University of Connecticut University of UC Title Fallback Connecticut

Posts Tagged ‘local food’

Import a Little Flavor in the Winter Months

By:     Diane Wright Hirsch

            Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

 

pomegranate

Photo: Texas A&M University

OK, I admit it…. I just cannot eat totally “local” and “seasonal” during the winter. It’s just too hard at this time of year. And, also, so many cold weather menus and winter celebrations revolve around aromas, flavors and sensations that come from foods that do not grow in New England.

While you can still find locally grown root vegetables, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and apples, nary a Clementine or pomegranate, (they are seasonal, after all) is produced in Connecticut. Sure, I love hot locally produced apple cider and winter squash soup, but often I am reaching for cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to give seasonal flavor. A little bit of the imported stuff sure adds to the enjoyment of a seasonal diet when variety of locally produced foods is limited. So bring on just a taste of the far away and console yourself with the knowledge that some of these foods are seasonal—somewhere. Also, the transportation of the spices of life can’t possibly put too much of a strain on our oil reserves.

Some of my favorite winter imports

Clementines: December just wouldn’t be December without a box of Clementines on my counter. We go through boxes and boxes in just a few months. An easy-to-peel citrus fruit devoid of seeds (usually) and sweet and juicy…who could ask for anything more? Clementines are a fruit of the mandarin family, whose origins could have been in China or Algeria, depending on who you ask. Much of the fruit comes to the United States from Morocco and Spain. While Europeans have been blessed for years with the availability of this orange gem, the market in this country was created when there was a failed Florida citrus crop in the late 1990s. California Clementines are also available.

Cinnamon: The intense flavors of spices come from seeds that are dried and ground (the leaves of aromatic plants are referred to as “herbs”). Cinnamon has a long and interesting history. It was once so precious that wars were fought over it! Originally grown in Ceylon, a colony at various times of the Dutch, French and English, by the 1890s, Borneo, Sumatra, and Java were among the countries that cultivated cinnamon. Today it is also grown in South America and Caribbean countries. This spice is derived from the bark of a bush in the laurel family. You may use the ground form or the cinnamon “stick”, a curled up piece of the bark, also called a “quill.”

Pomegranates: The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and has been cultivated throughout Mediterranean region since ancient times. Today, it is grown throughout India and the drier parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Spanish settlers introduced the tree into California in 1769. In this country it is grown for its fruits mainly in the drier parts of California and Arizona. While produced most commonly for its juice or fruits that can be eaten out of hand, all parts of the tree have been used as sources of tannin for curing leather. The rind and flowers yield dyes for textiles. Today, pomegranates are sometimes included in lists of super foods. This is because they are full of anti-oxidants, which may be of benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Nutmeg: I chose to feature nutmeg, because after all, we are the Nutmeg State! This could have been because trading ships brought nutmeg to our shores or, perhaps more interestingly, because peddlers used to try to pass off wood carved into nutmeg look-alikes to unsuspecting Connecticut settlers. Nutmegs come from an evergreen tree that is indigenous to southeast Asia. The nutmeg is the egg-shaped seed of the tree that is dried and sold whole for grating or as a ground spice. The cuisines of many countries, including India, the Middle East, Europe and Japan all enjoy a touch of this sweet spice. Our Connecticut holiday tables are likely to be graced with mulled cider, pumpkin pie and eggnog redolent with nutmeg. Today, nutmeg is produced primarily in Indonesia and Grenada.

Try a little nutmeg on your locally grown brussels sprouts. Of course, you will need to sprinkle some on the eggnog you make from Connecticut eggs and milk. Cinnamon in your cranberry sauce….a Clementine for an afternoon pick-me-up…..and a sprinkling of pomegranate berries on the salad made with farmer’s market spinach can add color, flavor and even some valuable vitamins to a New England winter meal.

