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Author Archives: UConn Extension

Climate Corps, Harnessing the Power of Students

Article by Chet Arnold

Tom Martella

Tom Martella. Photo: Juliana Barrett.

Extension faculty is leading a collaborative new program focused on the impact of climate change on Connecticut communities. The UConn Climate Corps will bring together undergraduates enrolled in the environmental majors with town officials, to the benefit of both groups. The program is supported for three years by a competitive grant from the UConn Provost’s Office, in support of the Academic Plan goals of Excellence in Undergraduate Education and Public Engagement.

Students at the University are increasingly interested in the topic of climate change, which many feel is the environmental issue of our time. At the same time, many communities across Connecticut are struggling with how to adapt to climate change, and how to marshal the resources needed to do so. To address these complementary needs, Extension faculty associated with the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) have developed the Climate Corps, a new multi-departmental collaboration at UConn that will combine classroom instruction and service learning to create a unique assistance program for Connecticut communities. Students in the Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, and Environmental Engineering majors will be recruited for the program, which consists of a class during the fall semester and in-the-field work with town officials during the following spring semester.

The class, Climate Resilience and Adaptation: Municipal Policy and Planning, will first be offered in the fall semester of 2017-2018 academic year and will focus on local, practical issues and impacts arising from climate change. Extension’s Juliana Barrett will lead the course but will be team-taught by Climate Corps team members and outside experts. “This course is not so much about the physical science of climate change as it is about local policy responses,” says Barrett. “In order for the students to really understand how climate change can affect local policies and operations, they have to have a firm grasp on how decisions are made at the town level, so there will be a focus on local decision making and on the federal and state legal frameworks in which towns operate.”

Students who complete the fall course are then eligible for the spring practicum course, led by Extension’s Bruce Hyde. The practicum builds upon the ongoing work of Hyde and Barrett, who form the CLEAR/Sea Grant climate team and have been working with towns for several years, including organizing a series of workshops called the Climate Adaptation Academy (see tools and training at right). Students will break up into teams of 3 or 4, each working with Hyde and other Extension faculty to engage selected towns on climate adaptation needs. Towns will have to apply to be included in the program, and several towns have already expressed interest before the application form has been issued. After meeting with town officials the students will embark on one or more projects designed to support the town’s adaptations efforts. These projects could include vulnerability assessments, evaluation of adaptation options, outreach strategies and products for educating the citizens, or other options.

A land use planner with over 30 years of experience working at the municipal level, Hyde is in tune with the world of local government. “Most towns understand that planning for climate adaptation is critical, yet many are unable to find the resources to begin the process,” says Hyde. “Our experience with our Extension undergraduate interns over the past several years has taught us that these students can do very high quality, sophisticated work, and we want to harness that work to the benefit of the towns. And at the same time, it provides a great ‘real world’ service learning experience for the students.” He notes that through their undergraduate training and simply by the technology-friendly nature of their generation, the students have the capacity to perform research, mapping and other tasks that are beyond the reach of busy local planners.

The Climate Corps is a unique multi-department collaboration between CLEAR, Connecticut Sea Grant, and the three Environmental majors, which in turn involve the departments of Geography, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Natural Resources and the Environment. The project team, which includes the Directors of all of these programs in addition to Barrett and Hyde, feels strongly that the Corps can become a model program that eventually can be expanded in scope, expanded in topical focus, and perhaps adapted by other universities and other states. Class starts in September!

Connecticut’s New Marine Crop

By: Anoushka Concepcion, Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension

kelp

Photo credit: Nancy Balcom

Connecticut has an extensive agricultural industry that extends far beyond land. Hidden under its coast, lies more than 70,000 acres where one of the best protein sources is produced – shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops). The shellfish aquaculture industry is over 150 years old and expanding in numbers of producers, and additional products. But shellfish are not the only crops that grow underwater. Seaweed, or sea vegetables, is a highly valued commodity at $8-10 billion in the global market. Seaweeds are consumed for their nutritional benefits and are a staple in Asian diets. Their components are in a wide range of products including fertilizers, animal feeds, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and biofuels. Seaweeds also provide ecosystem services; they can be used to clean up waterways by extracting excess nutrients from urban runoff.

