CONTACT:                                                                                             July 30, 2014

Steve Jensen


860-983-3556- cell


           This article appeared in the July 30, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report





                           By Steve Jensen, Office of DoAg Cmsr. Steven K. Reviczky


From cement-block beds and countless plastic buckets packed atop the cracked asphalt of her North End driveway, Tamekah Edwards harvests an astonishing bounty of crops that puts an urban twist on the term CT Grown.


Edwards began planting a few vegetables two summers ago when she decided eat more healthily, and grew so much last year that she had trouble giving it all away.


So this June she became one of an increasing number of smaller and often urban “market gardeners” certified by the Dept. of Agriculture to sell at farmers’ markets. In her case, that’s the North End Farmers’ Market a few blocks from her home.


“It all started with me wanting to eat better and now - voila’ – I’m here,” she enthused while manning her table of herbs and greens and handmade soaps at the market last week.


In a suburban cul-de sac just off the Berlin Turnpike in Meriden, a similar story is being played out in Gilbert Coriano’s backyard. He and his family have torn up the turf and converted the one-acre lot to a fruit and vegetable plot, with an eye toward selling at farmers’ markets and a few bodegas in Meriden and nearby Berlin.


Like Edwards, Coriano started growing his own food a few years ago for health reasons, and realized he could expand his production area and earn some income doing something he loves with his wife Charito and college-student son, Brendan.


“We started out wanting to be self-sufficient and it has just gone from there,” he said. “We’ve always dreamed of doing this.”      


He plans to specialize in produce aimed at Latino customers, including a 30x50 plot dedicated entirely to cilantro.  Dept. of Agriculture marketing representative Rick Macsuga inspected Coriano’s growing area last week and certified him as a market gardener, enabling him to accept Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) coupons for purchase.


Clients of the WIC and SNAP programs, as well as lower-income military veterans and senior citizens, can use the coupons to buy produce at farmers’ markets. 


Macsuga said many market gardeners eventually buy or lease more acreage as they become proficient in both the growing and business end of farming. 


“It’s a nice beginning step to getting your feet wet in agriculture,” he said. 


Edwards simply can’t fit any more containers or makeshift beds in her 50-by-50-foot driveway growing area, so she expanded this season to another plot in a community garden behind the Univ. of Hartford.

Like many growers at the North End market, she specializes in produce favored by the area’s West Indian and Asian communities. Along with kale, swiss chard and collard greens, she and several other vendors offer callaloo, which she describes as “like spinach but a little tastier.”


She also sells handmade soaps that feature her own dried herbs like lavender and sage and mint, as well as oatmeal and a rich-smelling bar of coffee soap that she says both exfoliates and protects the skin from the sun.


“I did great today with my soaps,” she said as she gathered up a few remaining bars as the market closed. “They were going so fast I couldn’t tally them all up.”


The market is held every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the lawn of the North End Senior Center, and drew more than 400 customers last week, market manager Sarana Beik said.


“It’s been our busiest day so far,” she said. “A lot of growers are sold out. We’re pretty pumped about that.”  


The market was launched in 2008 by the city and Beik’s employer, Hartford Food System, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to create an equitable and sustainable food system that addresses the underlying causes of hunger and poor nutrition facing low and moderate-income Hartford residents.”


In other words, the market is an oasis in what some call an urban food desert. Hartford Food System is trying to address that by running seven different one- or two-day markets in the city, many in or near neighborhoods stressed by poverty and crime. 


There are also farmers’ markets in Bridgeport, Waterbury, Stamford, Middletown and Danbury, as well as six in New Haven alone.   


“Farmers markets in cities are not going to solve poverty or a lack of awareness and access to good nutrition,” Beik said. “We are under no illusions about that. But the more we can connect people to the source of healthy food, the more likely they are to be able to retain that experience and make it part of their lives.”   


Joe Dombroski, another grower at the North End market, tailors his crops to the market much like Edwards does.  His offerings include things like puna cara, an Indian cucumber, and a frilly Asian green known as mizuna. This day, he had sold all the bok choy, collards and other greens he had picked from his leased plot at the Simsbury Community Farm.


A former truck driver who also sells at the Coventry Farmer’s Market, Dombroski’s plans for next year include obtaining some land and equipment of his own. 


“It’s a great little niche market here,” he said. “And every week’s been busier than the last.”


Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said the emergence of urban growers and markets is more evidence of the vitality of agriculture in Connecticut, which leads New England in the growth of new farms.


“It takes both commitment and creativity to grow and market your products in these non-traditional farming areas,” he said.  “I credit the tenacity these growers and the organizations that are helping assist them are demonstrating in bringing healthy, local food to the table in their communities.”