A new initiative through UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is helping connect farmers and residents in northeastern Connecticut.
Grown Connected is a new marketing and educational campaign to help showcase the robust agricultural industry in Connecticut’s “quiet corner,” a designated national heritage corridor, and help farmers promote their businesses.
“The character of the region is so rich in agriculture, and it wasn’t necessarily being shown to be as visible as it could be,” extension communications coordinator Becca Toms says.
The project will support farmers who sell directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, farm stands, or co-ops. This work is supported by funding through USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service.
“It’s really built around this idea that we want to foster strong connections between residents who live in the area and farmers who want to sell directly to consumers,” extension educator Jiff Martin says.
Currently, more than 100 farms in over 20 municipalities are part of Grown Connected.
The slogan “Grown Connected” emphasizes that the project is about more than buying local produce; it’s about fostering connections between farmers and consumers in this unique area.
“It’s not just about your dollars,” Martin says. “It’s about your relationships with farmers.”
This project was developed through close collaboration with farmers. Grown Connected has a 15-member farmer advisory team. These farmers provided the program coordinators with essential guidance and expertise from their years of experience.
“They’re the most important folks in this work,” Toms says. “We wanted their buy-in and approval.”
Ginger Jenne runs Coruscant Farm in Ashford. Given her background in marketing, Jenne played a pivotal role in farmer focus groups developing the design and branding for Grown Connected.
Jenne, whose farm grows vegetables, eggs, loofahs, and beef, says she hopes Grown Connected can help make people aware of the diversity of the area’s farms which sell a dazzling array of products including fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts, herbs, dairy products, and more.
“We’re lucky in this part of Connecticut,” Jenne says. “You can find everything.”
Jenne says this initiative comes at a particularly appropriate time as the pandemic has shown consumers everywhere that grocery stores’ offerings can be disrupted by transportation issues, labor shortages, and other challenges.
“You don’t need to be entirely dependent on the grocery store,” Jenne says. “We really need to realize our community can be resilient and our farmers really do support the community.”
Grown Connected is hoping to teach — and more importantly, show – people the value of buying fresh produce. Produce from farmers’ markets and stands lasts longer and is more flavorful than produce shipped from thousands of miles away.
“There’s a world of difference,” Toms says. “The quality of your food is going to be different.”
The program will also host informational sessions to help farmers improve their marketing strategies. They will provide farmers with tools to build and utilize websites and social media to reach consumers more effectively.
The program coordinators will be collecting sales data from farmers to assess the efficacy of their efforts.
Grown Connected will formally launch with a Facebook Live event at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13 from Woodstock Orchards. The event will include a raffle of local farms’ Community Supported Agriculture. Click here for more information and to register.
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