New London organization developing urban agriculture program –

New London — Just because New London is a small city, it doesn’t mean there’s any shortage of people eager to share their ideas on urban farming.

More than 50 people gathered Sunday at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, as FRESH New London held its first community meeting to seek input for a five-year master plan for urban agriculture it is developing for the city.

Back in March, FRESH received a $50,000 grant from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital to develop a plan for expanding agriculture in the city, and Sunday marked the urban farming organization’s first community meeting on the subject. FRESH plans to hold at least two more similar meetings later this year.

“It was a really great turnout and it was nice to see people from all over New London come out,” said FRESH Executive Director Alicia McAvay. “I was really impressed with the ideas these folks came up with.”

“We’ve been talking about this for a while and a lot of these were ideas we hadn’t thought of,” she added.

Coming from throughout New London and representing a variety of organizations including Fiddleheads, New London Community Meal, Mt. Moriah Church and Saint Francis House, those in attendance heard two presentations from FRESH.

They highlighted the state of New London’s food system and how efforts in New London fit into the larger urban agriculture movement in New England, and laid the groundwork for the facilitated community group discussion that followed.

The presentation on New London’s food system, delivered by FRESH’s Chloe Murphy, gave residents a look at food accessibility in New London and spotlighted some of the challenges residents face in a city with very few grocery stores, an abudance of fast food restaurants and only a handful of community gardens.

Meanwhile the presentation focusing on the urban farming movement in New England offered a few examples of projects going on in the region, as well as a discussion of “A New England Food Vision,” a report by a University of New Hampshire professor and Food Solutions New England, which set a goal for the region of producing 50 percent of its own food by 2060.

“You really get the sense that a lot of work is getting done, and a lot more work still needs to be done,” Maegan Parrot, a New London organizer who has been active in the FRESH community garden at McDonald Park told the audience while discussing urban farming efforts that are underway in the region.

After the presentations, residents broke into five groups to discuss specific topics such as vegetable and fruit snack beds, edible landscaping such as fruit trees, community gardens and backyard beds, the business case for New London food and urban farms and greenhouses.

Residents offered numerous ideas from possible locations for projects and ways to boost communication to coordinating urban farming among neighborhoods and specific project ideas.

McAvay said FRESH will now develop a steering committee that will examine the feedback from residents and incorporate it into the organization’s plan. The steering committee is looking for members and will have its first meeting on Aug. 8, she added.

Meanwhile McAvay said FRESH will also soon take a series of field trips to get a better idea of what works and doesn’t work in projects throughout New England before FRESH hosts its next large community meeting on Sept. 20.

“I’m just really excited that this is our chance to build a community-run food system, that people can get really involved in it, and that it is not just one institution,” McAvay said.