Agriculture

Fairholm Farm: CT Green Pasture’s Dairy Farm of the Year

Morin and Hermonot families with their cows in Woodstock, Connecticut
The Morin and Hermonot families at Fairholm Farm in Woodstock. Photo: Chrissy Peckam

The Green Pastures Award judging team has chosen Fairholm Farm as the Connecticut Dairy Farm of the Year for 2018. The annual award will be presented at the Big E Green Pasture’s banquet where each New England state presents their winning farm. The farms present a slide show of their management strategies and innovative goals that result in a successful dairy operation that will grow into the future.

Located in Woodstock, Connecticut, the farm team prides themselves on providing the highest level of care for their growing herd.  Enjoying a cool breeze flowing through the modern freestall barn, over three hundred milking cows relaxed as the judges discussed the changes that the four generations have made since the farm purchase in 1920. Strawberries and racehorses, cottage cheese, and finally wholesaled high quality milk, are some of the products sold by the Barrett family, then granddaughter, Diane and husband, Todd Morin, and now their daughter, Erica and husband, Jon Hermonot.

The farm grows about eight hundred acres of corn silage and haylage, packing the harvested feed under plastic to ferment for year-round feeding. The farm’s challenge is to keep the air and water out of the stored forage to reduce losses due to mold. Todd wishes the crows, looking for corn under the plastic, would hang out somewhere other than the top of the silage pile.

The farm has seen many improvements in the last ten years, including the new barn, shop, and manure storage needed for an efficient dairy operation. The most recent

Erica Hermonot with the robotic milking machines at Fairholm Farm in Woodstock
Erica inspects the robotic milking equipment at Fairholm Farm in Woodstock. Photo: Chrissy Peckham

adventure has been the installation of four robotic milkers, reducing labor costs as well as providing extensive computer data that allows the herd management team to know which cow is feeling great, and who may need extra care. The new office is welcoming for the evening computer viewing, with a white board covered with cows to watch, benchmarks to reach, and goals needed to allow the farm to remain profitable despite the low milk prices.

The judges enjoyed an extended visit, as the four-owner team’s knowledge of herd health, crop production, and business economics, shared openly, resulted in many questions and follow-up discussions. It was a beautiful day on the farm, with a progressive dairy family, happy to be there working together.

We are proud to welcome Fairholm Farm into the family of Green Pasture’s Award winners, a New England tradition since 1948 when the contest first began. Green Pastures started when then governor of New Hampshire challenged the other governors to find a better pasture than in New Hampshire. Governor Dale lost his wager, presenting a top hat to Connecticut Governor McConaughy at the Eastern States Exposition in front of 6,000 people. Now each state chooses a winner, based on the overall dairy farm management. Congratulations all!

Article by Joyce E. Meader, UConn Dairy/ Livestock Extension Educator

Food Safety for Produce Buyers

On July 17, UConn Extension and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture hosted a meeting in Storrs for operations (distributors, schools, institutions, restaurants, grocery stores, and foodservice operations) that buy fresh produce from farms in southern New England. A team of regulators and produce safety educators from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island conceived and developed the program to raise awareness and answer questions about how the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Produce Safety Rule (PSR), Preventive Controls for Human Food, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audits and state produce inspection programs will affect regional farmers and their customers. More than 50 retailers, regulators, distributors, school and university foodservice personnel and farmers from across New England came to learn.

Diane Hirsch
Diane Wright Hirsch. Photo: Eshan Sonpal

FSMA is the regulation implemented in 2011 to improve the safety of the US food supply. The regulation includes two rules that specifically impact those who grow, distribute and sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Included are the Produce Safety Rule (PSR), the Preventive Controls Rule (PC). “While many believe that meat or eggs or poultry are likely the source of most foodborne illnesses in the US, in fact it is fruits and vegetables that top the list. We need to work to reduce these numbers,” said Diane Wright Hirsch, Food Safety Educator with UConn Extension. “It is important that anyone preparing fruits and vegetables for a restaurant or school or selling them at a grocery store be familiar with the regulations that affect the industry.”

The Preventive Controls Rule regulates those who warehouse and distribute produce. It outlines Good Manufacturing Practices including procedures that impact the safety of the food they are holding: worker hygiene, worker food safety training, sanitation and pest control are some of the practices outlined in the Rule. The Produce Safety Rule requires growers of fresh fruits and vegetables to implement practices that reduce risks for contamination of fresh produce with microorganisms that cause foodborne illness.

