Giving Gardens Program
Real Food CT has chosen the “sweet spot” of the production model. We currently operate two Giving Gardens on lots less than acre. When run efficiently, this size space is big enough to produce 15-20K lbs of fresh produce without a lot of overhead. Both of our Giving Gardens are located in Newtown on partner properties and are run by staff, volunteers and our Young Farmer Internship program in the summer.
All of the food we produce is donated to regional food pantries on their schedule. As the years have progressed we have received feedback from our partners as to what kind of fruits and vegetables their clients prefer and we do our best to tailor to their needs. We practice regenerative farming methods (no-till, cover crops, natural amendments) and have begun a Grow Your Own community workshop and Kids Gardening program in 2022.
Young Farmer Training Program
Our Young Farmer Interns are the backbone of our Small Farm Giving Gardens. Since 2020, we’ve employed 6-10 high school and college aged Young Farmers every season to teach the fundamentals of food production, garden management, and the dynamics of our local food system.
In addition to the garden experience, we take field trips to other local farms and service organizations in our area. It is our hope to feed the initiative and skillsets of young leaders looking to make an impact in the connected areas of health, food, environment, and justice.
Surplus Pickup Program
The unpredictable nature of the growing season for small and mid-size farmers in our area often results in surplus produce. Whether it be from a bountiful harvest or a quiet day at the farmers market, the extra produce needs to find a home quickly or its getting tossed in the compost pile.
Our team communicates and coordinates with our regional farm partners to make sure that no healthy food goes to waste. We pick up from local farms and farmers markets and deliver to our network of hunger-relief organizations. In 2021, this resulted in 20K lbs of produce saved!
Real Food Fund
Kicking off in 2022, the Real Food Fund has been developed to connect local farmers and food pantries in a co-working and beneficial relationship. The concept will pay farmers in our network in Fairfield, Litchfield, and New Haven counties up front for food for hunger-relief organizations. Locally grown food is the best tasting and most nutritious. By managing this partnership, we are making it simple, beneficial and achievable for both the farmers and food pantries.
Upfront payments for small farmers makes a big-time impact. Urban, small, and minority owned farms will all be prioritized. The Real Food Fund is getting started with an application to the LFAP through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture which will cover two years of regional support. Our team has been preparing to launch this fund by studying with the Glynwood Organization Food Sovereignty Fund. We look forward to making this a lasting part of our local food system.
Small Farm Model
Our team has been executing the proof of concept of our Small Farm Model since our initial Giving Garden in 2019. The goal is to replicate a sustainable, four-season growing model on lots less than two acres in size with minimal start up and operation costs. Small Farms like Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm in Maine and our friend Farmer Craig Floyd at Coogan Farm in Mystic have proven how thousands of pounds of produce can be grown on small lots.
In 2022, the Real Food CT team has gained support from several grants, including a CT Dept of Agriculture Farm Viability Grant, to complete our proof of concept and began exploring how best to implement this model near communities in our region that historically have less access to fresh, healthy food. We are currently establishing an advisory board to help shape this model for success in 2023 and beyond.