Cilantro: Well, this herb is not commonly associated with winter, but as we are often cooking up chili or black bean soup during the colder months, I often head to the produce aisle for a bunch of cilantro. Cilantro is generally imported from Central America year around, but sometimes can be bought locally grown in the summer. And, of course, freezing the summer crop would be a good alternative to buying imported cilantro in winter. Unfortunately, cilantro (or coriander as it is sometimes called) has also been associated with more than its share of foodborne illness outbreaks. So, be sure to wash well before using, in cold running water. And if you have a compromised immune system, you might want to forego the cilantro altogether.

For more information, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Dehydrate Some Local Apples: Preserve The Flavor

By:      Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

            Extension Educator/Food

 

dried apple

Photo: National Center for Home Food Preservation

There is nothing quite like a fresh fall apple, crunchy sweet/tart and delicious. Fast forward to that supermarket apple in April. Mushy, grainy textured, with significantly less crunch and flavor. The season for apple growing usually comes to an end in November in Connecticut. Through the wonders of modern technologies and refrigeration, local orchards can keep apples long into winter and spring. But availability may come with a cost—flavor and texture may be altered.

So, why not take advantage of the abundance of local apples (and, perhaps pears as well) right now? Consider dehydrating them. A rather low-tech, almost food safety issue free, easy home food preservation method that can yield a sweet, midwinter snack.

Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving foods—you will often see apple rings strung and hung up near the wood stove in displays of colonial kitchens. For moist foods, such as apples, dehydration includes increasing both the temperature of the food and air flow to allow for evaporation and removal of moisture.

Successful dehydration happens when you have the right balance of temperature and humidity. If there is too much humidity (which often plagues us in the Northeast) or too low a temperature, you may end up with moldy apples or fruit that could be contaminated with spoilage organisms or the bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Dehydrating apples in your home kitchen

So, in your home kitchen you will need to employ both a source of heat and a method for removing the moisture from the air around the apples. The best and most efficient way to dry apples is to use a food dehydrator. These appliances are easy to find online and at retailers that cater to those who use dehydrated foods to lighten the load on camping or fishing trips. They range in size and cost. A small, stackable round unit will take up little space and cost as little as $30. You may often add more trays to increase your output. However, you do run the risk of uneven drying with these machines. Food closest to the heating element will dry fastest. Regular attention to rotating the trays is essential. This may be a good, less costly, way to get your feet wet.

Larger box type dehydrators with trays cost more ($200 or more). Some have timers; most have thermostats and more variations in heat settings. They may dehydrate more evenly, depending on the placement of the heat source—to the back vs the bottom or top of the unit.

You can also use your oven if you are just starting out and are not sure this is something that you will be doing on a regular basis. You will need to use an oven that can be set at a very low temperature—140-150 degrees F. Temperatures that are higher than this will lead to case hardening: the surface of the fruit dries and hardens while the interior stays moist, allowing for the growth of microorganisms and molds. A convection oven is great because of the increased airflow. But, you can also prop your oven door open a few inches and even place a fan to one side of the open door to drive off the moist air.

Preparing your apples

While most apples dry well, some prefer the quality of Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Empire or Cortland. Experiment to find your favorite.

Pick high quality apples, the fresher the better. Wash them well and remove any signs of decay. Slice in 1/8 to ½ inch slices. The thinner slices will dry firmer—like chips. You can peel the apples or leave the peels on. Peels can toughen during the drying process, so, again, experiment and see what you like best.

Pretreat the apple slices with a solution of lemon juice or ascorbic acid (vitamin C). This will help to minimize browning and may have some antimicrobial properties as well. If using ascorbic acid, stir 2 1/2 tablespoons of pure ascorbic acid crystals into one quart of cold water. For smaller batches prepare a solution using 3 3/4 teaspoons of pure ascorbic acid crystals per 2 cups of cold water. Alternatively, combine equal parts of bottled lemon juice with water (one cup water and one cup lemon juice). Soak the apple slices for 10 minutes, drain, and they are ready to dry.