Mark Zotti is an Agriculture Marketing/Inspection Representative with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and says, “Every

Mark Zotti
Mark Zotti. Photo: Eshan Sonpal

farmer should educate themselves on what the FSMA Produce Safety Rule says and how it relates to them. The Rule makes science-based standards for the growing and harvesting and holding/packing of fresh fruits and vegetables. Never before were there laws related to those activities, so it’s important that farms regardless of size, know what the PSR says.”

“There’s been a documented increase in foodborne illnesses related to produce,” Mark states. “A lot of that can be correlated to the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the regions and practices used during the production of produce. Nationwide we’ve seen the produce industry require that farms who grow for them implement practices aimed at reducing the risk of microbial contamination during the growing, harvesting, holding, and packing of fresh fruits and vegetables. We hope the information provided today benefits the participants and the farmers they work with.”

Sean Stolarik is the Produce Sales Manager for Big Y Foods, Inc, and he attended the July training on behalf of his organization. “This is very relevant to my day to day life. When it comes to food safety and where our growers have to be in terms of regulations, this is very important.”

Sean Stolarik
Sean Stolarik. Photo: Eshan Sonpal

“Today’s training will help Big Y Foods, Inc. with transparency with customers, knowing that the farms we are buying produce from are using safe agricultural practices. It will help me to know what questions to ask the growers and know what requirements that growers must meet,” Sean continues. “My biggest takeaway is that the rules are complex, with many different parts and some allowed exceptions. We are trying to understand the laws because they can be confusing sometimes.”

To help Connecticut farmers comply with the PSR, the Department of Agriculture and UConn Extension are providing nationally accredited Produce Safety Alliance Grower training to fresh fruit and vegetable growers in the state. Growers can attend training, learn the specifics of the regulation, find out about resources available to them, and go back to the farm with the tools needed to make changes in their food safety practices, including making their facilities easier to clean and taking steps to comply with the regulation.

Produce buyers can have access to the curriculum through the Produce Safety Alliance website as well. Downloading and reviewing the grower training materials will help them to determine what practices or procedures they may want to see implemented by the farmers they buy from.

“Everyone needs to take responsibility for their piece of the food system,” Diane concludes. “Farmers need to produce a safe product, distributors need to take that product and keep it safe for consumers that eat it. Produce is a risky food because you are not cooking it for the most part. It’s important to know how to safely grow, harvest, distribute and prepare fresh fruits and vegetable so that we can reduce the risks for consumers.”

For more information visit foodsafety.uconn.edu or ctgrown.gov.

Article by Eshan Sonpal

Helping Connecticut Farmers Succeed: A Collaborative Journey

Billy Collins on farm
Billy Collins at Fair Weather Acres. Photo: Winter Caplanson

“Educating farmers in sustainable, profitable and environmentally-sound food production practices benefits every man, woman and child in the country directly, on a daily basis, by helping to maintain a safe and secure food source. Knowledge of effective IPM practices helps prevent excess application of pesticides by otherwise frustrated growers,” Jude Boucher says.

The name Jude Boucher is synonymous with vegetable production in Connecticut. Jude joined UConn Extension in 1986 as the Extension Educator for vegetable crops Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Jude provided cutting-edge solutions to growers on pest management and crop production problems, keeping them competitive on the local, regional, and national level. A multi-faceted approach is used in vegetable IPM that reaches a vast number of growers, not only in Connecticut, but; throughout the Northeast. During the growing season, Jude worked with numerous farms to improve their business and address crop issues as they arose. From conventional to organic farms, new farmers to experienced farmers; Jude worked with everyone and improved their economic viability and production.

Diversifying a Traditional Farm

Jude assisted Fair Weather Acres in Rocky Hill in diversifying and building resiliency to the challenges Mother Nature provided. The farm is over 800 acres along the Connecticut River. Jude advised Billy and Michele Collins on ways to diversify their marketing efforts and the number of crops they grow, after flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011 washed away much of the crops, and left the farm in debt.

Originally, the farm received IPM training on three crops: beans, sweet corn, and peppers. With diversification, Billy began producing 55 different varieties of vegetables. Jude taught him pest management for his new crops, and the Collins hired an Extension-trained private consultant to help monitor and scout pests and implement new pest management techniques.

“I encouraged and advised Michele on developing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture on their farm and introduced them to other successful CSA farm operators,” Jude says. “Michele started the CSA with 120 members in 2012, and – through a variety of methods – has exceeded 500 summer CSA shares.”

