Education

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

Remembering Grace Hanlon

Grace HanlonGrace Hanlon began her experience at the New London County 4-H Camp at the age of 7.  The camp, situated on 24 ½ acres in Franklin, CT, provides both day and over-night camping experiences to over 2,100 youth annually. 4-H is the youth development program of UConn Extension. As part of the University of Connecticut, 4-H has access to research-based, age-appropriate information needed to help youth reach their full potential. The mission of 4-H is to assist all youth ages 5-18 in acquiring knowledge, developing leadership and life skills while forming attitudes that will enable them to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of their families and communities.

Don Beebe, President of the New London County 4-H Camp Foundation recalls, “Grace was tiny but had a big personality. She was a great camper, always enthusiastic and with a wonderful smile. She grew into a very capable young lady with a can-do attitude, participating in the camp’s Teen Leader Program as well as the 4-H Teen Ambassador Program.” Unfortunately Grace’s life ended in 2016 at the age of sixteen in a car accident, leaving her family, friends and the 4-H camp devastated and searching for a way to honor and remember her.

After her death, Grace’s mother, Beth Hanlon, invited some of Grace’s camp friends over to talk about a fund that had been started after Grace’s death in support of the 4-H camp. One of the reasons the camp was chosen for the fund was that Grace was packed and ready to go to camp days before her death. Beth explained, “She loved it there. We wanted to hear about her experience from her camp friends and ask them how the funds should be used at the camp.” The group discussed things needed at camp that would represent Grace. It started as a structure for the counselors and Teen Leaders. The conversation eventually evolved into a multi-purpose structure abutting the dining hall and the project which quickly became known as “Grace’s Place” took off from there.

The addition’s construction began right after Thanksgiving that year. One of Grace’s friends mentioned that her father had a construction company and would like to help.group of 4-Hers at New London County 4-H Camp About a week later, Beth received a text from the young lady saying, “My Dad’s name is Dan and he’s expecting a call from you.” At that point they needed to obtain other contractors and professionals to move the project forward. Beth added, “We have never built anything. General contractors we are not, and we have also never lost a child before. We were in the early stages of grief and not really sure what we were doing or why we were doing it.”

Paul Hanlon, Grace’s father, explained that this project in Grace’s name has been very therapeutic. It provides us with something to focus on and have control over.” Beth added, “the biggest piece we have taken from this from the day the accident happened and throughout the building project has been the unbelievable support.” As an example, Paul explained that they had huge trusses and beams that had to be put in place, and the builders said when they arrive, we are going to need a crane. Paul had no idea where he was going to get such a large piece of equipment.  He actually googled crane companies and contacted a company by filling out information on their website. Under additional comments Paul explained what the project was for. A company responded shortly thereafter that if they could come on the weekend, the owner would do it for free. They completed the work on Memorial Day weekend right after major storms had devastated parts of Connecticut, so they were extremely busy. This company had no connection to Grace or the camp, but felt it was the right thing to do.

Grace's Place at New London County 4-H CampPaul explained that Grace was very social. “She taught me to be social,” he added. In order to make this project happen we had to come up with ways to raise money. The ways they have come up with so far have been community social events – trivia nights that have to be capped because of the enthusiasm and interest. Beth adds that this is about the camp and the kids. It’s a multi-purpose building that so many youths will benefit from. I know how much they need the space and how much it means to them.”

“This is an incredible addition to the camp,” Don Beebe said. “The fact that it’s tied to Grace actually adds another dimension because it’s not just going to be a building. Her story will be told forever. I think that’s quite a tribute to Grace and to her family who are allowing this to happen. This addition is hard for anyone to take on especially a family that is grieving. Construction is very expensive. They themselves have put a lot of their own time and money into this project. This is a program Grace clearly loved and excelled at. Her story will be a great inspiration to help young people understand the value of the program and what it did for her. It’s also a great thing for the community. Our teen program is growing. To actually have a place where the teens can meet and have activities will be extremely helpful. Obviously, it’s very sad to lose a child, but the fact that this family was able to turn such a tragic thing into such a happy thing is amazing.” Grace Hanlon will be affecting the lives of many youth in such a positive and inspiring manner. What a wonderful way to be remembered.

