Group wants New Milford to join ‘Greenwave Movement’ to educate about farming, healthy agriculture

NEW MILFORD — A group of residents is proposing a town-wide initiative involving organic regenerative farming called the “Greenwave Movement.”

Regenerative farming, which has become a global movement, is a holistic land management practice that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance farms by focusing on soil health, water management and reduction of harmful chemicals.

The goal of the movement is for all of New Milford’s food to be locally grown, on local farms, as opposed to being imported.

To put its plan into place, the Greenwave Movement, which is being spearheaded by residents Joe Quaranta, a farmer, Connecticut licensed arborist and forest practitioner; and Ashley Russo, a functional nutrition counselor, is proposing using $150,000 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

“We are looking to have a 100-mile circumference (of locally grown food) around the epicenter of New Milford,” Quaranta said.

He said residents should be consuming food that was grown within the past 24 to 48 hours.

“We don’t want to be eating food that had a three- or four-week travel time,” Quaranta said. “All the nutritional value is gone by then.”

To implement its proposal, the Greenwave Movement is proposing the creation of a town committee to develop an application process to administer funding as well as educational programs based around healthy agricultural practices.

In presenting their proposal, Russo and Quaranta pointed to the town’s 2021-2031 Plan of Conservation and Development, which addresses the need to preserve and protect farmland.

Funding breakdown

As part of the the Greenwave Movement’s $150,000 funding request to the town, it’s proposing using $15,000 for agricultural education.

“We’d ultimately like to see (town-owned) Sullivan Farm opened up to the public so that we can give classes and provide hands-on educational opportunities for our residents,” he said. “We would use Sullivan Farm as a showcase to show our community how these practices work and what their benefits are.”

Additionally, the movement is proposing $105,000 be put toward farmer financial assistance.

“So, any type of farmer, if they see value in the education and the showcases that we have at the town farm, can apply to sequester some of those funds to implement these things on their farm,” Quaranta said.

Also, $30,000 would be put toward supplying locally grown, fresh healthy food for seniors and families in need through the town’s voucher system.

“You can use this voucher at any one of our participating farms in New Milford so we can guarantee that our most vulnerable population has the same access that anyone else would have to this quality food,” Quaranta said.

Town Council member Alex Thomas said the Greenwave Movement initiative is of “global importance.”

“Food supplies and healthy water are not choices, but necessities,” Thomas said. “Joe’s plan is a great start and proposes a committee to collect data and manage outcomes.”

Town Council member Hilary Ram, who was part of Sustainable CT for New Milford, said she also agrees a subcommittee that supports and advocates for farmers is needed in town.

She added she would like to see Sullivan Farm be a big part of the movement.

“Certainly we want to be teaching our children the newest and best farming methods for health and longevity,” she said.

Jeremy Schultz, owner of Clatter Valley Farm in New Milford, told Hearst Connecticut Media he has some concerns with the initiative.

He said he’s wary of any regulations around farming practices that may come about as a result of this initiative.

“A lot of this stuff is not proven over time. And they’re based on assumptions that industrial or commercial agriculture aren’t changing, when in fact that’s not true,” said Schultz, a board member of the northeast region branch of the Certified Crop Advisers program.

He said “regenerative” and “sustainable” are “fluid” terms.

“They’re not tried and true, concrete practices,” he said.

He said if the initiative would mandate practices for people in the community, he’s against it.

“I do not want to be told how to farm,” he said. “Regulation, in my opinion, can have a smothering effect on innovation.”

At the meeting, Town Council member Tom Esposito said the initiative, as well as using American Rescue Plan Act funds for it, should not be an immediate decision for the town.

“This is going to take some time to implement and research, and is not just going to be implemented if the $150,000 is approved,” Esposito said. “I just think this conversation of what’s come up with this last bit of money for ARPA right now — It’s just not appropriate. Let’s put together this committee, as many of us agreed in prior statements. And let’s just move this thing forward and put Ashley on that committee so she can use her knowledge and try to influence it.”

Needs assessment

The town will conduct a needs assessment for the initiative, in regard to the major needs for New Milford farmers, said New Milford Mayor Pete Bass at the most recent Town Council meeting.

“I think the key audiences that we need to be looking at as we begin to build out the needs assessment is our current farmers — whether they be large-scale, multi-year experienced farmers or the small-scale, new-to-industry farmer. I think everybody needs a seat at the table,” Bass said.

Bass added the town also needs to hear from agricultural experts on this topic such as leaders from key agricultural land trust environmental organizations, and social service, nonprofit organizations related to food insecurity.

He pointed to researching organizations such as the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, the Northwest Hills Council of Governments Regional Food Hub and the Northwest Connecticut Farming Association of Connecticut.

The initiative is “a very noble thing that we’re looking to do,” but it’ll require deeper conversation, Bass said.

“It’s something that we need to really look at,” he added. “It’s very complex. There’s a lot of partners and I think that we can not only partner with but learn from, if we’re going to go on this endeavor to really make this a world class type of thing.”

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