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Urban farming initiative hopes to reduce city blight and provide healthy food to Hartford

Herb Virgo works with volunteers in a greenhouse at the Keney Park Sustainability Project, June 2022.
Mark Mirko
Connecticut Public
FILE: Herb Virgo works with volunteers in a greenhouse at the Keney Park Sustainability Project, June 2022.

A new initiative in Hartford aims to transform some abandoned lots into urban farms, which will grow produce, host bee-keeping operations and local events. It’s being made possible in part, by The Hartford Land Bank, an organization that is transferring abandoned lots to urban farmers to develop.

Abandoned properties, vacant lots and neighborhood blight have significant negative impacts on affected communities. Run-down properties decrease surrounding property values, pose safety hazards and reduce local tax revenue, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD.

Arunan Arulampalam, the CEO of the Hartford Land Bank, said it was through community outreach and neighborhood door-knocking that they realized Urban Farming might be well received in neighborhoods across the city.

“We'd looked at some studies that had shown that beautifying green space in vacant lots in high crime, in high poverty neighborhoods could lead to up to 30% drop in crime, so one of the options we gave them was to work with urban farmers,” Arulampalam said.

The Hartford Land Bank knew about a cohort of urban farmers working with the Keney Park Sustainability Project (KPSP), an organization offering various programs to support the development of urban farmers and community-based food systems.

“The mission is to increase land ownership for farmers and to increase the production of locally grown produce for our network of farmers in the city,” said Herb Virgo, the founder and executive director of the Keney Park Sustainability Project.

Their newest initiative, the Urban Ecology Wellness Center, is looking at urban agriculture through a health and nutrition lens. With the help of the Hartford Land Bank, KPSP embarked on a program to identify farmers with the proper business models to rehabilitate and reconnect the land to the community.

“Each one of these farmers who are receiving or taking over a vacant lot, all have their own businesses which sell produce to school systems and farmer’s markets," Virgo said. "They do donate some produce and contribute to Connecticut Foodshare. So they all have different business models."

The farmers will work with and educate the community on growing food and healthy eating. They will also teach kids in the public schools about farming.

The Hartford Land Bank and KPSP have three lots set for urban farming awaiting approval from the city’s planning and zoning commission.

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