Generally, dehydration of apples is accomplished at around 140 degrees F. It can take as little as 5 hours or as long as 24 hours depending on your dehydrator/oven, the humidity in the air that day, and the thickness of your apple slice. This alone may be a good reason to invest in a smaller dehydrator rather than keeping your oven on for hours and hours.

Once you think they are done (should at least be leathery if not crisp), let the apples cool. Place them in a glass jar or air tight plastic container for several days. If moisture begins to collect on the surface of the container, you have not dried the apples long enough. Put them in the dehydrator or oven for several more hours.

You can store dried apples at room temperature in a cool, dry, dark location. A glass jar or air tight plastic will work. Use freezer bags if you want to use plastic bags. Regular food storage bags may let moisture in. They will be fine to eat for six to twelve months. If there are signs of molding or spoilage, then discard them.

For more information about dehydrating apples or other foods, visit the UConn Food Safety website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

Put Local on Your Tray

carrot posterTo our neighbors across the ocean, lunch in American schools is evidence of our culinary inferiority. The fact that one third of the nation’s children are growing up overweight and obese leads many to point a finger at school food. But in reality, the age of sloppy joes and tater tots is steadily giving way to salad bars, sweet potato fries, and vegetable chili. Major changes and healthier regulations for school meals that began in 2014 have shifted the menu toward whole grains, less sugar, less sodium, and more vegetables and fruit.

In fact, school meals are a vital part of a federal child nutrition strategy that provides healthy food to children and helps fight hunger and obesity. With the new emphasis on healthier meals, a wave of innovative efforts to add fresh, locally grown ingredients have emerged across the nation. These farm-to-school initiatives typically include school gardens, field trips to farms, nutrition education, as well as menus that feature seasonal flavors.

In Connecticut, the Put Local on Your Tray pilot project (Tray Project) helps Connecticut school districts source, serve, and celebrate a different local food product each month. Led by UConn Extension in close partnership with the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Tray Project has developed promotional materials to support school districts willing to feature one locally grown and seasonal product each month.

The Tray Project uses alluring and vibrant marketing materials including posters, stickers, and newsletter templates to educate the students about featured local foods. Using fun and engaging food puns such as “Kale, Yeah!—Don’t kale my vibe” or “Oh Snap!—I’m a Lean Green Bean Machine” have been key to generating a sense of fun and celebration around the new school lunch menu. The Tray Project assists participating school districts in building connections with local farms, sourcing local produce, and ensuring that cafeteria staff has what they need in order to process and serve fresh produce.

“This program has proved to be an invaluable component of our educational efforts at Middletown Public Schools to connect our students to local farms and agriculture while promoting overall wellness to enhance and maximize student achievement,” states Ava McGlew, MS, RD, CD-N, Food Service Director Middletown Public Schools.

Unlike similar ‘Harvest of the Month’ programs from other states, the Tray Project does not specify a month that each product should be used. This approach recognizes the true seasonality of produce young leaders for a year of paid public service building healthy school environments in limited resource communities. FoodCorps members build school gardens, teach nutrition and cooking, and help bring locally grown ingredients into the cafeteria.

“When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them. “in Connecticut (e.g. kale is available from August through December in our state) and gives more flexibility to the school food service director who is making decisions about when to purchase and use a featured local ingredient.

Program Coordinator Dana Stevens and Outreach Coordinator Catherine Hallisey are currently working with four school districts including: Windham, East Hartford, Middletown, and Deep River. There are plans to expand to 15 districts for the 2016-2017 school year.

Over 2,000 students have participated in an interactive component of the program known as Local Tray Days. The Tray Project works with school districts to select one date for a cafeteria taste-test using kid-friendly recipes, and a second date, when the sampled local item is incorporated into the menu. Recipes include cider-glazed squash, kale chips, berry blast smoothies, and squash apple bisque.

“When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them,” Dana explains. Students are asked to vote on what they thought of the local featured item. They can respond with one of the three options, tried it, liked it, or loved it.

