Middletown, CT—The Rockfall Foundation recently awarded grants to six Middletown groups in support of local agriculture, food security and environmental education and outreach projects.
A total of nearly $9000 will be distributed in Middletown in 2009, with the one-year grants ranging from $500 to $2500. This represents more than half the total funds awarded this year by the foundation, which has provided environmental education and planning grants to organizations and towns throughout Middlesex County since 1971.
Anthony P. Marino, Chair of Rockfall’s Grants Committee, said that “Our choices continue to reflect Rockfall’s focus on grassroots programs that encourage residents to spend more time outside and to better understand our communities’ natural resources and unique character,” The foundation, says Marino, seeks programs that inspire both young and old to go outside, take a walk or trail hike, paddle a local river and dig in the dirt. “Direct, hands-on experiences often translate into life-long appreciation and care for our natural world,” explains Marino. “The heart of our mission at Rockfall is to encourage long-term stewardship of our county’s natural environment.”
The Connecticut River Coastal Conservation District has received a grant to produce a guide and presentation on how to control invasive plant species in private yards, which will be an invaluable resource for ecologically minded gardeners.
The city of Middletown will use one if its two 2009 Rockfall grants to produce a detailed city walking guide.
[ related story in Eye http://middletowneyenews.blogspot.com/2009/04/walk-ct-to-be-featured-in-westfield.html ] “Development of a comprehensive walking guide to the city can go a long way toward getting residents out of their cars and into a more active lifestyle,” believes Leslie Lewis, director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association’s WalkCT project. “I believe this is the first step (no pun intended) toward making the city the first WalkCT community in the state.”
The Jonah Center for Earth and Art received a grant in general support of environmental education and outreach projects, particularly those that will involve school children. Programs that engage children are of special interest to Rockfall. "Through Rockfall’s K-12 grants- to- schools initiative we hope to encourage educators to incorporate nature lessons into their classrooms,” explains Marino. “Groups like the Jonah Center provide valuable experiences and resources for teachers who may not have time to develop their own materials or programs.”
A number of this year’s grants also reflect Rockfall’s new specially-designated interest in encouraging local farming and sustainable agriculture in Middlesex County, especially through the marketing and distribution of locally-produced foods. “Middletown has always valued local farms for their beauty and the diversity of foods they bring to our tables and local restaurants,” says Jane Harris, Chair of Rockfall’s Environment and Education Committee and a member of the Grants Committee. “Now there is more awareness of just how vital local farms can be to keeping food costs low while safeguarding the health of our natural resources.”
Middletown’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development has been awarded a Rockfall grant to bring farmers, land-use commissioners, city officials and the public together in a series of facilitated meetings called charettes to explore how to establish a sustainable farmer’s market in Middletown.
Another Rockfall grant will support Wesleyan University’s Long Lane Farm’s expanded program to assist food security programs in Middletown. “With the help of the Rockfall Foundation, Long Lane Farm is embarking on another phase of its development,” believes Dr. Barry Chernoff, Director of Environmental Studies at Wesleyan and a project participant. “The Farm has made a decision to substantially increase its ability to provide food that it grows for low income families through organizations such as The Amazing Grace Food Pantry, as well as others. According to Chernoff, the new effort seeks to respond to “the true need that is building in our communities for free food for people who have been hurt by the economic depression that our country is in.”
With its grant from Rockfall, the Russell Library will plant a few seeds of its own that may help nurture a new generation of local farmers. On library grounds, the Green Children ecology group will grow a variety of vegetables from around the world and teach its young farmers how to prepare a variety of ethnic dishes with their harvest.
While modest, the foundation’s grants often provide critical seed money and support for groups that don’t have large budgets or staff to attract major benefactors or grants. Such funding is difficult to acquire in times of economic cutbacks and belt tightening.
A recent national poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press revealed in January that protecting natural resources and major environmental issues such as global warming are no longer considered to be important priorities by the American public as concerns over the economy and job losses predominate. “This reinforces the importance of not only continuing but strengthening our mission here in the county,” believes Rockfall President Brian McCarthy, “especially through our grants program. “Our goal in the next few years,” he explains, “is to increase membership and donor support so we will not have to turn away any worthy applicant in the future.”
Rockfall 2009 grants also were awarded in Middlesex County to the Connecticut River Museum, the Town of Essex, the Essex Land Trust, Incarnation Center and the Henry Carter Hull Library.
Founded nearly 75 years ago by Middletown resident Clarence S. Wadsworth, Rockfall is named after the falls in Wadsworth Falls State Park. In addition to its grants program, the foundation continues to preserve and help sustain open space land holdings in Middletown and support the Wadsworth/Kerste deBoer Arboretum, a Wadsworth legacy property on Long Lane, which will mark its 100th anniversary this April.
Rockfall is headquartered in the historic deKoven House on Washington Street, which it maintains and operates as a community center, and provides office space for locally-based environmental groups.
Every fall, the foundation sponsors an annual symposium that explores issues related to municipal growth and how to balance conservation and economic development. This year’s symposium will focus on the economics of greening for towns and businesses, and will be held at Middlesex Community College on October 9th.
Grants are awarded by the foundation annually. Application information and schedules are available by calling the office at 347-0340 or visiting the website http://www.rockfallfoundation.org/.