Although the majority of production occurs in Asia, interest in seaweed production is increasing in the United States. For many years, seaweed has been harvested from the wild. However, the cultivation (or aquaculture) of domestic seaweed is increasing. Current producers of seaweed include shellfish producers and displaced lobstermen looking to diversify products and income. There is also an interest from municipalities who are looking at seaweed for ecosystem services. Currently in Connecticut, there are two types of seaweed cultivated and approved for food: the sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima and Gracilaria tikvahiae. The kelp grows in the winter season while the Gracilaria grows in the summer. There are four commercial farms growing sugar kelp. These farms are small-scale and mostly grow shellfish.

Connecticut Sea Grant has been involved in seaweed aquaculture for almost 30 years, funding extensive foundational and applied research of Dr. Charles Yarish in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. More recently, Sea Grant and UConn Extension have been helping transfer aspects of the research to industry and market, along with Yarish and other collaborators. Sea Grant has been addressing several bottlenecks hindering further expansion of this new industry. The major bottleneck is lack of federal guidelines on the public health aspect of domestic seaweed production and processing. Since the majority of seaweed domestically produced is from wild-harvest, it has been unregulated. There are guidelines ensuring seafood, meat, dairy, and other agricultural commodities are safe for human consumption. However, we don’t have similar guidelines for cultivated seaweed. This presents a problem for state regulatory agencies that are trying to ensure the seaweed grown in Connecticut is safe. Sea Grant and UConn Extension partnered with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture to develop guidelines that allow locally produced seaweed to be grown and sold in the state. This guide contains handling, storage, and processing guidelines for both species of seaweed grown in Connecticut.

Seaweed can grow quickly and in large volumes, requiring harvesting be done all at once. Since seaweed has a short shelf life – it starts to degrade within hours, it must be used right away or processed into a form that will last. Local chefs desire raw kelp since it is fresh and unprocessed, but it has a very short shelf life. Kelp has also been processed into noodles and sold to a limited number of restaurants and retailers in the region. In 2013, Sea Grant assisted the Bureau of Aquaculture in approving the first commercial seaweed grower to sell fresh kelp and kelp noodles as food. This involved providing development funds testing the safety of both forms of kelp and seafood safety knowledge to determine appropriate handling, storage, and processing guidelines. The seaweed grower has now expanded to a large-scale commercial kelp processing facility in New Haven, Sea Greens Farms; that can accommodate seaweed produced by other growers in the region. Although guidelines have been developed for raw and kelp noodles, they have not been developed for dehydrated or dried seaweed. Sea Grant is working with a local food manufacturer to conduct drying experiments to determine if there are any potential hazards associated with dehydrating seaweed. Although experiments are ongoing, preliminary results indicate that as long as the seaweed is stored and handled properly, it should be safe to eat.

Additional experiments are being conducted to determine if the summer seaweed, Gracilaria, is suitable for human consumption when cultivated in Connecticut’s coastal waterways. Gracilaria can remove heavy metals and other chemicals from the water, making it a great candidate for nutrient bioextraction to clean up waterways. However, there is no data showing that it is safe for human consumption.   Currently, only Gracilaria cultivated in indoor tanks can be sold as food, since growing conditions can be controlled ensuring product safety. Experiments analyzing Gracilaria grown in Connecticut waters are underway to determine its feasibility as a food product. Additional barriers under investigation include expanding markets for local product and the successful transition of kelp seed-string production from research labs to commercial-scale. Although the production of seed-string has begun to shift into the hands of commercial seaweed operations, it is not fully independent and at the same level as the shellfish aquaculture industry. An extensive seafood marketing survey this summer will assess awareness and consumption of Connecticut seafood and seaweed among residents.

Although the potential for seaweed aquaculture in Connecticut is huge, there are constraints to rapid expansion. The domestic seaweed aquaculture industry is still in its infancy and it is yet to be determined if it will become more than a niche commodity. Overcoming these constraints will take time, as with any new product. However, this new crop may contribute to sustaining and creating new jobs as well as providing additional ecosystem services for Connecticut’s coastline.

Jacobs Receives 2017 Salute to Excellence

 

Jacobs photo

Extension Educator Peg Grillo and Bill Jacobs.

Congratulations to New Haven County 4-H volunteer Bill Jacobs, who was recently selected as this year’s recipient of the Salute to Excellence Northeast Region 4-H Volunteer of the Year Award.

