Author: UConn Extension

Fairfield County Master Gardener Projects

Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:

vegetable gardenThe Fairfield County Demonstration Vegetable Garden – Bethel, CT

In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.

As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.

The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT

This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.

The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT

Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.

Urban Agriculture Extension Program

farmers market
Urban agriculture students at the Danbury Farmers Market.

German Cutz is our Extension Educator for Sustainable Families and Communities. Here is a quick snapshot of a few of his programs for this fall:

  • Nine out of 11 participants completed the year-round urban agriculture training in Bethel. They graduation ceremony is being planned for January 16th, 2018.
  • Bethel urban agriculture program is currently recruiting new participants for the 2017-2018 course. There are six participants for the new round.
  • Bridgeport urban agriculture program started on November 16th. Green Village Initiative (GVI) is collaborating with UConn Extension providing classroom and garden space. Thus far, 15 people are enrolled in the program.
  • Knox Farms in Hartford has agreed to start the urban agriculture program in spring 2018. No date confirmed yet.

Improving Nutrition in New Britain

The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps families learn about healthy eating, shopping on a budget, cooking and physical activity. EFNEP staff strive to empower participants, providing knowledge and skills to improve the health of all family members. Participants learn through doing, with cooking, physical activity and supportive discussions about nutrition and healthy habits.

EFNEP classes will help you to prepare delicious, low-cost, healthy meals for you and your family. Some of our past classes are highlighted in this series. Contact the office near you for more information. 

dairy smoothieThe New Britain Mount Pleasant Program was a collaboration between the Family Resource Center and Housing. The program collaborators were skeptical about participant attendance and follow through. On our first session only 5 people had signed up for the nutrition class, and 18 people showed up. Each week we had a great turn out with 10 graduates attending 10 hours of education. The amazing part of the class was how many students started to make changes. For example, B, was a student who immediately began eating more vegetables. He also changed his morning bacon and sausage routine to oatmeal. He stopped drinking soda. Instead he showed up to class with his own fruit infused water. He followed my mantra of only drink water or 1 glass of milk. Another student wrote a heartfelt note thanking me for the class. She said she “suffered from depression, and had a hard time leaving the house and being around people, and class gave me something to look forward to.” She also mentioned purchasing a blender to make healthy smoothies for breakfast (another one of my recipes). The students did not want the class to end, and vowed to come back as experts in the fall when we hold another class, and made comments like ” I was inspired by your first class” and There should be more classes like this.”

The program was centered on grocery shopping – each lesson had a grocery shopping component. Students reported saving money on their groceries through the use of mobile apps we learned about in class. They also reported changes in their grocery shopping habits. As mentioned above, a direct benefit was improved dietary habits as a result of the lessons. An unintended indirect benefit was the benefit of social support from a peer group, which helped one participant with her depression. The improvement in her depression made such an impact that it motivated her to make changes to improve her dietary intake and overall health.

New Year Resolution: Take the 40-Gallon Challenge

What are you going to do differently in 2018? How about conserving water with UConn Extension.

dripping tapUConn Extension is inviting all Connecticut residents to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. The challenge began in 2011 as a campaign funded by the Southern Region Water Program and coordinated by the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Southern Region Drinking Water and Rural-Urban Interface Education Program Team.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additional indoor and outdoor water savings activities. The top three most pledged commitments are: reducing irrigation station runtimes by 2 minutes, using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and fixing a leaky toilet. There are many other commitments to choose from and each has a daily gallon savings equivalency. Some of the most impactful actions include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participants are encouraged to commit to actions adding up to 40 gallons or more of daily savings.40 gallon challenge logo

This year, UConn Extension is on a mission to spread the word about the challenge and increase Connecticut’s participation. To date, the number of pledges in Connecticut is 25, compared to around 2,000 in Georgia and 4,000 in Texas, states where this program is rooted. We want to increase that number many times over, and demonstrate our commitment to preserving this critical and limited natural resource.

Participation is open to residents of all states and counties. Farmers, gardeners, business owners, homeowners, school children, and all others interested are encouraged to participate and begin the conversation in their communities about why water conservation matters.

To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/ and fill out a pledge card. To learn more about what UConn Extension is doing about water quality and quantity issues in our state and region, visit http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

Setting a Course for Active Learning

Setting a Course for Active Learning: An Interview with Senator Beth Bye

By Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, State 4-H Office 

youth at Auerfarm meeting a rabbitElizabeth “Beth” Bye is the Executive Director of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. She has worked in early childhood education for over 30 years. She is also a member of the Connecticut Senate representing the 5th district which includes Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hart-ford. Beth has spent her career working to assure all children have access to high quality learning opportunities. I sat down with her recently to get her thoughts on the benefits of early childhood education.