According to USDA, schools report that farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste. There are 187 school districts in Connecticut, and 74 percent completed the USDA Farm to School Census. Of those, 70 percent are currently participating in farm to school activities, and another 19 percent have plans to start in the future.

Programs like Put Local on Your Trayare an easy way to bring more local foods into the cafeteria. By focusing on one local product each month, farmers can plan ahead to grow the food needed, and food service directors can build that local product into school menus. More local foods in schools results in more support for our farmers. This means more of our dollars stay in the community, and local economies are strengthened.

The Tray Project is a component of UConn Extension’s outreach and education on sustainable food systems, led by Associate Extension Educator Jiff Martin.

School Districts Invited to “Put Local on Your Tray” This Fall

carrot posterJust in time for National Farm To School Month in October, UConn Extension and its partners at the Connecticut State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and the New England Dairy and Food Council are excited to announce an opportunity to participate in a new program called “Put Local On Your Tray”.

Put Local On Your Tray promotes local food in Connecticut schools. Participants receive support and materials that help school districts plan, serve, and celebrate locally grown food. “When kids have an opportunity to learn and engage with fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables in a positive way, they are much more likely to eat them,” shared Dana Stevens, Program Director.

In the 2014-2015 school year, schools in Connecticut spent $7,244,580 on local food, and 70% of school districts that responded to the 2015 Farm to School Census offered farm-to-school programming; that’s 97 districts, 706 schools, and 355,489 students! Schools report that farm to school programs can increase the number of students purchasing school breakfast and lunch, improve consumption of healthier foods at school, and reduce plate waste.

Local procurement can be integrated into all types of child nutrition programs, including: breakfast, lunch, after-school snack, supper, and summer meals. Connecticut also celebrates CT Grown for CT Kids Week from October 3 – 7th, offering schools another opportunity to take one small step for farm to school.

Put Local On Your Tray has proved to be an invaluable component of our educational efforts at Middletown Public Schools to connect our students to local farms and agriculture while promoting overall wellness to enhance and maximize student achievement, states Ava McGlew, MS, RD, CD-N, Food Service Director Middletown Public Schools.

UConn Extension has developed posters, stickers, newsletters, and recipes to support school districts in connecting students to fresh, seasonal foods. Contact your school administrator or food service director to encourage participation in this new program.

Bovay Joins CAHNR

John BovayDr. John Bovay joined the ARE Department in August as Assistant Professor with 60% extension, 25% research, and 15% teaching responsibilities. We are excited to learn more about his extension and research interests.

  • Can you share any prior Extension and outreach experience you have?
    • Engaging with farmers and the public through outreach and extension has always been one of my goals as an agricultural economist. I’ve spent the last 4½ years working at the University of California Agricultural Issues Center and the USDA Economic Research Service, both of which publish reports designed to reach a wide audience, including policy makers, farmers and agribusinesses, as well as hosting conferences. Below, I post some links to outreach publications I’ve written on food-safety regulations and the safety of imported food.
  • What are your plans for your Extension program? Will this tie into your research, or past work?
    • I plan to create an Extension program that covers three broad topic areas. The first builds on my existing research on food labeling, food-safety regulations, and food loss/waste. Second, I will work with farmers to evaluate their on-farm energy production and use, and make sure that farmers are aware of all options and incentives available for energy conservation and generation. I expect to work closely with the green industry in this area. The third extension area will entail cost of production estimates for Connecticut farm commodities and marketing studies for local foods.
  • What course will you be teaching in ARE?
    • I’m teaching a course on Sustainable Agribusiness Management this fall. My students will apply economic principles to analysis of issues faced by agribusiness managers, evaluate the sustainability of existing agribusinesses, and develop a sustainable plan of operation and marketing for template Connecticut farms.
  • Anything else you want us to know?

