Have you heard? There’s a food revolution going on and it’s happening right here in Connecticut. Three towns in Fairfield County have all started their own GVIs. For those that can’t crack the alphabetical code, GVI stands for Green Village Initiative. That means organic school and community gardens. It means films and lecture series about sustainable living. It’s about renewable energy, not using harsh chemicals, and recycling. It’s everything “green” stands for and then some.
So how did this happen? One man: Dan Levinson. A Westport resident, business owner, and green entrepreneur, Levinson saw a way to bring his strong sense of environmentalism into the mainstream while simultaneously bringing his community together. And he’s brought it not only to Westport, but also to Ridgefield and most recently Fairfield.
“The act of completing a project creates a buzz,” Levinson said today at a GVI meeting at the Westport Library, “It’s what sets us apart.”
Since their launch in 2008, Westport GVI has gotten Staples High School to incorporate an edible garden into their curriculum, helped the school sponsor Eco-Fest, a festival dedicated to all things green, and started a community garden soon to be planted on the Wakeman property.
As far as Levinson’s concerned, that’s just the beginning. There’s renewable energy to think about. And, don’t forget the use of chemicals and other toxins. Everything that has to do with recycling, particularly single stream recycling, is a hot topic for him as well. These are the ways we can bring our community together by making it cleaner.
It’s that kind of forward thinking that caught Claire Carlson’s eye. Since February, she has been spearheading efforts in Ridgefield to incorporate school gardens in the town’s one high school and two middle schools.
Carlson said she has been amazed at how quickly interest in the school gardens grew. She said she’s had a phenomenal experience working with the teachers. “They’re so grateful for the help,” she said. “It’s a missing link the GVI fills.”
Carlson believes that what has really been the basis of Ridgefield GVI’s momentum is the focus on little projects and taking things one step at a time. “The snowball becomes a snowman and eventually an igloo.” she said. “It’s the definition of a grassroots movement.”
That grassroots movement has now hit Fairfield where school gardens were already spreading like wildfire. Since the first school garden broke ground in 2004, eleven of the sixteen schools in Fairfield either already have or are in the process of building a school garden. Those gardens are, in large part, due to Amie Guyette Hall, a certified holistic health counselor, and Annelise McCay, who serves on a number of organizations including Fuel for Learning Partnership that advocates school lunch nutrition.
“This makes our town healthier,” said Hall. “The gardens should provide service to the community as well. The excess food can be used for outreach programs like the Connecticut Food Bank and Operation Hope.”
Hall also said that planting the gardens was a goal that could be reached within the next two years and that, by doing so, the group was sending a clear message to the community. McCay agreed, adding that the children were the ones who would most benefit from the garden experience. “Kids can learn where their food comes from,” she said. “Let’s get these kids farming and grow awareness.”
Two more important steps in the group’s projects are creating a working farm and organic educational center on town land and eventually filming an inter-generational documentary about the experience. The documentary will trace Fairfield’s agricultural roots. Where once there were over 200 farms in Fairfield, they now only have one. In a little less than four years, the farm’s lease will be up. What happens to the land after that is anybody’s guess.
“Fairfield has lost its agricultural roots,” said McCay. “One by one, farms have disappeared. I find it heartbreaking.”
While Westport GVI and Ridgefield GVI have web sites, Fairfield GVI doesn’t have one yet. If you are interested in joining these organizations, visit their web sites for contact information. And in Fairfield, contact Amie Guyette Hall at Amieghall@aol.com or Annelise McCay at email@example.com.
Images courtesy of Annelise McCay.