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New Community and Economic Development Educator at University of Connecticut: Laura Brown

Posted: April 21, 2015

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to Laura Brown, who recently joined the University of Connecticut as a Community and Economic Development Educator. Brown, originally from Massachusetts, returned to the Northeast after nearly a decade in Wisconsin where she worked at the state and county levels on food systems and community development projects. We caught up with Brown to find out how her experiences in the Midwest will shape her work in Connecticut, and what issues she’ll be working on in the months to come.

Laura Brown takes a systems approach to her work—an approach that was influenced in part by her former role as a state specialist in Wisconsin where she and her colleagues recognized a need to better coordinate statewide efforts around food systems. In response to this need, she helped organize and administer a multidisciplinary team that cut across program areas to develop more interdisciplinary programming in food systems.

"We realized that our different program teams were approaching food systems work through very different lenses,” she said. “We all had our valuable input to bring to the discussion, and we thought we could be doing a better job as an organization providing education to the community if we could better understand each other’s perspectives."

Here in the Northeast, Brown sees a number of groups already doing this type of work, and she also sees very different issues facing the Northeast food system than she saw in the Midwest. For example, development pressure in the Northeast may necessitate programming focused on high-intensity, small-scale agriculture, increasing efficiencies, and supporting new farmers.

But Brown's work in Connecticut won't be limited to the food system arena. In her first couple of months on the job, she has heard a lot of discussion about a growing need for facilitated collaboration among regional, municipal, and non-profit groups. "It's bringing people doing similar work to the table and improving their ability to work together, to increase efficiency but also to get people learning from one another," she explained.

Brown also sees a lot of potential in our region to develop more scholarship around urban Extension work. "We're basically part of the biggest metro area in the country that extends from Washington, DC all the way up to Boston, and Connecticut is squarely in the middle of that region," she said. "How do we do community development in urban areas as part of Extension, and how do we develop a scholarship around that? How do we get communities collaborating?"

Brown sees the issues facing rural and urban communities as inextricably linked. "Especially in the Northeast, there’s no such thing as something that just affects the cities or just affects a rural community," she said. "We’re so tied together as part of a 'commutershed' or a 'foodshed.' Making those connections or helping people understand those connections is really important."

Also important to Brown is helping people understand economic development. As a certified economic developer, she wants to demystify it, particularly for local elected officials and planning professionals. While in Wisconsin, she co-coordinated an economic development course, and would like to be involved with similar training efforts in the Northeast.

"I'm a collaborator by nature, so I'm really excited to learn from people in the region who are already doing this kind of work and have been doing it for a long time, and to learn more about what works here.

To learn more about University of Connecticut’s Extension programming in community development, visit: http://www.extension.uconn.edu/ or contact Brown directly at: .