Michele and Billy give back to Extension by speaking at state and regional conferences, hosting twilight meetings, research plots on their farm, and UConn student tours. “Jude has been an integral part of the growth and diversification of our farm. His extensive knowledge and passion for agriculture, coupled with his love of people and farmers in particular, made him an unrivaled asset to Connecticut agriculture,” Michele says. “Jude taught us, advised us, and offered us unlimited guidance in many areas including IPM, alternative farming concepts, marketing, and agribusiness just to name a few.”

Building a New Farm

Oxen Hill Farm is a family enterprise in West Suffield that began when the Griffin family inherited an idle hay and pasture farm with the intent of creating an organic vegetable and cut flower farm.

“Besides small-scale home vegetable and flower gardens, they had no experience operating a commercial vegetable and cut-flower business,” Jude says. “They signed up for training with me, and the first year, 2009, started with an acre of organic vegetables and cut flowers.”

Despite the challenges of their first year, they expanded their business in 2010, growing from 36 CSA members to over 150. Oxen Hill enlarged their acreage onto their parents’ home farm, to almost 20 acres of crops, and learned to grow everything from artichokes to zucchini. The farm continues to flourish.

Finding a Better Way

Jude worked with farmers throughout the region on deep zone tillage (DZT). “DZT allows a grower to prepare a narrow seedbed, only inches wide, rather than exposing the surface of the whole field to wind and rain,” Jude explains. “Farms can also till deeply, right under the crop row to loosen any hardpan that has formed after years of using a plow and harrow. This allows the soil to absorb and retain more water and allows the plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil. The system also improves soil quality over time.”

Due to his work, there are Extension programs in every New England state advocating the use of DZT, and over 45 growers in the region have switched to DZT. Although he retired in 2017, the work of Jude carries on in the farmers across the state. They organized a grower’s organization, and are looking forward to working with our new vegetable crops Extension educator, Shuresh Ghimire, who started on July 1st.

Article by Stacey Stearns

40 Gallon Challenge

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

Connecticut residents are invited 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.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additionalindoor and outdoor water savings activities. Impactful actions to choose from 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).

Participation is open to residents and businesses of all states and counties. To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/and fill out a pledge card.

By Angie Harris

Quantifying Water Use

Angie Harris“New York City is surrounded by water,” Angie Harris says, “I realized it was a great source of beauty, transportation, and recreation. But it was also contaminated and deeply problematic.” Angie grew up in Queens, New York. She realized water was a crucial resource of concern while an undergraduate at New York University studying environmental sciences.

The interdependent relationship of farming, water and land was also intriguing to Angie. Precipitation and ecology are critical to success in farming. She earned her masters’ degree in environmental science at the University of Rhode Island and worked as a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Global Change Research Program. Angie joined UConn Extension two years ago as the Program Coordinator for the Agriculture Water Security Project.

The Agriculture Water Security Project is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Regional Conservation Partnerships Program and promotes conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The program facilitates Extension’s work in ensuring farmers are thinking about and preparing for drought.

“I serve as a resource for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners to guide and advise them on water conservation and drought preparedness and management. I also serve as a network builder and connect them to other existing resources and organizations,” Angie says. She uses a combination of her education, and personal experience as a full-time farmer for three years in her role on the project. “My mission is to increase the adoption of conservation practices and activities throughout the state.”

Extension is assessing how much water farmers use, and completed a statewide water use survey on irrigation practices and water availability concerns. Next, a pilot metering project at 12 farms tracked their weekly water use for two years. The farms included vegetable, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse operations.

“The farmers kept diligent records and it was inspiring to see how they became scientists and water managers. A curiosity emerged around water use and they demonstrated that they really wanted to know how much water they were using and when,” Angie says.

A key turning point in the water project came at the end of 2016, a serious drought year for Connecticut. UConn Extension hosted a drought listening session for farmers at the Capitol and documented their concerns and ideas in a clear way that was communicated with the state Department of Agriculture and NRCS.

Connecticut developed a state water plan over the last few years. Mike O’Neill, associate dean for outreach and associate director of UConn Extension, served on the planning committee and represented agriculture in the plan’s development.

The next step for the Agriculture Water Security Project was helping farmers prepare drought plans and connecting them to financial assistance from NRCS. A total of 10 projects were provided financial assistance related to developing more robust and secure irrigation infrastructure. Projects included new wells and buried irrigation pipeline.

“We helped a couple of farms access funding to install wells, and it continues to be rewarding to see how pleased the farmers are to have the new resources,” Angie mentions. The Extension project continues to offer irrigation and drought planning resources for farmers.

