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Author Archives: UConn Extension

Join the Big Bug Hunt to Beat Garden Pests

mealybug

Obscure mealybug (photo credit: J. Allen, UConn)

Major citizen science project tracks garden bugs to identify when and how they spread
Key points

  1. The Big Bug Hunt is an international research project to track when and how garden bugs spread.
  2. Participants are helping to create a pest-alert system that will warn gardeners when pests are heading their way.
  3. Anyone can take part and reporting a bug takes seconds. The more reports received, the quicker the pest-alert system can be developed.
  4. Now-in its second year, The Big Bug Hunt has already identified patterns in the way some major pests spread. Additional reports will improve accuracy and speed development of the pest-alert system. BigBugHunt.com

Food Safety for Artisan Cheesemakers

cheese productionDr. Dennis D’Amico has been working with North Carolina State University to convert his cheese food safety workshop into an online program. They recently launched the online course: Food Safety for Artisan Cheesemakers. The course will be offered at no cost until the end of the year by using the code INTRO-FREE.   To enroll : https://foodsafety.ncsu.edu/food-safety-basics-artisan-cheesemakers/.


The course was designed to assist Artisan and Farmstead Cheese-makers to develop/refine their food safety programs to protect consumers and comply with food safety regulations. It is intended to equip cheese-makers with knowledge of basic food safety concepts and introduce a number of best practices/preventive controls.  The class was developed at North Carolina State University in a collaborative effort of food safety and cheese experts from the University of Connecticut, the Center For Dairy Research, Cornell University, the Innovation Center for US Dairy, and includes extensive input from Artisan Cheesemakers.  The course begins with a welcome letter and orientation to online learning and then has five interactive learning modules with professional voiceover, video, and an accompanying quiz:
 
Lesson 1: Importance of Food Safety
Lesson 2: Regulations and Standards
Lesson 3: Food Safety Hazards
Lesson 4: Good Manufacturing Practices and Process Controls
Lesson 5: Environmental Pathogen Monitoring and Testing

Lifelong Learning in September

CLIR group

CLIR, a lifelong learning program offered in collaboration with UConn Extension, will hold the following classes in September, most in Vernon Cottage on the UConn Depot Campus:

Memoir Club                                                  Thursdays from Sept 7        10:15 – 11:45

An Introduction to the Socio-Cultural Roots of Climate Change  Sept 11, 18, 25, 7:00 – 8:30, at CLiCK in Willimantic, 41 Club Road

History of Immigration to Connecticut        Wednesday, Sept 13     1:15-2:45

Knot Theory and Its Application in Performing Arts          Wednesday, Sept 20     1:15-2:45

A Two-Part Course on Universal Basic Income:    From the Viewpoint of an Economist             Tuesday, Sept 26     1:15-2:45

From the Viewpoint of a Computer Scientist    Thursday, Sept 28     1:15-2:45

CT Needs a Passport to the Parks

waterfallWhat is the Passport to the Parks?

The Passport to the Parks is a $10 charge added to your 2-year motor vehicle registration which would generate an estimated $14.3 million each year for the operations, maintenance, and improvement of your State Parks. In return for paying this charge every other year, all motor vehicles with CT license plates would gain day use parking entry to the State Parks for free (the parking fee charged for out-of-state vehicles would continue).

This would be an amazing value considering that one weekend visit to a shoreline Park like Hammonasset Beach State Park costs $13, and a season’s pass to the State Parks is $67.  This would reduce traffic backups entering parks, and help CT DEEP redistribute more seasonal workers to manage land, wildlife, and water resources for the public since fewer seasonals would be needed to staff entry gates.

Will the Passport to the Parks totally fund the Parks?

No, but it would generate about 80% of the funding for the Parks from a new funding source (the total budget for State Parks at full operations is ~$18 million). Making 80% of State Parks funding “reliable” from year to year would allow the Parks to operate more smoothly by reducing current timing problems related to the annual budget process (e.g., the state fiscal year starts July 1st, right before one of the busiest weekends of the year, and DEEP has to staff-up with seasonals in April/May to be ready although there typically isn’t a budget in place for the next year). Obviously, it would be better for State Parks funding to be 80% reliable versus 100% vulnerable.