For more information about Grace’s Place visit the web site at https://gracesplace4h.com.To learn more about 4-H programs visit http://www.4-h.uconn.edu/index.php.

Article by Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, 4-H Youth Development

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

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

Emily Alger: Changing Lives Through 4-H

Emily Alger
Photo: Defining Studios

UConn 4-H is a statewide program with educators in all eight counties. Each of our 4-H educators brings unique skills and life experiences to the program.

If there is one experience that has opened Emily Alger’s eyes to how special the 4-H program is, it would be asking the high school field hockey team that she coaches to participate in the National 4-H Science Experiment. Each year National 4-H Council introduces a new science experiment that 4-H members across the country take part in. In 2017 the Science Day Challenge was “Incredible Wearables”, a hands-on STEM project that challenges young people to build a wearable fitness tracker that will help people lead healthier lives. Emily explains that, “the team is not exposed to 4-H activities or our culture. Yet I walk in and hand them the science kits and the handbook, divide them into groups and ask them to complete the experiment, and every year I get responses saying it was my favorite activity of the year and we should be doing this in school.” Emily adds, “You can’t understand the impact of what we do until you introduce it to youth outside of the program and see their responses.”

As the Middlesex County 4-H Program Coordinator, Emily works with a variety of exciting and unique programs. Her introduction to 4-H came as a member at the age of seven. Emily participated in a variety of projects and was a regular participant in the 4-H fair. It remains to this day one of the aspects of her work that she is most proud of, emphasizing the patience and nurturing necessary to commit to a youth driven program such as the 4-H Fair.

“We were the first fair to have an entire youth board of directors. There are no voting adults in Middlesex County. Each youth is paired with a mentor and is responsible for their job description. We have a full fair manual. Everybody has to complete and submit reports. It’s really run by the youth. It takes a lot of follow-up to make sure that things move forward smoothly, but we are committed to it. I think the place it shows up the most is that our millennials are dying to get back into this program and mentor. Not only did they learn how to do a job and take pride in it, they want to teach another youth to do that job. They want to be the person who passes that on. They recognize they don’t have the time or space to be traditional club leaders, but they recognize how important the program has been to their life,” she says.

Emily was also destined to be around animals. As a 4-H member her project work focused on smaller animals such as poultry and rabbits. It wasn’t until she graduated from college that she got her first horse. She initially began volunteering with the 4-H horse program, serving on the State 4-H Horse Advisory Committee and helping to put on horse shows. This led to her current role as the statewide 4-H Equine Program Coordinator.

Emily works extensively with UConn Equine Extension Specialist, Dr. Jenifer Nadeau. Both bring a wealth of personal experience and knowledge to the UConn 4-H Horse Program. Emily feels the program is well respected. Very few youths in Connecticut have the luxury of owning a horse, so Emily and Jen have started doing things a little differently. One example involves working with training stables to foster the academic portion of the horse project while giving youth access to horses they cannot own or have in their backyard. They have also begun to work with rescue groups.

When asked why UConn Extension and the 4-H Program matter, Emily is quick to respond that Extension work is vital. “You never have to tell 4-H members about the importance of community service. The 4-H program is a culture of helping others. So many of the things that we naturally teach in 4-H are missing from other aspects of society.

4-H members are connected to caring adults who stand by them and encourage them when they are not holding up their end of the bargain. They understand how to be respectful and conduct themselves in public. Ultimately, 4-H celebrates our youth individually for the skills they bring to the table.

Article by Nancy Wilhelm

Angie Tovar: 4-H Alumni Spotlight

Angie Tovar of Danbury was a teen mentor in our CT FANs IM 4-H program. She is entering her junior year of college at Western Connecticut State University where she majors in Elementary Education. Angie currently works as a translator for St. Peter Church in Danbury and Student Worker for Pre-Collegiate and Access Programs in Danbury. We caught up with her to learn more about how her experience with the 4-H FANs program impacted her life.

4-H taught me to….. not be afraid to put myself out there. At first, a lot of the activities we conducted made me nervous, but I learned to push myself and try new things.

4-H taught me to stop…. Doubting myself. It really helped me believe that I can do anything if I really set my mind to it. It sounds a little cliché, but it’s the truth. The staff and the way this program is set up makes everyone truly believe that.