“I’m excited to see farmers living out their values around land stewardship and food production in thoughtful and creative ways. There is always something that people can do, or a small action they can take to be a mindful citizen,” Angie says. “There is always more to learn, for farmers and residents. For instance, knowing how much water it took to make your jeans or plastic food packaging – it’s important for all of us to continue our learning around the impacts of our actions and consumption.”

Angie led UConn Extension’s initiative around the 40-Gallon Challenge, a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. It quantifies impacts on the linkage between small actions and water use.

Citizens nationwide are encouraged to participate in the 40-Gallon Challenge by enrolling at http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/. Materials were developed and promoted by Angie and Casey Lambert, a student intern, that quantified water saved by various actions residents can take in their home and yard.

Connecticut is no longer in a drought. But the work of stewardship continues. Angie’s goal is to prepare farmers and residents before water resources become a crisis. By encouraging everyone to simplify, we hone in on the essential needs and ensure successful growing seasons in the years to come.

This project is sponsored by USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Award identification 68-1106-15-05.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Award Winning Cheese

2018 cheese awards

The UConn Creamery, part of the Department of Animal Science, has once again taken home awards from the annual American Cheese Society Judging and Competition. Our Chipotle Queso Blanco and our Green Chile Queso Blanco were recognized for excellence amongst 1966 products from over 200 entering companies. Both cheeses were awarded third place in their category.

Hartford County Extension Center Moving

Exchange Building in Farmington is new home of Hartford County Extension Center

Our Hartford County Extension Center is moving. As of Friday, August 3rd, please use the following address and new phone numbers:
Exchange Building – Suite 262
270 Farmington Ave
Farmington, CT, 06032
(860) 409-9050
Fax (860) 409-9080
hartford@uconn.edu
Please be patient with our faculty and staff over the next week as it may take a bit longer than usual to respond to any requests. All educators phone numbers have been updated at extension.uconn.edu.

Strengthening Connecticut Farms

Yoko Takemura and Alex Cooper from Assawaga farm enjoy showing off the fruits of their
labor. (Photos courtesy of Assawaga farm).

Over recent years a new cohort of farmers has cropped up in our small state. “New”, “Beginning”, “First-generation”, “Early stage”— these growers have been met by a growing number of training programs to help them get started, improve their production skills, and enhance the viability of their businesses. This is a group of avid learners who are always on the lookout for training opportunities, both online, and in a hands-on classroom setting. Most demonstrate a strong interest in sustainable production of specialty crops to sell directly to consumers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmers’ markets, and farm stands.

In response to the training needs of new farmers, UConn Extension launched the Solid Ground Farmer Training Program, featuring classroom trainings, online tutorials, and state-wide events targeting growers who range in experience from 0 – 10 years of farming. Since 2012, UConn Extension has received over $1.1 million through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program to develop new farmer trainings and resources.

The UConn Extension team hires and schedules trainers, advertises the program, provides in-person staff support at each training, and steers collaboration with the New CT Farmer Alliance and CT NOFA. Partners set training priorities, help recruit participants, and ensure that trainings are happening across the state so that growers can access this learning opportunity in small group settings. These partners include: Grow Windham, Killingly Agricultural Education Program, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, Community Farm of Simsbury, Common Ground (New Haven), Green Village Initiative (Bridgeport), Knox (Hartford), and Listo Para Inciar-Urban Agriculture Program, a sister project led by German Cutz, Associate Extension Educator in Fairfield County.

Current and aspiring farmers are welcome to attend as many trainings as they like. Yoko Takemura and Alex Carpenter from Assawaga Farm (Nipmuck for ‘in between’) in Putnam typify clients in the program. Summer 2018 will be their first year of production. Their farm will feature certified organic Japanese vegetables to be sold in Boston area. After attending six Solid Ground trainings, Yoko explains: “As a new farmer, there are many things you don’t know that you don’t know. So, these programs encourage you to ask new questions you hadn’t previously thought of before and therefore to be better prepared for the season. Since many of the trainers are local, the content of the trainings is more relevant (versus online content) and it’s great that you can follow up with them after the training!”

In its first year (winter 2016-17), the Solid Ground Training Program delivered 28 trainings and events with a cumulative attendance of more than 500 participants. Over 30 trainings are currently scheduled for 2018. All trainings are free and open to growers of all backgrounds. UConn Extension provides translation services for Spanish-speaking attendees. Experienced farmers lead training classes such as Season Extension, Eco-Focused Farming, Post-Harvest Handling, Finding Your Market, and Irrigation for Small Farms. Extension educators and professional consultants deliver trainings on Farm Financial Recordkeeping, Soil Health, Cover Crops, Tractor Safety and Maintenance, Fruit Production, and Pesticide Safety.

