Aug 29, 2013
03:22 PM
Connecticut Today

New Farm-to-Table Café at Hartford Public Library Is Also a Jobs Initiative

New Farm-to-Table Café at Hartford Public Library Is Also a Jobs Initiative

Lindsay Vigue Photography (www.lindsayviguephotography.zenfolio.com)

From left, Thea Montanez, Chair of the Hartford Public Library Board; Matt Poland, CEO, Hartford Public Library; Gov. Dannel P. Malloy; Cary Wheaton, Executive Director, Billings Forge Community Works; Mayor Segarra; Nancy Wheeler, Vice President, Investor Relations, MetroHartford Alliance; Catherine Smith, Commissioner DECD.

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At a debut event Wednesday for Kitchen at Hartford Public Library, a new farm-to-table café, the invited guests were naturally encouraged to enjoy some breakfast—mini cheddar-and-bacon quiches, homemade cinnamon scones and mini muffins, Omar Coffee Company brews, Harney & Sons teas and more.

The food was good, and so is the advent of another daytime fine dining option in downtown Hartford, one that’s not just for library patrons. But also in the air at the event were the larger positive things that Kitchen represents—big-picture considerations for Hartford, and for the state in general.

Kitchen may be a dining venture on the surface—see our related dining story on the new café—but in a more profound and impactful way it represents a creative answer to challenges faced by Connecticut’s urban centers, and a response to the dismal jobs picture in forlorn pockets of our largest cities.

Besides being a café with nice food, Kitchen is a nonprofit partnership between a library known for its civic engagement and role as a jobs resource center and Billings Forge Community Works, and as such it “pairs farm-to-table job training with permanent job placement services,” as the release announcing Kitchen explained it.

Billings Forge Community Works is “a driving force in community participation and empowerment in Hartford,” and now, together with the library, it has upped the ante on its already impressive track record by creating a “one-stop-shop for job training and permanent job placement for those who work in Hartford.”

The “tasty” results of the partnership are so palpably innovative that Gov. Dannel Malloy said simply at one point in Wednesday’s event, “You have to take pride” in the accomplishment.

“Libraries are unbelievable transitional organizations,” the governor went on to say, by way of praising the ongoing evolution shepherded by library CEO Matt Poland and his staff—and before stressing that the capital city’s library already “functions as a job center, and [through Kitchen] now has onsite job training with the goal of offering good paying jobs with good benefits in a great community.”

Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, framed the energizing appeal of this particular initiative when she said, “Economic development in Connecticut comes in all sizes and shapes, [Kitchen] is the most delicious of all sizes and shapes.”

If the new farm-to-table fare was one star of Wednesday’s debut event, and the dignitaries joined Poland as others, the sun was Cary Wheaton, executive director of Billings Forge Community Works.

Wheaton oversees an operation that includes the inspiration for the library’s new café, Kitchen at Billings Forge, which offers a farm-to-table café of its own, catering, cooking classes and more—along with a farmers’ market, a community garden and “edible classroom,” a performance, events, class and community space and youth programs.

New Farm-to-Table Café at Hartford Public Library Is Also a Jobs Initiative

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