It is important to note that if the Passport to the Parks funding is combined with out-of-state parking fees along with camping, cabin, and other facility rental fees being dedicated to DEEP for Park and Campground management rather than to the General Fund, the Parks can become virtually self-sufficient.

Is the Passport to the Parks Necessary?

Absolutely! This year, 4 campgrounds were closed, museum and nature center hours were cut, seasonal workers were reduced by almost 50%, 12 full-time park maintainers were given pink slips, and the revised Governor’s Budget for 2018-19 proposes a large funding cut along with moving to “passive management” for most Parks. If the current trajectory continues, further Park and campground closures and losses of public services are imminent. The chronic underfunding of the Parks must be addressed with this new source of funding in the 2018-19 state budget, or we risk losing the immense value that State Parks provide to Connecticut.

How important are Parks to Connecticut?

State Parks are an essential part of our state’s natural legacy in many ways. If they are allowed, through neglect, to become liabilities rather than assets, the tremendous benefits currently supported by State Parks could be lost. An economic study by UConn documented that Connecticut’s state parks and forests generate over $1 billion/year in revenues for the state and support more than 9,000 private sector jobs. Furthermore, for every $1 invested in the State Parks, an impressive $38 is returned to State and local coffers. Beyond significant economic benefits to the state and local communities, State Parks provide recreation and public health benefits, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and many other irreplaceable ecosystem benefits as well. Also, for many economically strapped families in many communities, State Parks and Forests provide the only quality outdoor recreational opportunities available for public use without charge.

If you have questions about the Passport to the Parks, please contact Eric Hammerling via ehammerling@ctwoodlands.org.

Benchmarking and Risk Management

Video picture

Farmers: Learn more about benchmarking and risk management http://s.uconn.edu/3th with Extension educators and Farm Credit East.

 

So, You Want to Preserve Your Famous Salsa…

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, RD

Extension Educator/Food Safety

canning tomatoesEvery year, about this time, I am spending time on the phone, talking people out of canning. Well, not exactly. I strongly encourage canning as a way to preserve summer tomatoes, peaches, apples and cucumbers (often as pickles). But, invariably I will answer the phone and on the other end of the line is someone who wants to can their FAMOUS salsa recipe (or pickles, or pesto, or peppers in oil). While I could write volumes on “What Not to Can”, salsa is the subject of this article.

The word “salsa” is the Spanish word for sauce. The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink reports that the first mention of the term “salsa” appeared in print in the U.S. in 1962. As of 1991, they said, sales of salsa surpassed ketchup.

The origins of these sauces may be Aztec, when the traditional ingredients included tomatoes and chili peppers. But the creative cook can easily find recipes using a variety of ingredients such as beans, mangos, pineapple, grilled corn, avocado, or peaches. Historically, “salsa” was considered an uncooked sauce (salsa fresco or salsa cruda). But, in the interest of convenience, salsa is now most often processed in glass jars and found on the supermarket shelf next to taco shells, tortillas and refried beans (or in plastic tubs in the produce section).

Making and canning salsa in a commercial processing operation is one thing. Doing it at home is another.

Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods (such as onions and peppers), with more acid foods (such as tomatoes). Often, there are additional acid ingredients that may include vinegar and citrus juices such as lemon, lime, or orange.

The types and amounts of ingredients used in salsa, as well as the preparation method, are important considerations in how a salsa is canned. Generally, acid foods (tomatoes, fruits) are safely canned in a boiling water bath canner. So folks may think that a tomato or fruit based salsa would also be safely canned in a water bath canner. However, once you add low-acid ingredients such as onions, peppers, black beans, corn, cilantro or avocado, the pH (measure of acidity) balance may be tipped to the low-acid side. At this point, the pH is likely at 4.6 or higher and the only safe way to can the product is in a pressure canner (to safely can in a water bath canner the product pH must be below 4.6).

