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RELEASE — Growing Power 24′

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February 24, 2024

Contact: Diana Martinez – 860-580-9402 – 

Follow online: #CutShutInvestCT | IG: CultivatingJustice 

Today’s Growing Power Conference Brought Together an Unusual Mix of Participants, Including BILPOC Farmers, Business Owners, People Impacted by Mass Criminalization,  Low-Income Families, Students, & Scholars

Hundreds of People Across Connecticut & Northeast Joined Workshops on Farming, Community Organizing, Agri-Business, Raising Chickens, Beekeeping, Closing Prisons, and More

Middletown, CT – Today, the Cultivating Justice project, in collaboration with Chicks Ahoy Farm LLC and the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships at Wesleyan University, hosts the second Growing Power workshop series focused on growing food, skills, and community power. The day-long program focuses on supporting participants, including members of the Middletown community, to gain farming skills while exploring connections to the fight for justice in the criminal legal system and beyond.

More than 300 people from across Connecticut and the Northeast registered to attend the day-long event, which included workshops about gardening and farming, raising chickens, composting with worms, herbal healing, freshwater fishing, community organizing, civic engagement, and much more.

Cultivating Justice is a multi-generational project with leadership representing young people, elders, and those in between. The mission of Cultivating Justice is to nurture Connecticut’s next generation of farmers of color. The project focuses on teaching, organizing, and developing leadership among Black, Indigenous, and Latin People of Color (BILPOC) through farming, business development, and civic engagement. 

In Connecticut, more than 98% of registered farmers are white. The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows only registered farmers and growers to contribute to the Agricultural Census, which is taken every five years and directly shapes the food and farm bill in Congress. This means the people most vulnerable to food insecurity in Connecticut are not included in the decisions that shape the bill. These are many of the same communities impacted by racial and economic segregation, mass criminalization, and mass incarceration.

Growing Power, held in Middletown, comes just months after the Judicial Branch recommended investing $67 million to refurbish and re-open the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS)– a youth prison notorious for abuse. In 2018, CJTS was finally closed, but the complex still stands in what the Wesleyan Argus called a “morbid monument” to the history of detention centers in Middletown. Local residents and people formerly detained and harmed at CJTS are calling for the CJTS complex to be bulldozed and the land turned over to the community. 

Statements from community groups, students, and workshop facilitators: 

Lorenzo Jones, Co-Executive Director of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “This is our second year holding the Growing Power ’24  Workshop Series, and the responses have been amazing. We are teaching people how the USDA’s Agriculture Census impacts our access to nutrition and food in our communities. The US Department of Agriculture and the State Department of Agriculture have not included us in this Ag Census because they only invite farmers and producers to participate.  In Connecticut, 98% of the Farmers are White; thus, BILPOC and marginalized communities don’t have a say in the access to our own nutrition and food. Growing Power is helping people better understand farming and thus food justice in the state.”

Diana Martinez, Project Manager of Cultivating Justice, said: “Growing Power has something for everyone! We work to model the way power should work in communities by creating space for people of all ages, experiences, histories, and interests to connect, learn, share, and grow individually and collectively.”

Cliff Watson, Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships at Wesleyan University, said: “This conference is a powerful example of how institutions of higher learning should be collaborating with and investing in the local communities we are members of.  Growing Power will provide a space for students, faculty, and folks from communities across CT and beyond to continue to build with and learn from each other.”

Zoe Hecht, a Sophomore at Wesylan University, said: “Growing Power helps me feel more connected to my community. I have some new tools–like a fishing rod and a more nuanced understanding of community organizing and social action.”

Karin Williams, Owner of Tiki’s All-Naturals LLC, said: “As a result of last year’s Growing Power event, I now am the proud owner of 5 beautifully bratty hens, a fishing pole and fishing license, and my very own farm in Tiki’s All-Naturals.  Growing Power ’24 is bigger and better than last year, I can’t wait to see what grows this time!” 

Elizabeth Williams, Co-Owner of Tiki’s All Naturals LLC, said: “With a wide range of activities and attractions, Growing Power caters to individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you are a student, a grandparent, or a community leader, you will find something that piques your interest here. From educational workshops and games for the younger crowd to engaging talks and networking opportunities for community leaders, Growing Power covers it all. It is a gathering where individuals from different walks of life come together to enjoy, learn, and connect!”

Melanie Dominguez, Lead Organizer at the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice, said: “It is so important to create spaces for community members to engage in dialogue and learn more about the different ways they can fight for justice. Growing Power allows for this very important discussion to learn and build community power. The simple act of learning how to grow your own food is a way of fighting back against a system that for centuries has disenfranchised BIPOC communities. Understanding that the social issues that plague our communities are interconnected and are happening in tangent. Fighting to abolish prisons also means fighting to make sure that the most underserved communities have access to clean water, affordable housing, healthcare, education and jobs.”


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