State grants awarded to fund area agriculture projects, expand, create jobs

Norwich schools food services will start blanching and freezing vegetables from local farmers to serve to students, while employees of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, Connecticut College and Fiddleheads Food Co-op will be able to order fresh produce brought to their workplaces.

Those are two of the six New London County projects that will be supported by state agriculture grants announced Wednesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state Department of Agriculture. A total of 32 grants, worth $816,706, are being distributed statewide through the agriculture department's Farm Transition Grant and Farm Viability Grant programs.

"Connecticut's agricultural sector has enormous untapped potential," Malloy said in a news release. The grants will help preserve the state's agricultural heritage and expand and create jobs, he said.

Local grant recipients include:

• Mattern Farm, Preston, $35,025 to refurbish a dairy farm into a cheese processing facility. With the farm match, the project will total $70,050.

• Town of East Lyme, $3,800 for marketing and promotion of the farmers market. The total project budget is $10,000.

• Town of Bozrah, $2,603 for farmers market promotion. The total budget is $5,206.

• Town of Voluntown, $7,488 for farmers market promotion. Total budget is $14,976.

• F.R.E.S.H. New London, $18,100 to develop a workplace community-supported agriculture program. Total project budget is $36,400.

• Norwich Public Schools Food Service, $49,999 to refurbish an underused school kitchen for processing of Connecticut grown produce. The total project budget is $102,516.

Arthur Lerner, founder and executive director of F.R.E.S.H., said the community-supported agriculture project would sign up about 100 employees of L+M, Fiddleheads and Conn to receive 20 weeks of deliveries of fresh produce. Most of the vegetables would be grown on the F.R.E.S.H. farm in Waterford. It would be supplemented with produce from other local farms, Lerner said.

The grant funds will help refurbish a truck used for the deliveries, create newsletters and web-based materials for CSA members, and increase the amount of land under cultivation, Lerner said. For information on subscribing to the F.R.E.S.H. CSA, visit www.freshnewlondon.org.

Roberta Jacobs, the food services director for Norwich schools, hopes to be able to supply up to three-quarters of the vegetables consumed by schoolchildren during the year from produce harvested at local farms and frozen in a school kitchen. The grant will help pay for a large steamer, a blast chiller and bagging equipment, she said. There is already a large walk-in freezer to store the produce.

Jacobs said the schools have been purchasing produce locally for several years at Randall Farm in Lebanon and Lo Presti Farm in Preston, among others.

"One of the farms kept calling me and asking, 'Can you take more?'" she said. "The produce is out there."

Now, the schools will purchase green beans, tomatoes, squash, carrots, beets, broccoli and other vegetables that might have otherwise been thrown out by the farmers. She said students will be told their vegetables are coming from local farms.

The program will keep two food service workers employed through the summer, she added.

j.benson@theday.com

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