I’ve been thrilled to discover that Connecticut has such a wealth of natural resources and open spaces to explore, including the state forests of the Last Green Valley and the UConn Forest (just a quick jog away from my office), the beaches at Bluff Point and Rocky Neck State Parks, and the magnificent Ray Tompkins Memorial Golf Course in New Haven.

Links
 
– Patterns in FDA Import Refusals Highlight Most Frequently Detected Problems. By John Bovay. Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, 2016. http://ers.usda.gov
– Strict Standards Nearly Eliminate Salmonella from Ground Beef Supplied to Schools. By John Bovay and Michael Ollinger. Amber Waves, USDA Economic Research Service, 2015. http://ers.usda.gov
– How Does the Food Safety Modernization Act Affect Farms and Food Marketing Firms? By John Bovay and Daniel A. Sumner. ORECAL Issues Brief No. 007, 2013.

 

Live Local UConn Trail

iPad-landscapeLive Local Connecticut is a UConn Extension program encouraging residents to live locally through food and gardening, and ties into our Live Local app. The Live Local UConn Trail highlights a few locations in and around UConn’s Storrs campus where you can live locally.

UConn Trail:

Dog Lane Cafe – the menu and daily specials emphasize seasonal, local, and freshly-prepared food, all made to order.

UConn Dairy Bar – the award winning UConn Dairy Bar features delicious ice cream made from our own UConn cows.

UConn Blooms – serving the UConn community with high-quality flowers and plants for most occassions.

UConn Dining Food Trucks – “Food for Thought” and the “Ice Cream Truck” have hit the streets!

UConn Dining – Whitney Unit – Whitney “Local Routes” offers a sustainable and local menu featuring seasonal food items from a variety of local farmers and food producers including our own UConn Gold honey, UConn eggs, UConn Dairy Bar ice cream and produce from the UConn EcoGarden.

Chuck & Augies – Chuck & Augie’s is located in the UConn Student Union and participates in Connecticut’s Farm-to-Chef celebration. Farm-to-Chef Week was started by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture in 2010 as part of its year-round Farm-to-Chef program. This special week encourages culinary professionals to use Connecticut Grown ingredients in new ways on their menus while it also helps residents and visitors learn more about the diversity of farm products grown and raised in Connecticut. Each year during this week, Chuck & Augie’s award winning chefs design a new and creative menu featuring locally grown foods from Connecticut and the region, including fresh produce grown at UConn’s own Spring Valley Student Farm and Dining Services’ Not Just Desserts Bakery.

Visit the UConn Animal Barns – Everyone is welcome to explore our animal barns and learn more about the animals that are used in the Department of Animal Science program. Visitors can see dairy and beef cows, sheep, and horses. The poultry units are closed to the public.

Storrs Farmers Market – Since 1994, Storrs Farmers Market has been proud to provide the greater Mansfield community with fresh, local produce, meats, dairy, baked goods, and more.

UConn Farm Fresh Market – UConn offers a Farm Fresh Market in season on Fairfield Way. The market offers fresh local produce from our own Spring Valley Student Fam and other local farms, baked goods from our Not Just Desserts bakery, local honey, and many other local products each week.

Tri-County Greenhouse – Tri-County Greenhouse is open year round and offers products grown on site, unique to the season. Tri-County Greenhouse is a division of the nonprofit agency Tri-County ARC INC. Their goal is to provide individuals with disabilities paid training and meaningful work experience in a retail horticultural setting. Tri-County Greenhouse is located adjacent to the UConn Depot Campus.

Farmer’s Cow Calfe – Merging the fun environment of a dairy bar with a neighborhood cafe, and the ability to purchase the full line of The Farmer’s Cow products all in one place. Plus, experience our one-of-a-kiind milk bar. The Calfe is located just a short distance from UConn.

For more information on how to Live Local in Connecticut, download our app, or visit the website.

New Zealand Visitors

UConn Extension was pleased to host Mr. Nick Edgar, distinguished Winston Churchill Fellow and Chief Executive of New Zealand Landcare Trust, exploring innovative local food and sustainable agriculture initiatives in the U.S. Thank you to the farmers who hosted us!