William (Bill) Jacobs is in his ninth year as a 4-H volunteer in New Haven County, CT. He works as a Vocational/Transition Coordinator for Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES), a regional public school that provides schools and programs for students with regular education, special education and talented and gifted needs. He is located at Whitney High East/ West and CREATE, a high school and post high school school for students with special needs. The school has committed itself to the incorporation of 4-H club work to give special needs students with all levels of abilities the opportunity to participate in 4-H activities, integrate their school programs into 4-H and learn new skills to better prepare them for the adult world.

Nine years ago this Cooperative Extension Educator was approached by the vice principal of ACES to collaborate and apply for a three year recreational grant with the Dept. of Education yearly to provide gardening, work force preparation and leadership skills to special needs youth aged 13-22. About $120,000 was awarded the first year, $100,000 the second and ending with $80,000 the third year. These funds provided transportation to classes, supplies for making gardens both on school property and in a neighborhood garden and field trips to the University of Connecticut at Storrs and Eastern States Exposition, along with learning work-force prep skills.

Bill was asked to be lead teacher in establishing the 4-H program in all the classrooms. He took on this role with gusto, encouraging every classroom to select a project, meet as a 4-H club weekly and participate in some of the county 4-H activities. He was responsible for collecting registration forms, volunteer applications and assisting with training of the teachers. The group also went to Lyman Hall in Wallingford for weekly classes with their vo-ag teachers in both gardening and animal science. Bill was responsible for arranging these classes. 170 youth became registered as 4-H members along with over 15 adult volunteer leaders. He also took on the role of chief collaborator and liaison between the school personnel, extension staff and area vo-ag schools, taking on leadership in writing the yearly re-submission of the grant for the first three years.

Bill organizes the yearly 4-H Fair that is held each May and designed to showcase the work of the students. After the first three years, the grant funding ended and it looked like the 4-H program might end along with it. Bill was able to inspire the teachers and youth to continue, finding some funding to conduct 4-H activities and keep both the 4-H clubs and the 4-H the fair going. Congratulations Bill, and thank you for all you do!

Spring Compost Sales

compost facility

Gardeners! UConn CAHNR spring compost sales will begin on Friday, May 12th. The cost will remain $25 per yard and no upper or lower limits to what one can buy. The hours will be Fridays from 1:00pm to 4:30pm and Saturdays from 10:00am until 4:30pm until they sell out.

UConn PEP Enfield Graduation

Enfield graduates

Photo: Cathleen Love

Congratulations to our People Empowering People (UConn PEP) graduates from Enfield. We had a great ceremony on Monday, and are proud of the work you have done in your communities.

Make Sure Your Farm Counts!

census 2017

Make Sure Your Farm Counts!

NASS conducts a census of all agricultural operations every five years as well as other agricultural surveys.  We need to know about all types of agricultural operations of all sizes. The Information you provide is kept confidential by law and will not be disclosed to any other government or private entity.

Got Gardening Questions?

garden questions

Did you know that the UConn Extension Master Gardener program has 9 locations statewide, and our trained volunteers are ready and able to help you answer garden questions. Find a location near you at http://mastergardener.uconn.edu.

Job Opportunity

trail icon

* JOB OPPORTUNITY * 2017- 2018 Part-Time Coordinator Position with the Connecticut Trail Census

The Connecticut Trail Census CTTC) is seeking a dynamic multi-use trail (bike-pedestrian) enthusiast to serve as the point person and part-time coordinator for project (~17 hours/week).  The CTTC is a new study and volunteer based data collection program on 15 multi-use trail sites throughout the state involving partnership with many local and statewide trail advocacy groups and hundreds of volunteers.  Duties will include responding to informational inquiries from volunteers and the public, collecting data from and maintaining infrared trail counters, coordinating logistics for and co-teaching volunteer trainings, compiling funding reports and maintaining contact databases, convening partner meetings, and creating communications including media releases, e-newsletters, and website updates.  The successful candidate will be  an excellent written and verbal communicator, proficient with Word and Excel, have demonstrated program management skills and/or experience, and a passion for supporting trails and the people that use them.  Desirable skills include experience with data management and analysis (including data visualization tools), WordPress, MailChimp or other e-newsletter platforms, and volunteer management.  This position is funded at $23/hour and is currently funded through January 2018. Location is flexible but candidate must have a vehicle, internet access and be willing to use their own computer. More information about the program can be found at http://cttrailcensus.uconn.edu  Please send a short cover letter describing your interest and qualifications, three reference contacts, and resume to laura.brown@uconn.edu as soon as possible.  Open until filled.

