The New Green: Fighting food deserts in CT
Last month, the federal government cut food stamp benefits by $8.6 billion over the next ten years, which will affect 850,000 households. The crises of urban food deserts, where low-income populations are deprived of access to affordable and healthy foods, is an ever-growing concern. And the relatively recent and arbitrary advent of the supermarket has destroyed the neighborly networks that used to bind communities together, such as relationships with the local baker, fishmonger, farmer and deli man. Food culture, which has long been central to our community identities and social structures, now often consists of a frozen dinner eaten alone in front of the television.
But there is hope! Because food is so central to our existence and so defining to our identities, it holds enormous potential as a vehicle for community revitalization. One of the most unique and innovative food projects to emerge in Connecticut is located in our own backyard - the Willimantic Commercially Licensed Community Kitchen (CLiCK). CLiCK is a nonprofit organization run on cooperative values, which will provide a licensed kitchen from which local food vendors can prepare foods and comply with health codes. But CLiCK's mission extends far beyond providing an approved kitchen space. As their recent press release explains, CLiCK will bring local products to tables, provide nutrition education and allow the creation of small businesses and jobs in the area. Beneficiaries of the project include farmers who can add value to their products, local caterers and bakers, who need a licensed kitchen to permit the legal sale of their food and the local community, particularly under-served populations who will be a focus for the nutrition education programs. Business skills training and support and capital are available for nascent businesses through CLiCK's collaboration with Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF)."
In fact, addressing issues of local poverty is central to CLiCK's mission. Besides saving money on a licensed kitchen, local residents can also take advantage of culinary job training and educational programs about food preparation and nutrition. Importantly, CLiCK strives to be inclusive of all community members and offers classes in both English and Spanish.
After five years of planning, CLiCK released the exciting news this week that it has finally obtained a physical location that will function as its headquarters. The group purchased a facility located 41 Club Road in Windham, a short distance from Willimantic's downtown Main Street area. The building, which requires renovation and is predicted to be operating by peak growing season of this year, contains not only a kitchen but also outdoor space school and community gardens, chickens, fruit trees, bees and educational activities.
CLiCK's Board President, Phoebe Godfrey, is an assistant professor of sociology here at UConn and teaches a course in food, climate change and sustainability; and another Board member, Dr. Hedley Freake, is a professor of Nutritional Sciences. "CLiCK is a timely and much needed venture in that it provides solutions to both social and environmental problems on the local and global levels," Dr. Godfrey said. "We are extremely excited to have this space and we invite all people of good will and vision, including UCONN students, to help us make CLiCK a success by using the space to incubate their own food-related ideas."
More information on CLiCK can be found on their newly updated website www.clickwillimantic.com as well as their Facebook page, and inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. CLiCK is truly an unprecedented experiment in food and community-building.
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