Agriculture

Food Safety on Farms

carrotsFruits and vegetables add important nutrients, color, variety to our diet. Most of us enjoy them raw in salads, as a snack, or dessert. However, in the last few years there has been an increase in the number of foodborne illness outbreaks asso- ciated with fresh fruits and vegetables. Spinach, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cilantro, and green onions, have been on the outbreak list. Many consumers are unaware that produce is the number one source of foodborne illness—it is more likely to be associated with foodborne illness than meat, poultry, fish or dairy products.

A series of programs and laws were developed to bring consistency nationwide and reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks. These include: Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)—a voluntary audit program, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and the FSMA Produce Safety Rule.

The Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule (PSR) was passed in 2011, implemented in 2016, and establishes science-based minimum standards for the safe growing, harvesting, pack- ing, and holding of fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption. The PSR is aimed at reducing

foodborne illness from fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers that are not exempt from the rule must attend approved training. UConn Extension Educator Diane Hirsch offers the Produce Safety Alliance course, and GAP audit preparation courses.

Case Study: Gresczyk Farms LLC

First of all, I deeply appreciate everything Extension educators do for us as farms. I give credit to Extension forBruce Gresczyk Jr. talks about food safety on his farm everything I’m good at growing. I think the only way agriculture can be strong in this state is if we all do a good job at it. Part of this is food safety.

Admittedly, the part I knew the least about was food safety. The produce rule and FSMA kind of scared me, not knowing anything about it. It’s a very complex law. Plus, our farm also wanted to achieve voluntary GAP certification. Essentially certain buyers on the wholesale level require you to be part of GAP so they can meet the qualifications of their food safety program.

At Gresczyk Farms LLC in New Hartford we grow 130 acres of vegetables. We also have 3⁄4 acres of greenhouses, with vegetable crops grown inside, and 600 laying hens for egg production. I became a course instructor for the Produce Safety Alliance Course, working with Diane.

I like learning and talking about stuff. I figured the best way to handle food safety on our farm is to learn how to teach it. I’ve always been very open with other farmers, and happy to talk to anybody about grow- ing. It gets back to my theory of if we’re all good at farming, it helps agriculture in general. That was my motivation to become a trainer.

I recommend anyone take the class, even if you’re just doing a little bit of farming. It doesn’t matter if you’re growing an acre or 200-acres. The FSMA class can really help farmers improve their decision making.

It’s helped me address the food safety practices on our farm. A lot of what farm- ers are already doing is right, I found it was tweaking more so than anything else. It definitely raised my awareness. We were GAP certified in summer of 2017, and changed a lot of things, but in a good way.

and exclusions in FSMA should take the training we offer through Extension. I always say that if everyone can take a food safety class it will go further than all of these rules, and this even applies to consumers.

If you touch food, you should have some basic knowledge of food safety, and really most of us don’t. And that’s okay too, but the biggest thing you can do is just go through a class. It’s really handy to learn some of these basic practices. Then you’re aware as you’re doing things, it literally can save somebody’s life. It’s a way to think about it, and just to be aware.

Our farm, we’re always growing, we’re trying to get bigger and better every year. We love doing that, and we love growing. Most of all I want to circle back to thanking Extension. Without Extension’s resources’ we wouldn’t have access to science-based, unbiased information. It really helps us incredibly.

Even farms that have a lot of exemptions and exclusions in FSMA should take the training we offer through Extension. I always say that if everyone can take a food safety class it will go further than all of these rules, and this even applies to consumers.

If you touch food, you should have some basic knowledge of food safety, and really most of us don’t. And that’s okay too, but the biggest thing you can do is just go through a class. It’s really handy to learn some of these basic practices. Then you’re aware as you’re doing things, it literally can save somebody’s life. It’s a way to think about it, and just to be aware.

Our farm, we’re always growing, we’re trying to get bigger and better every year. We love doing that, and we love grow- ing. Most of all I want to circle back to thanking Extension. Without Extension’s resources’ we wouldn’t have access to science-based, unbiased information. It really helps us incredibly.