IMG_20151027_fourrootfarm2small IMG_20151027_maryconcklinsmall IMG_20151027_providerfarmsmall IMG_20151028_yale_YSFP small

CT 10% Campaign Celebrates 1 Year

Clemson cucumbersUConn Extension with CitySeed of New Haven and its BuyCTGrown.com project are excited to celebrate their first full year growing the ‘buy local’ movement. Since its launch in August 2013, the CT 10% Campaign’s consumer and business pledgees together have tracked over $800,000 spent on locally grown (raised and caught) products. With over 400 consumers and 100+ business partners, the movement is growing! For a list of the 10% Business Partners, visit www.buyctgrown.com/pledge-­‐partners-­‐0.

Taking the Pledge and buying local from farmers, nurseries, restaurants, and businesses has never been easier! In addition to the 10% dashboard displaying the Campaign’s stats, the buyCTgrown website has become an online hub of CT agricultural news, events, features and products by zip code. Now that it’s peach, pear, plum and apple season, buyCTgrown is excited to be promoting their limited edition Pick Your Own crop cards. These cards feature Sing Along Songs, fun facts, and a delicious recipe and can be retrieved from participating farms, as listed on the website.

“What better time of year to celebrate this campaign’s successes and look forward to our opportunities to grow than in August,” says Amanda Freund, UConn Extension’s Business Coordinator for the 10% Campaign. “Right now farmers markets, stands and farm to table restaurants are promoting late summer berries, sweet corn, tomatoes, cucurbits and the whole variety of tree fruits (and more)!”

Collectively, CT residents spend 2.5% of their food purchases on locally grown products. The CT 10% Campaign hopes to engage consumers and raise individual local purchases up to 10%! By taking the Pledge, participants are encouraged to spend 10% of their food and gardening dollars on locally grown.

“Our UConn community and our students feel very strongly about knowing where their food is coming from. We work with our produce vendor to be able to specify locally grown products, so we can use them in all our residential facilities and retail locations.” Dennis Pierce, Executive Director of UConn Dining Services recently shared his reasons for why UConn Dining took the 10% Pledge. “It helps the economy, puts a face on CT produce, especially when we can highlight the farmers and farms our produce is coming from and it brings community together.”

The CT 10% Campaign is funded generously by USDA, CT Department of Agriculture and private foundations.

Making Choices

By Diane Hirsch – Extension Educator Food Safety
Local, Organic, Sustainable?

veggiesHow many of us really have the ability to grow all the fresh produce we need for a year? Just having a back-yard vegetable garden can be a luxury. Some of us don’t have the yard, the time or maybe even enough sunshine, to produce enough fruits and vegetables to sustain a family of two, four or more for a few summer months, let alone a whole year. So we are left to make regular trips to the grocery store and ponder one of the great questions in this 21st century life: local, organic or …..whatever?

What’s Behind Your Choices?

The recent outbreak of E. coli sourced to California spinach has further fueled the debate. Conventional growers pointed the finger at the “organic” practices of the spinach grower; smaller, local growers everywhere were assuring customers that their product was “safer”; and consumers just got more confused. Fruits and vegetables can be local and organic; local, not organic, but grown with sustainability in mind; imported and organic; grown in California using IPM practices (Integrated Pest Management), etc.

First of all, it is important for buyers and consumers of produce to understand the words being used to describe fruits and vegetable growing practices these days.


Here is a glossary to help you out:

  • Local
    Of, or relating to the city, town or district rather than a larger area. Choosing locally grown foods can also mean buying fruits and vegetables (and sometimes other foods) that are in season, forgoing the winter peaches or asparagus in your superstore produce section.
  • Organic
    A system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices.
  • SustainableMeeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In agriculture, this can mean using natural pest control methods and fewer pesticides, choosing practices that improve soil; and considering environmental health, economic profitability and social responsibility when making practice choices.