“The 4-hour intensive Planting and Growing Cover Crop training with Eero Ruuttila was really great because even though his examples were on large scale farms, there were so many ideas that could be translated into my small-scale farm. I thought 4 hours was long, but I definitely wanted it to be longer,” says Yoko. The Solid Ground Program also provides one-on-one consultations with specialists in the areas of farm finance, soil health, and vegetable production. These consultations are intended to build on the knowledge and skills acquired through trainings in the classroom.

     This project is sponsored by the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Award #2016-70017-25416

Article by Jiff Martin

Tick Testing 101

tick testing at UConn
Photo: UConn Communications

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately! The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examinedunder 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 reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample, and next day testing is available for an additional fee.

How to send in ticks: Please send ticks in sealed zip lock bags accompanied by a small square of moist paper towel. 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 contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl.uconn.edu or 860-486-3738.

Safeguarding Health Through Diagnostics

Heidi and Scott Morey
Veterinarians Heidi Morey ’05 (CAHNR) and Scott Morey ’06 (CAHNR) with Jonathan XIV at Fenton River Veterinary Hospital in Tolland on June 21, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) at UConn safeguards animal and human health. Faculty and staff fulfill their mission through veterinary diagnostic laboratory services, professional expertise, and collaboration with state and federal agencies to detect and monitor diseases important to animal and human health, as well as detecting newly emerging diseases.

CVMDL is committed to providing current, timely, and personalized expert service to our client veterinarians, animal owners, producers, academic collaborators, and partner agencies. The laboratory is housed within the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, and develops new approaches to disease identification, investigation, and prevention while educating students, including veterinarians, seeking advanced training in disease related studies.

CVMDL incorporates the land grant university mission of service, teaching, and research in its daily practices, and is the only laboratory in New England accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Services offered include: histology, immunohistochemistry, mastitis, microbiology, molecular diagnostics, pathology, parasitology, serology, and virology.

“We send a lot of our clients to CVMDL for the necropsy service,” says Dr. Scott Morey ’06 (CAHNR) of Fenton River Veterinary Hospital in Tolland. “We want a necropsy done in the proper environment, where better diagnostic samples can be obtained and processed, as opposed to what we can collect in a field necropsy. Most of the time we’re mainly looking for infectious disease so we can change what happens for the other animals left on a farm.”

Necropsy services can also be used for small animals. Dr. Heidi Morey ’05 (CAHNR) handles the small animal end of the veterinary practice, while Scott primarily works with large animals. “We had one young dog die suddenly on a client, and CVMDL helped determine it was most likely a heart attack,” Heidi mentions.

“We do a surprising amount of chicken work,” Scott continues. “CVMDL completes efficient and timely necropsies on chickens. We also utilize them for rabies testing, and Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE) test for small ruminants. Clients who own sheep and goats want their animals to be CAE negative, and need proof of that. We send the samples to CVMDL.”

Tick testing is part of the molecular diagnostics section. A single infected deer tick can transmit anywhere from one to four illnesses simultaneously. CVMDL is the only laboratory in the state that will test a deer tick off humans or animals. CVMDL also tests other common species of ticks. The lab tests deer ticks for Borrelia burgdorferi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Babesia microti, and Borrelia miyamotoi. Dog ticks are tested for Francisella tularensis, Rickettsia rickettsia, Ehrlichiaspecies. Lonestar ticks are tested for Ehrlichiaspecies, Francisella tularensis, and Borrelia lonestari. Brown dog ticks are tested for Rickettsia rickettsiaand Ehrlichia species.

Residents, doctors, veterinarians, and public health officials utilize tick testing services to make proactive and informed decisions regarding human and animal health. In 2017, 397 ticks were tested.

Connecticut is home to a number of large dairy farms, and CVMDL provides mastitis testing and environmental pathogen testing, in addition to Brucellosis, Johnne’s, and other diseases. Rabies tests on animals that may have come in contact with a human are also sent to the Department of Public Health for confirmation testing. All other rabies testing in Connecticut is done at CVMDL.

The laboratory is on the frontlines of safeguarding animal and human health in Connecticut. Each case that arrives in Storrs is different, and provides the team at CVMDL with another opportunity to teach students and clients, develop new tests and procedures, and monitor disease and health issues.

Article by Stacey Stearns