More produce and healthy food in Hartford homes - that is what new grant funding aims to achieve. It will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Knox Parks Foundation in Hartford to train the next generation of inner-city farmers.
When it comes to food, urban farmer Derrick Bedward likes it spicy! He attributes that to is Caribbean roots.
“Started from Jamaica, as a kid growing up around the house usually see these plants and the pumpkin blossom always attract me. And growing up, my father used to take us out in the field with three brothers,” Bedward said.
Today, he loves to fill the stomachs and feed the souls of West Indians living in Hartford.
“The farming I do is for the West Indian community because they love the scotch bonnet, the pumpkins, the scallions, and the thyme, and that's what I grew for the farmers market,” Bedward said.
Bedward got a degree in urban farming from Capital Community College. At the Knox home base on Laurel Street in Harford, his office is open rain or shine.
“I see there's a need for my community,” he said.
It’s a big need. Many Harford neighborhoods are located more than half a mile from a supermarket, making it a designated food desert.
“It’s really difficult for people who live in the city to access a grocery store or a place where they can get fresh produce,” Knox Executive Director Patrick Doyle said.
On Friday, the Knox Parks Foundation got new grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to bolster urban farming. The foundation will get $365,000 over the next three years.
“Knox manages 21 gardens in the city to help give people an opportunity to grow food for themselves,” Doyle said. “Then in our farming program, our farmers are growing food in greater quantities that they can get out into the food system in different ways.”
The grant program is expected to enable farmers to produce eight tons of food in the first year alone.
“Food to get back into the city, primarily through farmers markets that are happening right here in Hartford and the different neighborhoods, as well as through sales from here to public schools. So that fresh produce is going directly from farm to school,” Doyle said.
Not only that, but the foundation will also teach a new generation how to become urban farmers. Beward will be an instructor.
“It's important because it sets the foundation for others to follow and recognize that farming is great for the inner-city,” he said.
He is following a passion that’s about more than the food.
“It's a get-together between neighbors and farmers or the gardeners, also,” Beward said. “I want to continue feeding our community and making them more healthy.”
If you want to get your hands on some of the fresh produce, you can do so at the Knox Parks Foundation’s upcoming Harvest Market. The annual event is at 75 Laurel St. in Harford. It takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 20, which is the Saturday before Thanksgiving.