Her background in early childhood development and education began with a BA and MA in Child Development from the University of New Hampshire. Beth states that she was interested in the research on the impact of infant daycare on child development and in helping children to develop internal controls. She adds that “you can al-ways impact children, but it’s great to set their course early in life.” When asked what the research says about how we educate our youngest children she responds, “the research tells us that young children learn actively. They need to interface with a variety of materials, and explore, move and go outside. They also need to interact with other children and teachers. Their brains are qualitatively different and so they take in information differently than adults.” Beth also states that “play is the work of children”. It is universal, like walking and talking and is essentially how children make sense of their experience. Developing an attitude toward learning that is enthusiastic and flexible is also important and early childhood education programs can help to set the stage for children to be eager and excited about learning through play and active learning.

Environment also plays a key role in creating an effective early child-hood education program. The environment needs to be conducive to learning with 4-H clover youth member in garden projectinteresting materials and activities. Safety is a key factor as well. There is more fear among parents now regarding their child’s safety and so the question arises, how much freedom to allow children to explore and develop. Responsive care is critical to a safe learning environment. Building self-regulation is also important so that children can be part of a com-munity early on, learning how to work as a team, and care about others.

Beth credits the 4-H program with helping youth to create their own inquiry experiences with 4-H pro-jects and activities as well as teaching independence, enthusiasm for learning and contribution to com-munity. 4-H members learn these skills early on and it tends to stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Beth’s connection with Auerfarm began as a consultant for the Bloomfield Public Schools. Over 13,000 youth visit Auerfarm each year to learn about agriculture and the environment.

Auerfarm offers a variety of seasonal, school and summer enrichment programs that provide a wonderful setting for active sensory learning. Children take a hayride around the 120-acre property exploring the gardens, orchards and fields and also get to sample apple cider and maple syrup during seasonal programs. Auerfarm also has an ongoing relationship with the Wintonbury Early Childhood Mag-net School which visits the farm for several weeks during the year. What better backdrop for active learning than a 120-acre farm with animals, gardens, and orchards.

Celebrating Retirement

Fairfield County Extension educators and retirees

On Friday, December 8th the Fairfield County Extension team and past Extension staff had a luncheon at the Red Rooster restaurant in Newtown. Past Extension Educator, Joseph J. Maisano, Jr. and his wife Betty Maisano attended. Joe worked as a Horticulture expert and Extension Educator for Fairfield County for 30 years. He shared with us that he worked in Extension for 30 years and that this year marks his 30th year of retirement. He continues to be an avid gardener and volunteers on the board for the community garden in his retirement community.

Cook Before Eating

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

eggs
Photo: Iowa Extension

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving dinner through New Year’s celebrations, people who rarely spend time in the kitchen may be more likely to pick up a cookbook and make some cookies. Or, they may be stuffing their first turkey for Christmas day family dinner. Or possibly trying out a new appetizer for the office party—maybe even ceviche. (For those how may be unfamiliar with the term, “ceviche” it commonly refers to a shrimp or fish dish where citric acid, typically in the form of lemon juice or lime juice, is used to marinate raw fish or shrimp, often giving the appearance that the fish has been cooked.) Ceviche looks opaque and firm. But it is not cooked. The bacteria or viruses that may have been in the raw product have not been cooked away. They are still there. I have seen recipes for “faux ceviche,” that include cooking the shrimp or fish, but traditionally, it is not a cooked product. Consequently, it is risky. Ask your host or hostess if you are not sure of what they are serving.

Here is some guidance regarding foods or ingredients you may consider eating raw, whether you are a new cook or a seasoned cook who has always “done it this way” and “NEVER made anyone sick.” Keep in mind that your family may include very young children, the elderly or a chronically ill family member who may be at greater risk for the more severe consequences of a foodborne illness. So while you, a healthy adult, may be comfortable throwing caution to the winds and eating raw fish, uncooked cookie dough or even a taste of raw stuffing, the higher risk members of your family/friends circle really should not do this.

Be careful with raw eggs.

Raw eggs contain Salmonella. Not every egg. But no use betting on it. If you are choosing a recipe, such as eggnog, which calls for uncooked eggs, there is a safer alternative. Even if everyone is a healthy adult (and do you really know if they are all “healthy”?), it might be best to use a pasteurized egg product. They are often sold by the carton in the refrigerated egg or milk case. Otherwise, you might want to use a recipe for eggnog that preheats the egg to 160 degrees F to ensure that eggs are cooked sufficiently. Here is one from FoodSafety.gov: https://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/eggnog.html. Unfortunately, contrary to some popular cooking shows and magazines, adding alcohol to eggnog does not kill the Salmonella.

Watch out for raw doughs and batters.

We have all heard the warnings to avoid eating raw cookie dough—even though we may have all done it at one time with no apparent ill effects. Raw cookie dough or raw batters containing eggs share the same risk as raw eggnog. This would also be true of raw cookie dough that you might add to homemade ice cream. Commercial makers of cookie ice cream and other foods will use pasteurized eggs in their products.