While we all debate the virtues of the local Stop and Shop or Shaw’s; or whether it makes sense to drive 20 miles to the nearest Whole Foods store or Trader Joe’s, more Connecticut residents are thinking about how and where the food we buy from these stores is grown and produced. Almost 25% of Americans are now choosing to eat foods produced organically at least some of the time.

The demand is so high that now the “big box” stores have jumped on the organic bandwagon. And this makes some people nervous. They are concerned that this will lead to yet another type of industrial-size farm (this one producing foods organically) that still trucks its product thousands of miles away. The cynics among us also worry that the economic clout of these corporations may lead to a watering down of current organic standards as it gets more difficult to meet the demands for produce defined by the current rules.

Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to find organic produce all of the time. In some parts of the country, including Connecticut, the climate can make organic practices impractical for some crops—especially when growing strawberries or apples in a rainy spring or humid summer. Some farmers can’t afford the time or funds needed to become a “Certified” organic grower, but do strive to do as much as they can. Integrated Pest Management or IPM is used by many Connecticut farmers who choose not to go down the organic road. IPM is defined by the National IPM network as “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.” Farmers make their living on the land and are as worried about the health of the environment (and their children) as any one else. Following IPM practices helps them to minimize the use of chemical pesticides.

What about choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables over the organic stuff trucked in from California or Chile? The arguments seem to be getting stronger for buying local. Gas prices and the limits to petroleum resources encourage some to question the wisdom of getting organic grapes from South America in December. My favorite reason to choose local is to support the Connecticut, or at least, the New England or Northeastern farmer. Someone once told me that it wouldn’t be long before all of our milk came in boxes from California or Wisconsin…and we would pick it up from an unrefrigerated aisle in the local supermarket. Yum. I now buy milk produced by Connecticut dairies whenever it is available. I like to see the farms along my trips on I91 through the Connecticut River valley. I like to visit the New Haven farmers’ markets and Hindinger’s farm stand in Hamden. I’ve come to know a lot of local farmers and hope that my business will help to keep them in business for a long time.

Others offer good reasons to choose local as well. Eat Local Challenge suggests the following:

  • Eating local supports the local economy—more dollars spent here stay here.
  • Locally grow produce is fresher, giving you more taste and more nutrition for your dollar.
  • Locally grown produce is usually picked at the peak of ripeness (just think farm fresh peaches versus those in the supermarket).
  • Buying local keeps us in touch with the seasons. How hard is it really to forego the bland, dry, tough winter strawberries from California? Wait for the farm-fresh crop during June or freeze some to use in the winter months.
  • Local farmers grow can grow unusual varieties and meet the cultural food needs of the local population as it changes.
  • Defense of the local food system might be easier as food travels less and is handled by fewer people. A strong local food system also insulates against natural or man-made disasters that may affect an entire industry in industrial-sized growing regions of the country or internationally
  • Successful farmers stay in business—preserving open space.

As to whether organic or locally produced foods are “safer” or more “healthful” or nutritious is a question that science has not answered definitively. You can probably find research and scientific journal articles to support any side of the argument. Fresh produce does experience losses in nutritional value and quality once it is harvested. So it makes sense to eat it as soon as possible after picking. But whether this is significant to an individual’s nutritional health is unclear.

Some would argue that if we all had to rely on local family farms in this day and age, we would all starve. That may be true. When it comes right down to it—we are lucky to have the opportunity in this country to choose for ourselves if we want to buy local, organic, both or neither.

 

UConn Study of Food Insecurity in Connecticut is New Tool to Combat Hunger

By: Sheila Foran & David Bauman for UConn Today 4/10/13

Connecticut residents generally have dependable access to food, but the picture is not all rosy.

A recent U.S. Household Food Security study showed that about one in seven households in the state reported not having enough money to buy food they needed in 2011. And agriculture officials say that between 2008 and 2010, nearly 13 percent of Connecticut’s residents lived in “food insecure” households, while 38 percent of those residents lived in “households with very low food security.”