Article by Bruce Gresczyk Jr. and Diane Wright Hirsch

Testing Ticks is Vital to Safety

ticks being tested for Lyme disease at UConn lab
Photo: Heather Haycock

The warmer weather has people and our animals headed outdoors. Unfortunately, this same weather has also brought ticks out in abundance. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have cited increased numbers of ticks, and tick-borne diseases. UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL), part of the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontlines of research and tick testing to keep humans and animals safe.

Ticks are disease-carrying arachnids that reside in moist areas, long grass and the leaf litter and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting Lyme disease (caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi) it can also carry other disease-causing agents. A single tick can transmit more than one infectious agent.

In the Northeast, we see the Deer tick, the Dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Brown Dog tick (Rhiphcephalus sanguineus) and Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum). Each of these can be tested for different pathogens known to cause illness in humans and/or animals.

Tick testing at CVMDL serves multiple purposes. It helps the person or veterinarian who submitted the tick understand the potential exposure of the subject that the tick was found on. Our researchers are also using the results from tick testing to track current and emerging disease producing agents carried by ticks. The data can be used in setting priority areas for prevention and vaccine development.

CVMDL has been busy testing ticks this spring. We received 33 ticks for testing in April. Of these specimens, 25 of them were received in the last two weeks of the month. Two of the ticks were found on dogs. Overaal, the results showed that the Lyme disease agent was detected in 8 specimens, B. burgdorferi and Babesia microti (Babesiosis) were detected in one specimen whereas 4 ticks were positive for both B. burgdorferiand Anaplasma phagocytophilum(Anaplasmosis).

UConn researchers are not just testing for diseases transmitted by ticks. Researchers at PVS are also working to develop vaccines and preventative control measures to combat tick-borne illnesses.

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately! CVMDL can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examined under a microscope by trained technicians to determine the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal. Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are common to that tick species. Results are normally reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample, but next day testing is available for an additional fee.

Please send ticks together with a small square of moist paper towel, in sealed zip lock bags. The submission form, pricing and the “Do’s and Don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/468.

For more information, read the article from UConn Magazinethat includes tips to prevent tick bites, or watch the UConn Science in Seconds video. You can also contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl@uconn.edu or 860-486-3738 or visit the tick testing page on our website http://cvmdl.uconn.edu/service/tick.php.

Patriotic Smoothies

serving smoothies in Meriden schools

In Meriden schools, they served Red, White, & Blue Smoothies in honor of the winter Olympics and local dairy in February. What a cool idea! And one that you can replicate at home in honor of Memorial Day. It’s a fun and delicious smoothie. The layers were strawberry, banana, and blueberry served at breakfast with graham crackers. 

Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food.

Basic Management of Small Poultry Flocks

By Michael J. Darre, Ph.D., P.A.S.

rooster at UConn facility
White leghorn roosters with chickens at the Poultry Uniton Jan. 27, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

There are several basic needs that need to be provided for poultry. These are feed, water, fresh air, light, darkness, proper thermal environment, protection (from the elements, predators, injury and theft) and proper space. Proper housing and equipment will take care of many of these items. Poultry and other animals function normally when they exist in harmonious balance with the other living forms and the physical and chemical factors in their environment. Therefore, it is the role of the poultry owner to properly manage the animals in their care.

HOUSING

Poultry require a dry, draft free environment. Depending upon the number of birds to be housed, almost any type of building that provides controlled ventilation, such as windows and doors, can be used. Birds should be reared in high, well drained areas. The windows of the coop and, outside run should face south to allow maximum exposure to the sun throughout the year. This helps with warmth in the winter and dryness during the rest of the year.

If you are building new, consider a concrete floor and starting your walls with two concrete blocks. This will prevent rodents, snakes and other predators from digging under the walls and floors for entrance into the coop. If you use plywood for floor construction, consider using two layers of 3/4″ CDX plywood, with a layer of 1/4″ or 1/8″ galvanized wire mesh between the layers, then raise the floor off the ground with posts or 6″ x 6″ runners. Using runners allows you to move the coop as needed. Being off the ground also helps prevent rot and moisture in the coop. All this helps prevent predators from chewing through the floor. Some have found that using the double layer of plywood with wire mesh and insulation between the layers helps keep the coop warmer in the winter. Windows should also be covered with wire mesh to keep wild birds and other predators out. For summer, a wire mesh screen door helps keep the coop cooler at night.

