Stop by a Farmers’ Market this month, and you may spot some unique, healthy vegetables, thanks to a new farming program sprouting in Hartford. What makes this program special is how it’s turning lives around while helping neighbors suffering through a difficult economy.
Such is the case for Lorenza Christian, Jr. Born in Alabama but raised in Hartford, for Christian, natural not only describes the produce he grows, but also his life’s calling.
“It's natural. It's the way it was intended to be," Christian said. "Gave me an opportunity to do what I was born to do basically. I was born on a farm, moved to the city, dislocated, but Knox reconnected me,” Christian explained.
Knox, Inc. is a local non-profit known for improving the lives of Hartford residents through horticulture. It provides gardening space to 500 farmers throughout the region. On its incubator farm on Laurel Street, Knox is working with six urban farmers, including Christian, harvesting fresh and often ethnic produce, like callaloo, Mexican gherkins, and Hungarian peppers.
The produce will be sold within hours after it’s picked at Farmers’ Markets in the inner city.
“The freshest produce is gonna come from our neighborhood and that's right here,” Christian said.
But, these healthy veggies are not just improving the lives of those who eat them – they are changing the lives of those who grow them.
“Before the landscape program, I was in the streets,” Christian said.
Now, thanks to Knox’s training on how to increase crop yields, along with their help providing business planning and connections, Christian, can feed his neighbors, while growing his own business.
“It turned out many of them did like the idea of taking their garden plots and their growing abilities to the next level,” Ron Pitz, Executive Director of Knox, Inc. said.
Christian and his fellow farmers are even able to accept WIC and SNAP, allowing them to get healthy food on the tables of those for whom cost might otherwise have been an obstacle.
Providing healthy produce is “probably a service that a lot of people don't recognize right now. But anybody who's getting into their health conscious, learning about where their food come (sic) from can appreciate the service I am bringing them,” Christian said.
According to Knox, this is the state's first urban farming program designed to include urban residents on the supply side rather than just the consumption side. The Hartford non-profit works with Lincoln Financial Foundation, Aetna Foundation, UCONN Agricultural Extension, US Conference of Mayors, and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to make the urban farming program happen.
Since its founding in 1966, KNOX’s principal services have included neighborhood beautification and reforestation, green workforce development, park improvement efforts, development of greenways, golf course maintenance, the oversight and maintenance of both community gardens, and the urban farming training program.