Master plan to encourage healthy living, support agricultural entrepreneurs

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Nov. 15, 2012

Few disagree that eating locally-grown fruits and vegetables makes for a healthy diet and a lively local economy. That is why the South Windsor FOOD Alliance (Families Organized for Optimal Development) is taking steps in its 2012 master plan to promoting a Healthy Food System, which will promote sales of locally-grown foods and create new ventures for local farmers.

According to Andrew Paterna of the South Windsor FOOD Alliance, increasing rates of childhood obesity and rising healthcare costs are important reasons why the town needs a Healthy Food System. “Those healthcare costs will keep going up if we don't pay more attention to good nutrition, good food and local food,” Paterna said.

While still a draft, the 2012 master plan has been unanimously endorsed by the Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Commission, the Open Space Task Force, the Inland Wetlands Agency/Conservation Commission and the Park & Recreation Commission. Paterna also describes it as a “living document” - additions or changes will be welcomed even beyond 2012.

The FOOD Alliance plans to present the plan to the Town Council in December for final approval. Once approved, it will be incorporated into the master plans of both the Park & Recreation and Agricultural Land Preservation Advisory Commission, making it a subset of the town's Master Plan for Conservation and Development. 

An “agri-preneurial” spirit is a strong motivator behind the Healthy Food System in which local producers and farmers can foster an economically viable operation. Farmers are encouraged to abide by Northeast Organic Farming Association guidelines, which prohibits chemicals and promotes organic fertilizers, and Farm-to-Chef's Table practices are encouraged in the local community. For example, restaurants will highlight which dishes use locally grown ingredients in their menus.

The plan has many additional goals, for example, it seeks to establish a community garden on town property, identify town property that is being used for farming with signs, and encourage restaurants to buy local produce.

The plan is interested in establishing a “Food Venture Center,”where small, local farmers can create specialty food products in a shared incubator kitchen. It also is seeks to develop a South Windsor CO-OP store, and create a “Center for Agricultural Economy,” a non-profit partnership between Manchester Community College, Goodwin College, the University of Hartford and the University of Connecticut. In the school system, it will look at facilitating local farms supplying schools with produce, establishing a food-waste composting program at schools, and exploring the possibility of turning the orchard at Timothy Edwards Middle School into a “learning laboratory” in which students and a local farm help to maintain the trees and have access to the crop. The students' share of the harvest would be used by the school cafeteria.

The plan also calls for more town-owned land to be leased to local farmers, and to develop commercial partnerships to support the summer Farmers Market. Another interesting proposal of the plan is to establish a “Green Roof” program for town buildings, in which vegetables, grass or shade plants form an upper layer above building roofs. According to the draft master plan, “These plantings can help reduce heat and air conditioning costs and extend the life of HVAC units due to decreased use within the building.” Green roofs retain rainwater, reducing runoff that taxes sewer systems, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They can also be built as a platform above the roof, “so that the roof itself does not bear the full weight of the garden,” states the plan.

These initiatives, Paterna said, will be accomplished at minimal cost, or in the case of larger projects such as the green roofs, funded through grants. “We don't want to make this some huge plan that will cost thousands of dollars, or people will shy away from it,” he said. Rather, the plan will rely on the cooperation of participating organizations to put the plan into action.

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