Ventilation provides comfort for the birds by removing moisture, ammonia and other gases; provides an exchange of air and helps control the temperature of the pen. You can use natural or gravity fed ventilation with windows, flues and slats. Or you can use forced air ventilation if you have a larger number of birds. In a small coop (less than 150 sq ft of floor space) you can use a bathroom fan in the ceiling and slats in the walls or windows to remove excess moisture in the winter, much as it does in your home. It is important to remove excess moisture and ammonia from the coop, especially in cold weather when ventilation is at a minimum.

For predator protection, keep your birds confined with fence and covered runs. Outside run fencing should be buried at least 12″ to 18″with an 6″ to 8″ “L” or “J” to the outside, backfilled with rocks and soil to prevent digging predators. To prevent problems with flying predators, cover your outside runs with mesh wire or netting. A 3-4 ft. grid over the pen made from bailing twine has also proven effective against flying predators. A good outside run can be made by digging 12-18” with a slight slopeaway from the coop, and laying plastic sheetingdown (if you don’t have good drainage) with a drain pipe at the end to catch runoff. Add 4-6” of sand, cover with 1⁄4” wire mesh, add 4-6” of coarse gavel, cover with 1/4” wire mesh and topwith 4-6” of pea-gravel. Put a barrier around therun of 2×6” to keep the gravel in place. Or youcan use a good ground cover of millet, broomcorn, sorghum or other tall leafy vegetation which provides hiding space for the birds.

Space:

Birds need adequate space for feeding, exercise, breeding, nesting and roosting.

Minimum Space Requirements

poultry space requirements by type of bird

Roosts: Provide chickens with 6-10 inches of roost space per bird. Round roosts are the best, and a tree branch of about 1″ to 1.5″ in diameter works well. Meat birds and waterfowl do not require roosts.

Nests: It is best to provide one nest box for each 4-5 females in the flock. 12-14” cubeswith front open with perching space for the birds to stand on while entering the nest.

Floor material: Litter floors of wood shavings is the best. Wood has an excellent capacity to absorb moisture and then re- release it into the air. Whatever you use, keep it clean and dry.

FEED AND WATER

Birds need free access to fresh feed. Feeders can be made of wood, metal, or plastic, but it is important to provide about 2-3 linear inches of feeder space per bird and up to 6″ for meat type birds and turkeys. They should be adjustable in height so the lip of the feeder will be at the level of the back of the bird when standing. Keep troughs only half full to prevent feed wastage.

Fresh water should always be available to your birds, inside or outside. If using an open waterer keeping the lip of the waterer level with the back of the bird is essential. For winter watering, metal waterers can be placed on low temp heaters, keeping the

water at about 50oF. However, nipple waters are the best, since the birds cannot produce suction in their mouth. I recommend them over any open watering system. Use of a fish tank heater in buckets used for nipple waterers helps prevent freezing in the winter.

Commercial poultry feeds have been specially formulated for the type and age of your birds and are the best source of nutrition for your birds. For egg layers, a 14 or 16% CP laying mash or crumbles can be fed from the first egg until out of production. Chicks should be fed a 18-23% CP medicated starter, unless they received cocci-vac, then use a non-medicated starter feed, for six weeks. Then put on a 16-18% CP layer grower feed till 15 weeks or first egg, then on to the layer feed. Broilers should be feed a broiler starter (21-23% CP) feed for 3 weeks, and a 18-20% CP grower/ finisher till market.

LIGHT

Poultry require artificial lighting to maintain egg production during the short days of winter. Poultry are long-day breeders and we normally provide laying hens about 16 hrs of light per day throughout the year. Light timers set to come on at 5 am and off at 9 pm will supply the hours required. Low wattage CFL, LED or Incandescent lamps that supply about 1 foot candle of light at bird level is adequate. Use a 2700K lamp.

Never decrease the hours of light on laying hens or increase the hours of light on a growing bird.

