Work at the Armory Community Garden in summer 2020. Allison Hadley File Photo.
Live demonstrations with ospreys and peregrine falcons. An introduction to urban agriculture—across from a neighborhood hub where it takes place. Live music from Thabisa and the St. Luke’s Steel Band. Leafy greens seasoned and cooked to perfection—that prove plant-based eating is more than a wilting stereotype.
Those are all in the mix as Gather New Haven gears up for its first-ever festival at DeGale Field (more commonly known as Goffe Street Park), a six-hour celebration of food, music, and community scheduled for Sunday Sept. 18. Last week, Gather Executive Director Brent Peterkin came on WNHH Community Radio's "Arts Respond" to talk about it. Listen to the full interview below.
"We're celebrating community, health, wellness and connections with nature," he said. "We wanted to bring something new and refreshing to New Haven. We wanted to celebrate community. We wanted to celebrate having an optimal state of health and wellness. And we want people to develop that reflex ... to connect with nature."
The festival, which both honors Gather's roots and looks to its future, has been three years in the making. In 2020, Gather New Haven emerged from a sequential merger of New Haven Farms and the New Haven Land Trust. Three years prior, the Land Trust had absorbed Schooner, Inc. Since 2018, New Haven Farms and the Land Trust moved into an office together, and began to collaborate more often on programs. By 2020, the two had formally merged.
Peterkin, who for years led Project Longevity as its statewide director, stepped in to lead during that time. In an interview on WNHH's "Dateline New Haven" in May 2020 and again on "Arts Respond" last week, he looked to the role as a logical continuation of his work to stem the spread of violence and increase equity, focused on doing that work through food justice, urban farming, outdoor educuation and exposure to nature.
In New Haven—a city that still grapples with resource allocation, consistent food insecurity, and the history of redlining—that perspective feels overdue. In addition to its signature programs, Gather runs farm sites and community gardens across the city, and maintains several nature preserves that were a hallmark of the New Haven Land Trust.
For the past two years, the organization has also continued to incubate. Looking to the history of both New Haven Farms and the New Haven Land Trust, Gather has continued to offer farm-based wellness, its "Growing Entrepreneurs" program, and a Schooner Summer Camp that brings waterfront education to young New Haveners who may not otherwise learn to use—and care for—the city's waterways.
"Gather New Haven is still in its nascent stages. It's still an infant, if you will, but its DNA is rich and spans decades," Peterkin said. At the festival, "we hope people will either become more familiar or reacquainted with Gather New Haven, or just be able to celebrate this journey that we're taking with the community."
He added that he is excited to share the organization's mission more widely than the past two years have allowed with the Covid-19 pandemic, and hopes to see the neighborhood come out. When Gather was planning the festival, organizers chose DeGale Field in part for its location, which sits at the nucleus of Whalley, Edgewood and Beaver Hills and directly across the Armory Community Garden.
"This is a day for New Haven to show up and show out, to take pride in everything that we've been doing as a whole," he said. "We're just trying to bring everyone together and say, 'listen, what can nature do?' What can it do for you and your life?"
Gather New Haven’s inaugural festival is scheduled for Sept. 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at DeGale Field/Goffe Street Park. For more information, listen to or download the above interview. To learn more about Gather New Haven, visit the organization on Facebook, Instagram, or on their website. Thank you to our content partners at WNHH Community Radio for sharing their airwaves with us.