There is another potential risk to eating raw batters and doughs that you may not even be aware of.  It is the flour.  Yes, the flour.  Flour is considered a raw agricultural product. It has not been treated to kill potential foodborne pathogens (microbes that cause illness). Since 2008, there have been five foodborne disease outbreaks tied to flour, two in Canada, one in New Zealand, and two in the US. So, even if a dough contains no eggs (pastry dough, for example), it is best not to eat it raw.

Think twice before serving raw meat, fish, or shellfish.

Honestly, I like a raw clam now and then. Some of my food safety colleagues look on aghast while others join in. Maybe you prefer raw oysters or sashimi. However, I do this knowing the risks I am taking. I do it rarely and only when I think the purveyor has been meticulous—and I still know there is a risk! Lots of folks do not know or understand the risks. Bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio vulnificous and parasites that include tapeworm and Anisakid nematodes may be associated with raw fish and shellfish. Again, if you are healthy, and visit restaurant or seafood retailers who are very careful, your risk may be less than that of an immune compromised adult or young child. However, the risk is never zero. So, during the holidays, choose a faux “ceviche” recipe that involves marinating cooked shrimp or fish. Serve oyster stew or clams casino that have been checked with a food thermometer.

If your holiday recipes include some of these risky ingredients, keep in mind that you can spread the pathogens that cause foodborne illness during the preparation steps. When you are cranking out trays and trays of cookies or appetizers, you need to practice the basic sanitation skills that will keep your food safe. Always use clean hands when handling any raw food and wash them again after handling that food. Use clean surfaces, cutting boards, knives, mixing spoons or other utensils: then wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water before using them to prepare other foods. If that flour you used to dust the pie shell gets spread around or the raw egg drips onto the counter where you are decorating sugar cookies, it could end up in your salad or on your kid’s hands (which at some point will end up in their mouth).

Check the clock as you are baking and try not to leave doughs (or other raw ingredients, for that matter) out for more than four hours at a time. This allows the pathogens to multiply, increasing the risk for cross-contamination.

Finally, every cook is told to taste their dishes before presenting them to the guests. It’s one of the first questions asked of competing chefs on the cooking shows: “Did you even taste this?”  But, please, do not taste until the risky ingredients are cooked through. I will never forget a Christmas Eve in my childhood when Mom had made the stuffing, containing raw sausage and eggs, the day before. She always liked to taste the raw stuffing. (Right!) She spent Christmas day in bed….and the bathroom.

For more information about safe food preparation during the holidays, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, or foodsafety.gov, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

CT 4-H Explorers Program for 5 & 6 Year Olds

By Pamela Gray, New London County 4-H Program Coordinator 

In response to requests from leaders and parents for the UConn 4-H program to incorporate Cloverbud-age youth, we ran a pilot program in 2017 for 5-6 year olds. With pilot year success, it is now an official addition starting 2018!

4-H Explorers is an age appropriate 4-H experience for five and six year-olds (plus seven year-olds/special needs youth who find this setting more suitable than a 7-19 age club). Explorers Club members do not have pro-jects or competitions. Instead, they explore all the different activities and experiences 4-H has to offer, and participate in events and meetings through activity-based, cooperative learning and positive encouragement.

The focus of activity-based learning and feedback is to pro-mote the 4-H’ers’ confidence in meeting new 4-H explorer members working in barn carrying haychallenges. Re-search on these age levels indicate the best way to build confidence is to provide many opportunities through activities that emphasize success, however small. The CT Explorers use The Big Book of 4-H Cloverbud Activities (Ohio State University) and Clover Adventures: A Leader’s Resource Guide (University of Maryland Extension) curriculum. The activities in these books are specifically designed to meet the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional needs of this age group, while being framed in the 4-H experiential learning model. Busy, messy, and hands-on are the motto for Explorers Clubs! Each club receives the curriculum from their 4-H office when Leaders are trained and the club is enrolled.

The CT 4-H Explorers at the Fair outlines how Explorers can participate meaningfully at the county 4-H fairs while not engaging competitively, and the CT 4-H Explorers Activity Summary provides a way for kids and/or clubs to reflect on their activities and successes. What were Ivan’s favorite activities this year? “Making pasta salad for Food Show,” and learning to hold a rabbit.

4-H explorers showing goats at county 4-H fairExplorers from clubs in New London, Middlesex, Litchfield, and Fairfield counties participated in Giddy-up Games, Food Shows, Public Speaking, and Skill-a-thon. In their club meetings they visited farms, learned how maple syrup is made, learned about birds, played in some dirt (planting seeds), cooked, made dioramas, posters, and collages, and much more hands-on learning.

One 4-H Explorer Leader observed “some things that attract new-to-4-H families are: no cost to join, no dues, and no uniforms to buy. The curriculum is varied, flexible, and parents stay for meetings and get involved.”

Heading into the 2018 4-H year, we have 16 Explorers Clubs across the state and 74 kids. If you would like to learn more about CT 4-H Explorers or how to start a club, click here for the handbook or contact your county 4-H office.