A new study by the University of Connecticut’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy and Department of Cooperative Extension, 2012 Community Food Security in Connecticut: An Evaluation and Ranking of 169 Towns, evaluates the state’s capacity to address food security challenges and provides a guide for policy makers on how to get food resources to the state’s residents most at risk.

town by town

A town-by-town representation of the risk that a resident is food insecure.

The UConn study focuses on a town-level assessment of factors affecting the state’s “food security,” a socioeconomic term that defines easy access to safe and healthy food.

“Although it is extremely difficult to pinpoint where food insecure households are located, one can look at certain variables such as location of food retailers, bus routes, and participation in public food assistance programs to draw comparisons on a town-by-town basis,” says Jiff Martin, a sustainable food system associate with UConn’s Cooperative Extension System and co-author of the study.

Conducted by UConn researchers in cooperation with the Connecticut Food Policy Council, the study updates a previous UConn report in 2005 that was the first to examine community food security in the state. After seven years, the current report offers a new assessment of community food security that should be of interest to town planners, and civic, environmental, and public health authorities seeking to reduce disparities in access to healthy food across the state, say the study authors.

John D. Frassinelli, chair of the Connecticut Food Policy Council, agrees: “This update to the 2005 study will be very useful for groups working on the ground, as they assess their progress and make decisions regarding resource allocations to have the most impact.”

walmart_interior-225x300

The study also evaluated the proximity of each town to food retail stores.

To define “community,” the study adopted the boundaries of Connecticut’s 169 towns and created three rankings to examine each community’s food system: population at-risk for food security; retail food proximity; and public food assistance programs. Each ranking combines several variables into one discrete measure that is used to assess each town’s capacity to provide its residents access to healthy food.

For the first ranking – population at-risk – the measure includes a town’s population mix using poverty and unemployment rates, and socioeconomic characteristics such as income, vehicle ownership, educational attainment, and number of children per household, to determine the likelihood that a town’s residents might be food insecure.

The food retail measure considers each town’s proximity to food retail stores and the variety of food cost options these establishments make available to a town’s population. Given residents’ ability to shop for food in neighboring towns, this measure considered not just the closest food retailers, but all retail options within a 10-minute drive from a town’s population center.

 boys_with_tray-204x300

Another measure looks at how well served residents are by public food assistance programs.

The food assistance ranking measured how well a town’s residents are being served through public food assistance programs, and whether public bus transportation is available to provide people access to food resources.

To interpret the rankings, if a town is identified with a large population at-risk for food insecurity, for example, then it can examine how well it is providing for its residents through both access to food retailers and whether residents are being served through public food assistance services and public bus transportation.

The study maps all of Connecticut’s 169 towns to provide a visual picture of each town’s performance. The maps will be useful for comparing needs and performance between towns, notes Adam Rabinowitz, senior researcher with UConn’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy and co-author of the study.

“On all of the maps, there are some very apparent clusters of similar rankings throughout the state, but the maps also provide an easy identification of where neighboring towns rank starkly different,” says Rabinowitz. “This is a great opportunity to start questioning why those differences exist in these adjacent areas.”

Given that Connecticut has towns with vastly different sizes, the study also created five categories of town size – based on population – and ranked towns within each category to compare towns of a similar size. Maps of the rankings based on town size categories are also available on the study’s website.

 walmart

The food retail measure considered not just the closest food retailers, but all retail options within a 10-minute drive from a town’s population center.

The study should be of interest to town leaders, anti-hunger advocates, and community groups seeking to improve access to healthy food in Connecticut, notes Rabinowitz, adding that growing public interest in safe and healthy food is fertile ground for policy makers to focus attention on the goals of community food security.

“We hope,” Rabinowitz says, “that these results will be used to stimulate town-level discussion, and may even help prioritize further analysis and commitment to strategies that will strengthen community food security in Connecticut.”