BROODING

Raising and brooding baby chicks requires special care. Chicks need to be reared in isolation for disease prevention. They should be reared in a clean, disinfected environment. Baby chicks cannot properly regulate their body temperature for a few days after hatching and require a heat source. Heat lamps, brooder stoves, hovers and infrared heaters work well. A brooder guard, a ring of cardboard or plastic at least 18″ high on the floor circling the heat source keeps the chicks from getting too far from the heat and reduces drafts. Watch the birds, if they huddle under the heat source, they are too cool, if off to one side, a draft, if spread evenly, just right. For newly hatched birds is it best to provide them with water for the first couple of hours before giving them solid feed. This helps clean out their excretory system. If you get chicks from a distant hatchery through the mail, then give them a 5% sugar water solution for the first few hours to boost their energy level.

DISEASE MANAGEMENT

Refer to UConn Poultry Pages for more detailed information on health and diseases of poultry.

Download a copy of this article as a PDF.

Can I Water Vegetables with my Rain Barrel Water?

By Joan Allen

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center

rain barrel against side of house in with shrubs
Photo credit: CT DEEP

Collection of rain water from roofs using rain barrels is growing in popularity because of its many environmental and practical benefits. It can help the environment by diverting water that might contain contaminants away from storm drains and the natural bodies of water that those empty into.  Depletion of well water can be a benefit when this non-potable water is used instead of the tap for things like washing cars, irrigation of plants, and flushing toilets. If you’re on a city/public water system, it can save money to use rain water where you can, too. But is using rain water to irrigate vegetables and fruits safe? Are there contaminants in it that could make people sick? Let’s take a look at what’s been studied.

A few universities in the U.S and abroad have done some work to look at potential contaminants in roof run-off water including heavy metals like zinc, copper, lead and others as well as bacteria such as E. coli and other pathogens. Testing done so far has shown low risk from these, but there is some. And of course, it depends on the type of roofing material, the environment (ie acid rain, urban vs. rural, etc) and possibly other factors. In one study, most of the metals tested the same in rain barrel water as in rain water before it hit the roofs, so little to no concern there. One exception was zinc, and elevated levels could lead to build up of this element in soils. At high enough levels, this can cause injury to plants and those plants should not be consumed (1). Monitor for this by having the soil tested.

While risk appears to be low, there were a few samples in studies (1, 2) where E. coli or total coliform bacterial levels exceeded official standards for some uses. Rain barrel water should NEVER be used for potable purposes such as drinking water, cooking or washing. Where do the bacteria in run-off come from? The main sources would be fecal matter from animals such as squirrels and birds that land and move around on the roof.

But if you’d like to water your vegetable garden with rain barrel water, are there ways to do it safely?

Dr. Mike Dietz, Assistant Extension Educator at UConn with expertise in water management recommends “not using roof water on anything leafy that you are going to eat directly. It would be OK to water soil/plants where there is no direct contact”. This is consistent with recommendations from other experts who suggest applying the water directly to the soil and avoiding contact with above-ground plant parts. An ideal set-up would be to hook up a drip irrigation system to your rain barrel(s). Pressure will be improved when they are full and if they are elevated. A full rain barrel can be pretty heavy, at about 500 lbs. for a 55 gallon unit, so make sure they are on a solid and stable base such as concrete blocks.

If possible, and this is done in larger collection systems automatically, don’t collect the ‘first flush’ of water off the roof. This would be the first few gallons. In a ¼” rainfall as much as 150 gallons can be collected from a 1000 ft2 roof surface (3). The first water to run off tends to have higher concentrations of any contaminants because of them building up on the roof since the previous rainfall event.

Another more practical way to minimize risk of pathogen/bacterial contamination is to treat the collected water with bleach. Rutgers University recommends treating 55 gallons of water by adding one ounce of unscented household chlorine bleach to the barrel once a month (or more often if rain is frequent). Allow this to stand for 24 hours before using the water for irrigation so the bleach can dissipate.

Apply collected water in the morning. Wait until leaves dry in the sun before harvesting. Ultraviolet light from the sun will have some disinfecting effect.

It is recommended to have the rain barrel water tested for E. coli. Be sure to follow the testing lab’s instructions for collection, storage and time sensitivity of the samples.

