New Haven’s Food Movement:
Executive Director Reflections

Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

It’s Monday morning and I am just in from letting all the animals out to enjoy this unusually warm fall day. They are always anxious to get out on Monday after the one day each week they are cooped up. The chickens come shooting out the door like bullets. The Turkeys chase each other around like lunatics. The goats and sheep clomp impatiently at the door until it opens to release them to the day and the fragrant hay that has been thrown out for their morning meal.

I am not asked to do animal chores very often any more, but I am always glad when I am. As simple as the chores are to perform, they are powerfully grounding. They speak to stewardship and husbandry, responsibility and our relationship to the world, community and caring. Careful observation reveals that each animal is different — both collectively and individually — and there is much to learn about ourselves by becoming a student of their behavior. It is amazing to see how quickly people who visit our site develop connections with our animals, and through them begin to build a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

Our animals also teach us important lessons about the many ways our food choices impact the world. How we treat our animals, what we feed them, the environment they live in, are all influenced by Common Ground’s commitment to producing food that has positive social, environmental and health impacts. While the quantity of food produced by Common Ground — whether animal or vegetable — is relatively small, the learning opportunities provided by food production are immense and profound.

As food producers in an urban setting Common Ground has become part of a passionate and engaged community working to build a strong, fair and sustainable local food system providing access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate and affordable food in ways that enhance the environmental, economic, social and nutritional health of ALL community members. This “food community” includes people and organizations working on New Haven’s local food system as well as those working to develop a shared vision for a regional food system.

This weekend a wonderful collaboration between members of the New Haven food community developed around a visit to our city by Will Allen, nationally recognized as one of the most influential leaders of the community food system and urban agriculture movements. Will’s visit was originally arranged by the New Haven Land Trust as part of their 30th anniversary celebration, but it grew into an important opportunity to promote and celebrate the work of many organizations and people doing local food system work. Two full days of events were organized to take advantage of his presence.

First Will attended a Food Summit organized by the New Haven Food Policy Council on Friday that immersed over 100 people in the near-final draft of the recently completed Food Action Plan. This plan charts a course for making improvements to New Haven’s complex food system in order to increase access to healthy food for all New Havenites, strengthen New Haven’s local food economy, and encourage healthy food choices through education and marketing efforts. The plan can be found here:

On Friday evening Will told his story to almost 300 people at the New Haven Land Trust’s amazing gala. We were so glad to be there to celebrate the many years of hard work they have put into the creation and support of over 50 community gardens and nature preserves throughout the city.

And finally on Saturday Will helped celebrate The Big Stink, a citywide garlic planting organized by City Seed, Common Ground, The New Haven Land Trust, Solar Youth and the Yale Sustainable Food Project to highlight the significance of urban agriculture in New Haven. Will joined 40 members of the community on a bus tour that featured stops at 5 important urban garden sites participating in the Big Stink, including a New Haven Land Trust community garden in Newhallville, an independent community garden recently established on land owned by the Barnard School in West River (known as The Little Red Hen Garden), a New Haven Farms garden in Fair Haven, the Clinton Avenue School Garden, the Yale Sustainable Food Project, and Common Ground. The stops also featured a chance to visit the new Mobile Market, a partnership between City Seed and Common Ground that brings fresh produce directly into six food insecure neighborhoods throughout the city each week.

While the Food Summit was amazing, the gala was brilliant and the tour was wonderful, the most incredible thing about the whole series of events was the sense of camaraderie, cooperation and respect that was clearly evident between all of the groups and organizations that participated in and helped plan each event. The work necessary to build a strong, just, healthy food system in New Haven and beyond is bigger than any single entity — it is truly community work. Collaborating with all of the various organizations, groups and community members to organize Will Allen’s visit made it very clear to me that the New Haven community is ready to take this work on. I am very proud to have Common Ground counted as a member of this community and I say bring it on!


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