BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, in partnership with Cooperative Educational Services (CES), has received a $249,799 AccelerateCT Summer Program Innovation Grant from the Connecticut State Department of Education. The “Food for Thought” (FFT) program will teach students and families about the benefits of fresh, healthy food and how gardening and farming enrich our lives.
Joining CES and Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo for the project is Green Village Initiative (GVI), a Bridgeport nonprofit organization that focuses on gardening and youth empowerment to spread information about local farms, community gardens, the cultural aspects of food, and how to start growing food at home. GVI manages a network of community and school gardens, a community farm, and a youth leadership program.
Zoo educators, along with teen volunteers from the Zoo’s Conservation Discovery Corps and Zoo Career Explorers, Zoo docents and gardeners, Green Village Initiative educators, and special guest presenters, will present interactive activities, demonstrations, and visits with animals five days a week at kiosks around the Zoo. The kiosk activities will include topics such as how owls and other raptors protect farmland from rodents; endangered heritage livestock breeds; the benefits of snakes, butterflies, bees, and other insects; the history of urban gardening and farming in Bridgeport; composting; and raising backyard chickens.
“Great things happen when you work with great people. In partnering with CES and GVI, we’re doing just that. We’re excited to combine our skills and expertise to deliver outstanding summer programming for all of Connecticut,” said the Zoo’s Curator of Education Jim Knox.
The Zoo’s renovated New England Farmyard officially opens to the public on Saturday, June 12, and will be the site of many of the farm-based educational activities. The FFT program is especially vital now due to the economic and educational disruptions caused by the pandemic, which were felt more intensely in urban and low-income areas that already had limited access to healthy food choices. The activities at the Zoo centered around the benefits of fresh, healthy food will emphasize how individuals and families can build whole foods into the core of their diet.
The timing of FFT coincides with the state’s proposed Connecticut Free for Kids initiative, which allows children under 18 and one adult to visit the Zoo and other sites throughout the state for free from July 1 through September 6.
CES will help to promote FFT to thousands of students and families in Greater Bridgeport, provide professional resources throughout the summer, and observe and collect feedback on FFT’s effectiveness. Dr. Lori Elliott, the incoming CES Director of Professional Development Services, will coordinate the agency’s participation and support of work at the Zoo this summer.
“Our ability to support community initiatives that will serve thousands of children is consistent with our mission and we are happy to be part of this work,” said CES Executive Director Dr. Charles Dumais. CES is one of the six Regional Educational Service Centers established by the state legislature to support public school districts. Dumais is also an executive member of the Zoo’s Board of Directors, which gives him “first-hand insight into the amazing work done at the Zoo.”
About Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo
Let your curiosity run wild! Connecticut’s only zoo, celebrating its 99th year, features 350 animals representing primarily North and South American and Northern Asian species. Guests won’t want to miss our Amur tiger and leopards, maned wolves, Mexican gray wolves, and red wolves. Other highlights include our new Spider Monkey Habitat, the Rainforest Building, the prairie dog exhibit, and the Pampas Plain with Giant anteaters and Chacoan peccaries. Guests can ride on the carousel, grab a bite from the Peacock Café and eat in the Picnic Grove. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is a non-profit organization approaching its 100th year at a time when the mission of helping fragile wildlife populations and eco-systems is more important than ever.
Tickets must be purchased on the Zoo’s website at beardsleyzoo.org. In accordance with the state of Connecticut COVID-19 guidelines: we strongly recommend that guests continue to wear masks while visiting the Zoo, but when guests are outside and can maintain social distance, masks may be removed. In the Rainforest Building and other indoor areas, or when social distancing cannot be maintained, masks are required. Everyone over the age of two, except for those with medical conditions that preclude wearing them, should have a mask available.