Northford Farm Helps Feed Local Families

Cecarelli's Harrison Hill Farm expects to deliver 20,000 boxes of fresh produce by the end of August.

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A federal program is helping local farmers feed families in Connecticut.

Cecarelli's Harrison Hill Farm in Northford was awarded a $600,000 contract from the USDA for the Farmers to Families Food Box program.

Since May 15, more than 60 million boxes have been delivered across the country.

"We wanted as many boxes and as much food to become available as possible," said Greg Ibach, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

The USDA devised the program to help farmers whose businesses came to a grinding halt when the pandemic hit, and provide food for families struggling with food insecurity.

"There's not much profit margin in farming to start with. But to have the security of knowing that you're going to be able to be profitable because of this box program is just substantial," Cecarelli's owner William Dellacamera said.

Dellacamera started in mid-May with 2,000 boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables. Each one contains 12 pounds of produce. He worked with community organizations in Bridgeport, New Haven and East Haven to distribute the boxes to local families in need.

Farmer William Dellacamera with one of the food boxes made through the USDA program.

By July, he was making 2,000 boxes a week.

Dellacamera said the best part is the response. He's received phone calls, emails and handwritten letters from people who have received the boxes.

"Just to get fresh vegetables like they're getting. Some of these people have never had it before and those letters reflect it," he said.

Dellacamera's contract expires at the end of August. Initially, he was not going to apply for the third round due to changes in the program.

"We're looking at providing a box or boxes that are delivered simultaneously that include not only fruits and vegetables but also meat and dairy. So we have a bigger shopping cart, a more complete shopping cart being delivered to these hungry families," Ibach said.

Ibach said the shift to combination boxes was based on feedback from food pantries and a stabilizing market. But in response to comments from farmers and members of Congress including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3), the USDA amended round three to allow farmers like Dellacamera to continue providing individual commodity boxes.

Dellacamera said he will submit an application for round three. He thinks the program's merit lies in connecting local farmers to their communities.

"You're showing the next generation, 'hey seek this out, this is good stuff. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat this instead of that,'" he said.

Two other Connecticut businesses also participated in the program's first two rounds.

Dairyland Produce in Ridgefield, which does business as Sid Wainer & Son, was awarded $500,000 to provide fresh fruit and vegetable boxes.

The Willimantic Food Co-op received $6,300 to provide combination boxes containing fresh produce, precooked meat, dairy and fluid milk.

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