Spring Compost Sales

compost facility

Gardeners! UConn CAHNR spring compost sales will begin on Friday, May 12th. The cost will remain $25 per yard and no upper or lower limits to what one can buy. The hours will be Fridays from 1:00pm to 4:30pm and Saturdays from 10:00am until 4:30pm until they sell out.

Controlling Oriental Bittersweet

Controlling Oriental Bittersweet

By Donna Ellis, Senior Extension Educator

This article was originally published in a longer format in the Eastern CT Forest Landowners Assn. Newsletter 39(1):1-3; 5.

 

Connecticut’s fields, forests, suburban backyards, and urban parks are under threat, imperiled by non-native plants from the faraway continents of Europe and Asia or in some cases from other regions of the U.S. Invasive plants are a problem because they establish easily and grow aggressively, disperse over wide areas, displace native species, and reduce biological diversity. These plants invade not only terrestrial habitats but water bodies as well, where they can grow and proliferate undetected for many years. Some invasive plants are more newsworthy because of their beauty (purple loosestrife), their poisonous traits (giant hogweed), or homeowner frustrations trying to control them (Japanese knotweed).

bittersweet vine

Bittersweet vine wrapped around a tree. Photo: Donna Ellis

How do we reduce the harmful environmental impacts of woodland invasive plant species? Let’s talk about one of the most troublesome woodland invaders, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), also known as Asiatic bittersweet. Oriental bittersweet was first confirmed in Connecticut in 1916 and today can be found in all towns statewide. Originally from Eastern Asia, this species was first introduced in the US in the 1860’s as an ornamental.

The woody vines of Oriental bittersweet, with reddish-orange roots begin as small, sometimes unnoticeable seedlings in the forest understory. Within several years, if their growth is undetected the young vines will develop from a tangled mass growing along the forest floor to wrap around desirable vegetation: trees and shrubs, or any other vertical structure they encounter. The alternate leaves of Oriental bittersweet are rounded (orbicular; as described by the genus), with fine teeth or serrations along the edges. Clusters of small greenish flowers are produced on female vines in May, followed by the development of red, succulent fruits (ovaries) enclosed in a yellow covering (the ovary wall) that splits open when fruits mature. The fruits consist of three fleshy arils encasing several seeds each. Oriental bittersweet fruits are fed upon by birds and other wildlife in the fall and winter, and the seeds disperse to new locations with the movement of wildlife.

How can Oriental bittersweet be successfully controlled? There are several options for management of this invasive, with the greatest successes occurring when

bittersweet seedling

Bittersweet seedling. Photo: Donna Ellis

control begins early and woodlands are monitored for several years. Learn to recognize what young seedlings look like, and they can be easily hand pulled during the first year or two of growth. I make a point of walking through the wooded sections of my property several times during the summer and fall and pull up Oriental bittersweet seedlings, which I typically find under conifers and other trees where birds roost. If vines have been growing undetected for many years and you have dense, woody vines wrapped around desirable vegetation, cut out a section of the vine (several inches in length) in late summer to early fall, separating the top growth from the crown and roots. This mechanical control method will stress the vines and force the plants to use up food reserves in the roots to develop more shoots, and the top growth will die and slowly break down. You will need to continue to cut any regrowth that forms from the crown for several years, but if this method is practiced diligently it can be successful.

A chemical control option is the “Cut and Paint” method, which should also be done in late summer to early fall. Make a similar cut in the vine as described above, and within 20 to 30 minutes, carefully apply a concentrated herbicide (triclopyr products are most effective with woody invasives) to the lower cut surface with a paint brush or other applicator, reading and following all directions on the herbicide label. Avoid making herbicide applications on rainy or windy days, and be sure to avoid herbicide runoff onto the forest floor or onto non-target vegetation. Monitor control sites the following year, and if necessary, repeat the Cut and Paint procedure.

Visit the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) website (www.cipwg.uconn.edu) for information on invasive plant topics that include identification, management, the Connecticut state list of invasive plants, a photo notebook with a gallery of invasives, non-invasive alternative plants, legislative updates, and a calendar listing invasive plant management events and other outreach activities. CIPWG is a consortium of individuals, members of environmental organizations, and affiliates of municipal and state agencies whose mission is to promote awareness of invasive plants and their non-invasive alternatives.