If a salsa has enough low acid ingredients to render the final product, “low acid” by definition, then you run the risk of having a salsa that will support the production of deadly toxin by the Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Improperly canned salsas or other tomato-pepper combinations have been implicated in more than one outbreak of botulism poisoning. Follow these considerations for safe salsa:

Choose and use safe ingredients

The acid ingredients help preserve canned salsas and make them safe for water bath canning. Most often bottled vinegar or bottled lemon juice is used. Use only commercial and bottled products. An equal amount of bottled lemon juice may be substituted for vinegar in recipes, but do not substitute vinegar for lemon juice. This substitution will result in a less acid and potentially unsafe canned salsa. If the product is to “acidic” or tart for your taste, add a bit of sugar to offset. Do NOT cut down on the acid!

Tomatoes and/or fruit ingredients should be just ripe, free of cuts, rot, or mold. Do not reduce the quantity in the recipe. Overripe tomatoes may be too low in acid for safety. If green mangoes are called for in the recipe, do not use ripe mangos as they also may be too low in acid for safety.

Peppers, onions, and other low acid ingredients must also be added in amounts given in the recipe. An extra pepper might just throw you into the low acid realm…measure and count carefully.

Spices such as cumin, dried oregano, salt and pepper can be adjusted to taste. However, fresh herbs such as cilantro (a low acid ingredient) should be added according to the recipe. You can always add the fresh herbs just before serving for the freshest flavor.

Choose and use a safe recipe

The USDA/Extension mantra has always been, “Only use tested, science-based home-canning recipes from reliable sources like the National Center for Home Food Preservation and some equipment or home preserving ingredient manufacturers.” This is especially true for any acidified food like salsa or pickles. Then, follow the directions, ingredient list, and amounts listed in the recipe. Never add flour, cornstarch or other thickeners—this will have an effect on the processing time needed to heat the interior product to a safe temperature. Store opened salsa in the refrigerator once opened.

If you want to stick with a personal favorite recipe, there are two things you can do. Can a basic salsa and add additional ingredients (beans, corn, avocado) just before serving. Or, make your FAMOUS salsa and store it in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze it for up to one year. Freezing will certainly affect the texture of your fresh salsa, so test out a small portion first to see if you like it.

For more information about making and preserving salsa, go to www.uga.edu/nchfp (National Center for Home Food Preservation). On that site you will find the fact sheet (some of the information in this article was from this fact sheet), Canning Your Own Salsa Recipe. Or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Hike Safe

family hiking

Photo: Hike Safe

From the Hike Safe website:

Wherever you hike, no matter what season or whether it’s a short hike or a multi-day trek,be safe:

Follow the Hiker Responsibility Code.

You are responsible for yourself, so be prepared:

    1. With knowledge and gear. Become self reliant by learning about the terrain, conditions, local weather and your equipment before you start.
    2. To leave your plans. Tell someone where you are going, the trails you are hiking, when you will return and your emergency plans.
    3. To stay together. When you start as a group, hike as a group, end as a group. Pace your hike to the slowest person.
    4. To turn back. Weather changes quickly in the mountains. Fatigue and unexpected conditions can also affect your hike. Know your limitations and when to postpone your hike. The mountains will be there another day.
    5. For emergencies. Even if you are headed out for just an hour, an injury, severe weather or a wrong turn could become life threatening. Don’t assume you will be rescued; know how to rescue yourself.
    6. To share the hiker code with others.

Keeping Farm Fresh Veggies and Fruits Fresh

Keeping those farm fresh veggies and fruits fresh

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

Recently I had a call from a mom asking if she should wash her berries before storing in the fridge. Her 30-something daughter, who, of course, knows everything, insisted that she should wash first. The mom wasn’t so sure. In this case, mom knew best.

I too, after a weekend visit to the farm market, am faced with the task of preparing the produce for storage, some of which carry vestiges of field dirt, or may be wet from a recent wash in the packinghouse. I don’t want them to spoil before I can eat them all. And, most of all, I do not want to waste what is edible.

So what is the best way to treat your veggies and fruits and ensure that they will be in the best condition when you go to use them? Well, it depends. Fresh fruits and vegetables require different storage methods and can be stored for various lengths of time.

Best at room temperature—until cut

First, know that some fruits and vegetables keep their quality better if NOT stored in the refrigerator. These include fresh tomatoes, potatoes, onions (except for spring onions and scallions, which must be refrigerated), winter squash, pumpkin and melons, until ripe, then refrigerate. However, once any of these are cut open, they should be refrigerated. Fruits and vegetables stored at room temperature should be in a cool, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated area separate from household chemicals.

Best in the refrigerator

To wash or not to wash? Even the experts disagree when giving advice on washing garden produce. Some tell you not to wash before storage and some will tell you to wash off any garden dirt before even bringing produce into the home. At issue is this: if you bring in garden dirt on your fresh produce, you may be introducing pathogenic microorganisms into your kitchen—while, if you wash your produce before storage, you run the risk of increasing the likelihood that your fresh produce will mold and rot more quickly.

If you choose to wash produce before storage, be sure to thoroughly dry fruits and vegetables with a clean paper towel. If you choose to store without washing, take care to shake, rub or brush off any garden dirt with a paper towel or soft brush while still outside. Never wash berries until you are ready to eat them (Mom was right). Storing fresh produce in plastic bags or containers will minimize the chance that you might contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Keep your refrigerator fruit and vegetable bin clean. Keep your refrigerator at 40° F or less. If your refrigerator has a fruit and vegetable bin, use that, but be sure to store fresh produce away from (above) raw meats, poultry or fish.

All stored produce should be checked regularly for signs of spoilage such as mold and slime. If spoiled, toss it out. All cut, peeled or cooked vegetables or fruits should be stored in clean, covered containers in the refrigerator at 40° F or less.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Storage Chart

Fruit/Vegetable Storage method/time Tips
Beans, green or yellow Refrigerator crisper: up to 3 days Store in plastic bags. Do not wash before storing. Wet beans will develop black spots and decay quickly. Wash before preparation.
Broccoli Refrigerator crisper: 3 to 5 days Store in loose, perforated plastic bags.  Wash before using.
Beets, Carrots, Parsnips, Radish, Turnips Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 weeks Remove green tops and store vegetables in plastic bags. Trim the taproots from radishes before storing.  Wash before using.
Berries Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days Before storing berries, remove any spoiled or crushed fruits. Store unwashed in plastic bags or containers.  Do not remove green tops from strawberries before storing.  Wash gently under cool running water before using.
Chard Refrigerator crisper: 2-3 days. Store leaves in plastic bags. The stalks can be stored longer if separated from the leaves.  Wash before using.
Corn Refrigerator crisper: 1 to 2 days For best flavor, use corn immediately.  Corn in husks can be stored in plastic bags for 1 to 2 days.
Cucumbers Refrigerator crisper: up to 1 week Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Do not store with apples or tomatoes.  Wash before using.
Herbs Refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days Herbs may be stored in plastic bags or place upright in a glass of water (stems down). Cover loosely with plastic bag.
Lettuce, spinach and other greens Refrigerator crisper: 5 to 7 days for lettuce; 1 to 2 days for greens Discard outer or wilted leaves. Store in plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper. Wash before using.
Melons At room temperature until ripe

Refrigerator: 3 to 4 days for cut melon

For best flavor, store melons at room temperature until ripe. Store ripe, cut melon covered in the refrigerator.  Wash rind before cutting.
Nectarines, Peaches, Pears Refrigerator crisper: 5 days Ripen the fruit at room temperature, and then
refrigerate it in plastic bags. Wash before eating.
Peppers Refrigerator crisper: up to 2 weeks Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Wash before using.
Summer squash, patty pan Refrigerator: 2-3 days Wipe clean and store in plastic bags.  Wash before eating.
Tomatoes Room temperature; once cut, refrigerator crisper: 2 to 3 days Fresh ripe tomatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator.  Refrigeration makes them tasteless and mealy. Wipe clean and store tomatoes at room temperature away from sunlight.  Wash before eating. (Refrigerate only extra-ripe tomatoes you want to keep from ripening any further.) Store cut tomatoes in the refrigerator.

For a more inclusive list of produce likely to be purchased from your local farm market, go to www.foodsafety.uconn.edu and go to Storing Fresh Garden Produce.

Fresh produce can be a source of the microorganisms that cause foodborne illness. The consumer shares responsibility for the safety of the produce they eat. Store safely in a clean refrigerator or storage area; when it is time to prepare your fruits and vegetables for eating, be sure to wash well: do not soak produce in water, but rinse well or dunk and swish in water just to cover, using fingers or scrub brush as appropriate. There is no need use special veggie washes or bleach in the wash water.

For more information on washing and storing fresh fruits and vegetables, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Got Ticks?

tick

UConn is on the front line in the fight to control the spread of tick-borne diseases. At the state testing lab on campus, UConn scientists are tracking established and emerging diseases carried by ticks from around the country.

Elsie Woolam Named 2017 National 4-H Hall of Fame Inductee

By Nancy Wilhelm

Elsie Woolam

Elsie Woolam. Photo: Nancy Wilhelm

Congratulations to Elsie Woolam for her selection as a member of the 2017 National 4-H Hall of Fame. The National 4-H Hall of Fame honors 4-H volunteers, extension professionals and staff employees, donors and others who have made a significant impact on the 4-H program and /or 4-H members through the contribution of time, energy, and financial resources. The Class of 2017 consists of 16 laureates from around the country. The induction ceremony will take place on October 6, 2017 at the National 4-H Center in Chevy, Chase, Maryland.

Elsie’s dedication to the Connecticut 4-H program began 65 years ago as a 4-H member in Hartford County. She participated in a variety of animal projects along with clothing and dress revue and has fond memories of showing the Grand Champion steer at the Hartford County 4-H Fair as well as showing two steers at the Eastern States Exposition.

She began volunteering for 4-H in 1955 where she was active on many Hartford County committees planning Favorite Foods shows, Clothing Revues, awards programs and interstate exchanges as well as many statewide activities. She was also the leader of five separate 4-H clubs teaching life skills to hundreds of local youth in the areas of horse, livestock, home arts and leadership. She has been active with the Hartford County 4-H Fair for over 30 years, serving as advisor and assisting with countless “behind the scenes” activities such as putting the premium book together and helping with fair banquets and ad campaigns. Elsie has received the Connecticut 4-H Alumni Award and the Connecticut 4-H Leadership Award. In 1970 her family which includes her husband, Dick (now deceased) and four children received the Hartford County Honor 4-H Family Award illustrating the entire family’s dedication to 4-H.

Elsie is most well known for her work with the Hartford County 4-H Camp in Marlborough, CT. She and her husband, Dick, were part of a group of dedicated volunteers who spearheaded the purchase of land in Marlborough, CT for a 4-H camp, raising $175,000 to build it. She and Dick played a key role in the camp construction at the 75-acre site. The camp opened in 1966 and it is here that Elsie has dedicated her time and energy to providing memorable overnight camping experiences to thousands of children both at home and abroad. Elsie has easily impacted the lives of over 55,000 youth and counselors through the Hartford County 4-H Camp. When the camp opened she began as a volunteer staff member and then moved into the role of Camp Director, a role she served in until 1994. Elsie continues to be involved in all aspects of the camp’s operation and mentors the staff and directors providing them with guidance and confidence.

When the 4-H camp’s 5,000 square foot dining hall/activity center collapsed in February, 2011, Elsie was involved in every aspect of the Baldwin Hall rebuild project offering historical, logistical and practical insight. This was critical to the effort to have the building up and operational in time for the 2011 camping season in June. Elsie has been instrumental in growing the camp’s endowment as well as expanding the camp property from 75 to 100 acres. She is dedicated to providing financial assistance to youth who cannot afford to attend 4-H camp and in bringing inner-city youth to the camp as well. If these underserved youth do not have a ride to camp, Elsie goes into the city to get them. The Hartford County 4-H Camp has close to a 100 percent fill rate every summer with a wait list for many of the weekly sessions.

At the age of 80, Elsie shows no signs of slowing down. She continues to serve the South Windsor community where she has lived most of her life, and has received awards for her service.   Of her 4-H experience she states, “My relationship with 4-H began as a young teen. Little did I know that over my lifetime local, state and national 4-H events would help create lasting friendships with generations of families that included staff from at least a dozen foreign countries. Teaching, demonstrating, solving problems, and chaperoning were a huge part of working with all 4-Hers.”