justice Fellowship Program, with 2 High School youth to serve as Food Justice Fellows for the academic year.
- 8 Bridgeport Farmers Markets are in effect, with increased outreach, marketing and community involvement.
- CTCORE-Organize Now! is training GVI and partner organizations in adopting its food justice framework.
“This funding allows us and our partners to work toward creating inclusive, non-exploitive agriculture and food commerce in Bridgeport, guided by principals of self-determination, racial equity and economic justice,” explains Isa Mujahid, Executive Director of CTCORE-Organize Now!, “with training in food justice, community organizing, and advocacy positions, our young people are being prepared to be leaders in creating a just food system for their community.”
Lezli Albelo, Bridgeport Farmers Market Collaborative director and grant partner, agrees, “This 4-year program will create pipelines of healthy eaters and local food businesses in support of growing, preparing, selling and accessing good food. We are excited to build the foundation for a just, equitable, community-run food system in Bridgeport.”
The goals of the funded project, called: “Building a Just and Viable Local Food System” in Bridgeport are straightforward:
- Increase Bridgeport-made and Bridgeport-grown food at farmers markets, pop-up stores and food pantries through creating more vendor training programs and lowering the barriers to entry for people who want to grow food or food businesses.
- Increase awareness of fresh food outlets such as farmers markets and pop-ups and participation among the Bridgeport community, especially those receiving SNAP, through better marketing of where and how to buy the freshest food.
- Engage youth as leaders through a Fellowship Program, in which youth will lead projects in agriculture and food justice.
● Expand the role of farmers markets as inclusive places for community-building and sustainable, non-exploitive food commerce
NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is the science funding agency within the USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area. NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension to solve national challenges in agriculture, food, the environment, and communities. NIFA employees use the peer review process for competitive grant programs, where panels comprised of scientists and other subject matter experts review proposals.
MORE ABOUT GVI AND ITS MISSION
Green Village Initiative (GVI) is an urban agriculture organization whose mission is to grow food, knowledge, leadership and community through urban gardening and farming, to create a more just food system in Bridgeport. GVI recognizes the importance of addressing the systemic inequities that cause poverty and hunger and is working towards a Bridgeport in which all people can access healthy, culturally relevant, locally grown foods at school, at work, and at home. Green Village Initiative cultivates community wellbeing and self-sufficiency in Bridgeport by operating Bridgeport’s only outdoor educational urban farm, managing 12 community gardens, leading youth through leadership development programming, and supporting Bridgeport’s teachers in using school gardens as outdoor classrooms. GVI’s programs engage thousands of community members in growing and consuming Bridgeport-grown food.