Thoroughly wash all harvested produce. In addition, you should always thoroughly wash your hands with warm, soapy water after they are in contact with collected water.

In summary, there are risks to using collected rain water for irrigation of food crops. In most cases, the risk appears to be low, and using the above sanitation practices can reduce risk.

References:

  1. DeBusk, K., W. Hunt, D. Osmond and G. Cope. 2009. Water quality of rooftop runoff: implications for residential water harvesting systems. North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension.
  2. Bakacs, M., M. Haberland and S. Yergeau. 2017. Rain barrels part IV: testing and applying harvested water to irrigate a vegetable garden. Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. Fact Sheet FS1218.
  3. Rainfall as a resource. A resident’s guide to rain barrels in Connecticut. CT DEEP.

Extension Offers Greenhouse Biological Control Conference

 

liliesUConn Extension is sponsoring a Greenhouse Biological Control Conference.  This one-day educational program will be held onWednesday, June 20, 2018 at Room 100, WB Young Building, University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT.

The speakers featured at this educational program include:

  • Michael Oleykowski,  Syngenta  who will be speaking on Developing an Effective, Integrated Control Program 
  • Debbie Palumbo-Sanders, Bioworks, Victor, NY   who will be speaking on Biofungicides and Their Fit into Your IPM Program
  • Kerri Stafford, Cavicchio Greenhouses, Sudbury, MA  who will be speaking on Implementing Our Biological Control Program
  • Annie White, Nectar Landscape Design Studio, Burlington, VT  who will be speaking on Top Plants for Attracting Pollinators: Natives and Beyond
  • Carol Glenister, IPM Laboratories, Locke, NY  who will be speaking on Plants Talk Biocontrol: How to Use Plants to Manage Pests

A registration fee of $40 is due by June 14 payable by check only to the University of Connecticut. Included in the cost of admission: coffee, continental breakfast, lunch, informational handouts and parking.

Five pesticide recertification credits will be offered. For more information contact: Leanne Pundt at leanne.pundt@uconn.edu or call 860.626.6855 or click here for the program brochure or visit the website: http://ipm.uconn.edu/pa_greenhouse/

This work is supported by the Crop Protection and Pest Management grant no. 2014-70006-22548/project accession no. 1004700 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Spring Compost Sales

compost facility

Calling all green thumbs. CAHNR is happy to announce sales dates for the 2018 spring compost sale. We will be open on April 27 and 28th. Sales hours will be Fridays 1:00pm to 4:30pm and Saturdays 9:00am to 3:00pm. Sales are cash and credit card only. Sales will be cancelled if it is raining. The cost will be $25.00 per yard and there will be no upper or lower limits to the amount you can buy. Please call 860-486-8567 for more information.

Solid Ground Farmer Trainings Continue

modeling pesticide safety outfit solid ground farmer training models pesticide safety outfit

UConn Extension’s Solid Ground Training class for beginner farmers on the “Safe and Effective Use of Pesticides For Organic and Non-Organic Producers”, held in Bethel on April 10 and taught by Mary Concklin. A part of the class was devoted to learning about personal protective equipment (PPE) with Chelsey Hahn modeling several different PPE items.

Put Local On Your Tray (Or Plate) In April

Put Local on Your Tray is a farm-to-school program helping Connecticut schools serve and celebrate regionally grown food. Even if you’re not a school, they have some advice for getting local onto your plate this season.

spinach and greens being grown in greenhouse
Photo: Molly Deegan

Days are getting slightly warmer and longer, the breeze is sharp, and the land is both awakened and nourished by fresh spring rain. Farmers are in a busy period of transition, from indoor planning and preparing for the height of summer – to the beginning stages of planting outdoors – making sure everything is ready to go. While there may not be an abundance of produce to choose from this month, there still are some special products to take advantage of for their especially sweet and distinct flavors of spring that they offer. For instance, mixed greens!

Spinach is our suggested local item to look out for – according to our Tray team Farmer Liaison, Shannon. After a long winter, the sugars stored in it’s leaves give it flavor hard to find any other time of year. Seen below, are rows of sweet greens growing at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge.