When you think of farm communities, the city of Waterbury is probably not the first that comes to mind. However, an effort to reduce food insecurity is bringing farmers to the Brass City.
A unique partnership between the state, the city, and Brass City Harvest is helping feed a neglected neighborhood and give farmers an economic boost.
The Brass City Regional Food Hub is considered an oasis in Waterbury’s south end, an area that Mayor Neil O’Leary admitted has been neglected in recent years.
"This part of Waterbury is a food desert. Thirty-three percent of Waterbury is considered a food desert,” said Susan Pronovost, the executive director of the Brass City Regional Food Hub.
Not only does the hub give its neighbors better access to fresh fruits and veggies, it also provides a new venue for Connecticut farmers to sell their produce, according to Pronovost.
“It’s an absolute win-win. We never stop growing. So, you’re getting vegetables out of a greenhouse growing operation and brought into under-represented areas,” said Michael Wrobel, president of the Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association.
Equipment costs can take a big bite out of the profits of small farm operations. So, farmers who can’t afford to buy the equipment required to sell to big box stores bring their produce to Brass City Harvest.
A dozen employees (Pronovost hopes to hire more) wash and sanitize that produce before it’s either sold or donated.
The final piece to the puzzle is the commercial kitchen, which within a year will turn less attractive produce that might not sell well at their farmers market, into things like tomato sauce and jam.
“We are here to drive home the food manufacturing concept,” Pronovost explained.
The hub is also feeding the local economy. It serves as a job training site for those interested in agriculture, manufacturing, and even culinary careers.
“To find anything within the agricultural field in an urban setting is very difficult,” said Shawn Joseph, who was hired as chief of operations at the Hub.
“It’s really needed. Helped me get to where I am or where I’m trying to go,” added Terrance Thompson, who shared that he lost his job at the YMCA during the pandemic.
The revenue generated will go back into this non-profit, one of several hubs Ag commissioner Bryan Hurlburt hopes to eventually see blooming across the state.
“It’s so important that when people think about agriculture they just don’t think about the farm that’s growing the food but they think about how it gets to them,” said Hurlburt.
O'Leary said the city is investing millions into the brownfields in Waterbury's south end. He said the next project will be a little league field located across the street from the Hub.