Community

4-H Spotlight: Edward Merritt

4-H Alumni and Retiree Spotlight 

Edward Merritt – Retired Hartford County Administrator, 4-H Agent and MA 4-H Alumni 

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

 

Ed Merritt
Photo: Nancy Wilhelm

At 83 Ed Merritt remembers a lot of exciting experiences during his time with the Hartford County Extension Program. He came to UConn Extension on October 1, 1963 directly from a National 4-H Fellowship in Washington, D.C. and was hired to serve as the Hartford County 4-H Agent. At the time, the Hartford County Extension Office was located in a two-story brick building at 6 Grand Street in Hartford.

Ed grew up in Goshen, Massachusetts, a little town of about 200 people. The youngest of three children, he lived on a farm during the 1930s and was a member of a 4-H woodworking club. Ed states, “There was an older gentleman in town who worked with four or five boys. Most of my projects were poultry and dairy because of the farm. I also grew vegetables such as potatoes and corn which was income for the farm and had a little maple syrup operation. I say little, but in those days, it was a lot. We made about 100 gallons a year if you had a good year.” Ed was also a delegate to National 4-H Conference. He graduated from UMass with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and went directly to New Hampshire to serve as a 4-H Extension Agent in Cheshire, NH. His wife Jessie, (now deceased) was a 4-H member in New Hampshire and an active 4-H volunteer in Connecticut. Ed and Jessie met through 4-H, and their four children were actively involved in 4-H as well.

Ed was drafted into the U.S. Army for two years. He was stationed at, “nobody believes this, but it is true,” he states, 346 Broadway, New York City. He was recruited to do meat inspections for the massive wholesale orders going into packing plants. At the end of two years, he returned to UNH Extension where he remained for four years until 1962 where he was selected as one of six young Ex-tension 4-H personnel from around the country to serve as National 4-H Fellows. This was a fascinating experience because, as Ed relates, they got to know the top personnel in all of the USDA agencies. It really opened his eyes to the work of Extension at the national level.

During his tenure with UConn Extension, Ed recalls several important projects during the 1960s and 70s that highlight the expansion of Extension in Hartford County. The federal government had developed the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) Program which provided grant funds for a variety of programs. Beth Salsedo, who was hired at the time to establish 4-H work in the town of Bristol applied for a CETA grant and was awarded funds to hire six people to establish those clubs. The CE-TA program expanded and the Hartford County Extension Program ended up with five different contracts and a total of 30 new hires. The 1960s also saw the purchase of land in Marlborough, CT to build a 4-H camp. The camp opened in July of 1966. It was also the birth of 4-H programming in the city of Hart-ford. An Extension office was located on Vine Street in the North end of Hartford to focus on urban programming.

The establishment of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield was also a major highlight of this time period. It initially began as a project to re-vive the old apple orchard at Auerfarm and give youth work experience. Ed and his family were heavily involved in the project for several years. The Koopman and Schiro families ultimately gifted a large portion of the property to the CT 4-H Development Fund.

Ed notes that some of the great strengths of 4-H include the volunteer leadership component as well as youth building leadership experiences through fairs, camp and the local club structure. He adds that 4-H in many ways is a com-munity within itself with youth forming lasting friendships and learning to help others. Ed recalls interactions with many wonderful people in 4-H and Extension overall.

Cooking Matters

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. 

EFNEPChild First Groton funded a Cooking Matters Families program open to all school age children and parents. The plan was to improve family relations and learn a skill together. UConn EFNEP worked in collaboration in the planning, marketing and executing this successful program. We were overwhelmed with responses and had to start a waiting list for further programs. The Groton Elementary School supplied a staff member who was an asset to this program in education and facilitation. During our first class we had 13 people attend: 6 parents and 7 children, ranging 4-8 years of age. The children were very involved and one boy said “This is the best day of my life,” setting the stage for the next 5 weeks of out program. The cooking facility was very small to accommodate this large group of 13 with 4-5 staff. But everyone who participated worked together to ensure safety and fun.

At the conclusion of the program the group had really grown and come together. The comments we received from the families were “The kids are helping more in the kitchen,” “We are closer as a family,” “When is the next class, we want to sign up?” ” I never thought they would eat those things.” Hearing these comments help volunteers, teachers and staff motivated to keep doing what they are doing. Watching the children eat their creations each week is a complete success in itself. ” I didn’t think I would like it but I did,” “I have never tried ground turkey before! I will use it at home.” The families were each sent home with ingredients to make the recipe again and the stories were very interesting. “We froze the ingredients so they wouldn’t go bad and made it 2 weeks later,” “We took the ingredients and some extras to make it ours.” Each week seeing the families working together as a team meant we were doing the right thing. One obstacle that occurred included fitting the class into the families’ busy schedules, with conflicts with school, work, and health issues. Working to find times that best fit everyone’s schedules helped the participants, and they felt valued by the adjustments that were made. In conclusion all the participants stated that they would attend another session, they had fun and benefited from getting to know each other better.

Healthy Homes News

healthy homes partnership logo

The Healthy Homes Partnership is a national effort to provide information on how to keep your home safe and healthy. A healthy home supports the health and safety of the people who live there. Research indicates that there is a relationship between your health and the health of your home. CT Healthy Homes Partnership team leader Mary Ellen Welch coordinates workshops on healthy homes principles to inform groups about how to improve indoor air quality and reduce allergens and contaminants in the home, home cleaning strategies and maintaining a dry, safe, well ventilated, pest free, and thermally controlled home. She also identifies social media messages to be posted on partnership social media for awareness days, weeks and months, seasonal messages, and those that relate to current events, such as water conservation strategies during drought or winter safety tips.

Find us on Social Media! 

Facebook: HealthyHomesPartnership; Twitter: @HealthyHomes4; Pinterest: healthyhomes4

Extension Healthy Homes Website: 

http://extensionhealthyhomes.org/ 

8 Principles of a Healthy Home in American Sign Language: 

https://www.facebook.com/HealthyHomesPartnership/videos/1532273623476658/ 

Everyone Deserves a Safe and Healthy Home: 

https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/SAFEANDHEALTHYHOME.PDF 

Education on Healthy Homes is provided to community groups and businesses as well.

If your group is interested in a presentation, please contact Mary Ellen Welch at mary.welch@uconn.edu.

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.

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.

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.