By Sherry Gray

student in gardenThe Auerfarm is a 4-H Education Center with 120 acres located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The Farm was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4–H Development Fund in 1976; however; has a rich history dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. The farm served as a model farm to other farmers in the 1950’s and hence, grew into a place that values education, outreach and engagement. The farm currently houses livestock including cows, goats, alpaca, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and chickens. It also has several large vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, and a blueberry patch. Extension supported the building of a greenhouse on the property that is heavily used by school groups and master gardeners. Each year 14,000 children and 5,000 adults visit and access educational programs at the farm.

CYFAR’s Tools for Healthy Living grant partnered with Auerfarm this summer to provide multiple weeklong day programs for low-income youth from Hartford. Each week twelve to fifteen 8-12 year old low-income youth from Hartford participated in a program designed to enrich their understanding of food, health, and agriculture through hands on learning. During this time, University of Connecticut (UConn) staff presented two lessons about issues related to food safety; these lessons are part of the Tools for Healthy Living curriculum that was developed as part of this grant project. The first lesson was a lesson on hand washing and the second was on how to avoid food related illness. Students also spent time in the gardens, visiting animals and preparing the food they had picked.

The summer program was a highly positive experience for students, many who had not attended a summer farm program before. Students were very excited to go to the gardens and the blueberry patch.  Several students made statements including “we get to pick berries!” The students also indicated that “this is a new experience” for (most) of them and upon the announcement from the teacher that berry picking time was over several made comments that they “wanted to do it again.”

The children were very excited to be in the garden. One day, the UConn Master Gardener trapped a groundhog that she then showed to the students. The animal intrigued them all, but some had differing opinions about it. Some thought that it “looks mean” while others thought it “cute.” Educators explained why they caught the groundhog noting that they “eat eleven pounds of vegetables a day.” The children were assigned tasks to pick vegetables, weeds or get grass for the animals to eat later. The children really seemed to enjoy the garden experience stating “I want to have my own garden” and “this is the best day of my life.” This garden supports the Foodshare organization by producing 2 tons of produce annually for hungry families in Hartford. Extension Master Gardeners are active with the Foodshare garden ensuring we give back to the community. One student notes that, “she doesn’t even like carrots, but she is happy that she gets to help pick them so that people who are hungry can eat them.” The students were enthusiastic about taking the vegetables from the garden into the kitchen to prepare their lunches, including, salads, roasted beets, pizza, and tacos.

All of the youth attending this summer program loved the experience, particularly being in the gardens, blueberry patch and in the kitchen. They interacted during the food safety lessons and showed increased awareness for the need to do thorough handwashing and minimize food safety risks. The animals and gardens throughout the property served as platforms for interactive learning. One student exclaimed “I can’t wait to come back to camp next year.” Another stated, “I just really like the fresh air and mountains.” As a result of this project, our grant team strengthened our partnership with Auerfarm and provided many youth with a farm experience that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend.

 

Sherry Gray, PI Tools for Healthy Living

Mary Margaret Gaudio, co-PI Tools for Healthy Living

Jen Cushman, 4-H Extension Educator, Hartford County Extension

Miriah Kelly, Project Evaluator

Christine Smith, CYFAR Program Assistant

Angela Caldera, Hartford EFNEP

Marilyn Diaz, Hartford Administrative Assistant