New Haven Farms, an urban agriculture non-profit that provides free produce to disadvantaged residents, is in the process of acquiring a new farm that will triple its food output.
NHF works to combat both food insecurity and health conditions including diabetes and obesity by providing families with fresh produce and nutrition lessons for one season. The organization currently operates eight small garden sites throughout the city, growing 5,500 pounds of produce feeding 20 families over the winter and 40 over the summer. The new farm on Burr Street, which totals one acre, will dramatically increase the amount of food NHF can produce.
“Our eight farms total about half an acre, and this new farm is an acre. It essentially will triple the number of people we serve, triple our production, triple our capacity,” said Rebecca Kline, the executive director of NHF.
The space is currently owned by the city of New Haven and operated by the Livable City Initiative, which will transfer operations to NHF at no cost. NHF has also generated $20,000 through a Crowdrise campaign — akin to a Kickstarter campaign but for non-profits — to cover employees, equipment and other development fees.
NHF’s main program is its collaboration with Fair Haven Community Health center. Patients who live within 200 percent of the federal poverty line and suffer from two risk factors for diet related chronic disease, such as obesity, being overweight, high blood pressure, diabetes, or a family history of disease, are awarded a season-long “prescription for produce.”
The participants bring their families to NHF’s main site at Phoenix Press in Fair Haven once a week for an educational program, which entails a nutrition class, a cooking class led by Bun Lai, the chef of Miya’s Sushi Restaurant and a farming class. At the end of each weekly program, each patient leaves with enough produce for each member of his or her family for seven days.
NHF distributed its produce to 40 families through its Wellness Program last summer. The production goal for this summer season is to distribute to 80 families, said Jacqueline Maisonpierre, Farm Manager of NHF and current co-chair of the urban agriculture working group within the New Haven Food Policy Council. NHF would like to similarly double the number of families it services each winter.
In addition to its wellness program, NHF hosts educational events, invites volunteers to learn how to farm and partners with local bakeries including Chabaso, which provides food to Atticus Café. Taking into account these other programs, NHF will triple its food output overall once it acquires the new space.
Food insecurity, defined as one member of a family having to skip a meal within a 30-day period, affects 13.6 percent of New Haven residents, Kline said. New Haven is the seventh most food insecure town in Connecticut, which has an overall average of 12.3 percent.
“Food insecurity combined with intake of cheap calorie dense foods means that people in New Haven, especially minority communities, are dealing with high rates of obesity,” Kline said.
75 percent of African American adults and 60 percent of Hispanic adults in New Haven struggle with obesity. New Haven is the second most obese county in Connecticut and has a diabetes rate of 8.3%, Kline said.
Each week, program participants fill out surveys about their fruit and vegetable intake, food security status, blood pressure and BMI. This data is collected for research that the organization conducts with Debbie Humphries, a clinical professor at the School of Public Health
“There has been a lot of satisfaction with the program,” said Monique Stefani, a Researcher with NHF. “Over 85 percent of participants felt that they had more food in the household to the extent they could allocate money to other needs.”
Tagan Engel, another member of the New Haven Food Policy Council and the community food systems coordinator at City Feed, said NHF has thrived because it has popularized a culture of urban farming and healthy eating — behaviors that spread beyond the families with which it works directly.
“They bring attention to gardening as a vital part of healing our community,” Engel said. “Their work has a ripple effect of bringing positive attention to other gardens in the city.”
New Haven Farms is entering its third summer season.