Courtesy of CitySeed

Last year, Cityseed generated a record $1.58 million for the farmers, chefs and incubes who are helping the non-profit develop a more equitable local food system.

Cityseed, founded through a collaboration between New Haven residents, city hall and local farmers, is one of the largest farmers’ markets in Connecticut. Since its inception in 2004, Cityseed has grown into an ecosystem of services — the Cityseed Farmers’ Market, Sanctuary Kitchen and Incubates — all working together to make sustainable agriculture and food-related work more accessible. 

“I think that’s really where Sanctuary Kitchen and the Cityseed Incubates program come in,” said Cortney Renton ENV ’19, Executive Director of Cityseed. “Cityseed helps people build businesses and take an entrepreneurial path where they can support themselves through their own business, build job security, build businesses in New Haven [that] can thrive and make sure that those dollars are going back into the local food economy.”

Since 2016, Cityseed has generated more than $5.5 million in revenue for farmers. The Farmers’ Market was also the first in Connecticut to begin accepting SNAP benefits. The idea that local agricultural viability could combat food insecurity is the thesis that has driven much of Cityseed’s work. 

In 2017, Cityseed launched Cityseed Sanctuary Kitchen and Incubates. In 2016, following the reveal of Trump’s “Muslim ban,” some volunteers and community members in New Haven decided to start a supper club to support the immigrant and refugee community in New Haven. 

“They would go to someone’s house, and they could do like a dinner party of, like 12 to 15 people,” said Sanctuary Kitchen’s program director Naseema Gilson. “They would get to tell their story, both verbally, but also through their food and kind of share those recipes. So it’s kind of sharing cultures.”

From these small gatherings, after partnering with Yale, IRIS — Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services — and Cityseed, Sanctuary Kitchen began focusing its work on training chefs. The group began selling food, catering and hiring full-time chefs at above market pay. Along with providing a community, Sanctuary Kitchen also helps their chefs prepare for a career in the food industry. The chefs learn basic kitchen skills and the U.S. measurement system while improving their English proficiency. 

Gilson, who joined Sanctuary Kitchen in July, hopes to standardize the training program and expand the Kitchen’s partnerships with local restaurants and food service businesses. 

“Trying to get that job pipeline open, not a guaranteed spot but at least holding a spot for a Sanctuary graduate would be amazing,” Gilson said. 

In addition to maintaining partnerships with the coffee shop Atticus, Gilson is also hoping that the Kitchen will be able to work with Cityseed Incubates to help match trained chefs with new food ventures. 

Incubates was started after Cityseed employees observed, through their Farmers’ Markets, how many barriers there are for businesses trying to break into the food space such as acquiring licenses and permits, navigating with the health and produce standards and accessing capital.

Incubates’ flagship program is its business accelerator, a 12-week program that works with seven to 10 businesses each year to help them further develop their companies. Cityseed runs Incubates with Collab, another accelerator in Connecticut. In addition to the accelerator program, Cityseed also offers advising, commercial kitchen space and management assistance to food entrepreneurs. 

“A lot of the ventures that we work with come from very diverse backgrounds, and we just really want to see a different cultural array of food options in New Haven beyond, you know, Italian food and pizza,” said Cityseed’s Food Entrepreneurship Director Cara Santino. “New Haven has so many different types of people in it, and a lot of people are not having their various cultures presented.”

One of Cityseed’s past incubes is the sauce company OhShito!. OhShito! was founded by Kwame Asare, who came to the US from Ghana when he was ten. After returning to Ghana in 2019, Asare came across a sauce that he then brought back to the US and worked with his sister, a former chef, to formulate. Asare then applied to the accelerator.  

“By being part of the Collab-Cityseed program, all the essential nutrients of what you need to grow a business, all of that was really gathered from that program,” Asare said. “So from building your company’s voice, your brand, how [it] looks visually, my cohort, we just kind of went through the progression.”

Since completing the incubator and launching OhShito! in 2021, Asare’s sauces are now in shops across Connecticut and New York

In addition to the business development assistance at the incubator, Asare also thanked Cityseed’s other programs, like the Farmers Market, that helped OhShito! source ingredients and network with other businesses that have been essential for its growth. 

“The Farmers Market is where we began,” Asare said. “Even our relationship with a ton of different stores all started there, and it’s definitely Cityseed that I have to thank.”

Cityseed’s Sanctuary Kitchen is located at 109 Legion Ave.

Khuan-Yu Hall is the City Editor at the News. He is a sophomore in Davenport, from Hartland, Vermont, double majoring in Statistics and Data Science and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.