Because of 4-H….. I decided to become a teacher. I loved the experience of being in front of children and getting to pass on my knowledge of a subject onto them. I realized that teaching is what I truly love to do.

If I hadn’t been in 4-H…. I would have probably been in college, pursuing another career, and pretty miserable because it is not what I truly wanted to do.

 

How do you keep the 4-H motto – “To Make the Best Better” – now?  I always keep this in mind, reminding me that there is always room for improvement. Angie and other teen mentors at a programAfter every day of the program, we would reflect on what we did and how we could improve for next time. I still do this a lot after I finish anything. I truly believe that no matter how good something I did was, there is always a way for me to do better.

How did 4-H contribute to your leadership skills?  4-H helped me to be a better public speaker and think about what you want the outcome of a lesson to be. Since I want to become an Elementary School teacher I have to be comfortable speaking in front of others. 4-H provided me with the opportunity to practice this. The staff helped coach me and give me constructive criticism to better my public speaking. Also, it made me realize that when planning for activities, you have to think about others and what you want them to get out of this. It is the most important thing when prepping for lessons.

What do you wish people knew about 4-H?  There are so many programs with 4-H! I feel that in our area very few people know about 4-H and all the wonderful things they do to better the lives of young people. I wish people knew that 4-H has just about everything.

Why should young people join 4-H?  These programs provide youth with so many skills that they will continue to use for the rest of their lives. Each program works on bettering a child’s life in different ways. Also, each program makes families feel part of a community. They bring parents together and make them realize that they are not alone.

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.

Granby 4-Hers Experiments Flew into Space on a NASA Rocket

Granby 4-H members in front of rocket launch
Granby 4-H members in front of rocket launch

Eight youth from Granby 4-H along with one leader, Rachael Manzer successfully launched three experiments into space on a NASA rocket. The three experiments included “Bees in Space” where honeycombs were launched, “Rubber Bands in Space”, and “Gallium in Space”, all of which were proposed by the 4-Hers themselves. Cubes in SpaceTM, a global competition designed to help students ages 11-18 launch experiments into space on a NASA rocket at no cost made this opportunity possible.

It took the 4-Hers approximately four months to write their experimental proposals based on their interest, long hours of research, and thinking. These proposals were then submitted electronically to Cubes in SpaceTMwhere experts reviewed all applications. After making it through the first round, 4-Hers answered questions, revised their proposals, and resubmitted them for a second review. After months of waiting, final decisions were made. All three Granby 4-H proposals were selected as part of the 80 experiments selected out of the 450 total proposals submitted.

The “Bees in Space” experiment studied if honeycomb changes shape during flight. Club members took pieces of honeycomb from the club bee hive to design the experiment. The “Rubber Bands in Space” group evaluated how rubber bands are affected by a microgravity environment by creating a rubber band ball. By placing a solid piece of Gallium in the cube with padding the “Gallium in Space” group studied if Gallium changes into a liquid state during space flight.

Granby 4-H presentation on experiment at launch
Granby 4-H presentation on experiment at launch

All participants of the 80 selected experiments were invited for the launch at NASA Wallops Center where they presented their experiments to an audience of 300 people.

Members gained valuable experiences through participating in the Cubes in SpaceTMproject. 4-Hers learned the importance of working together, how 4-H and STEM fit together, and learned the process of doing research. Members note that the experience provided them with the opportunity to practice problem solving skills, answer their own questions, embrace their curiosity, and have experience in the world of STEM.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn Extension in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. 4-H is a community of over 6 million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including citizenship and healthy living. To find a 4-H club near you visit 4h.uconn.edu or call 860-486-4127.

Article by Jen Cushman and Yutin Zhao (‘20)

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

Erin Morrell: 4-H Alumni

Erin MorrellHometown: New Haven, CT

Involvement: New London County 4-H Alumni

Education: Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Connecticut and a Master’s Degree from Fairfield University

Current Employment: Associate Dean at Albertus Magnus College

 

What did 4-H teach you?

Listen to others and be a better presenter and public speaker, as that is something I use regularly in my professional job every day. There is always something to be done or someone you can help, so there shouldn’t be time for you to complain about things or people. Just learn to be a team player! I’ve gained leadership skills that I’ve used beyond high school, into college, and in my professional life.

How do you keep the 4-H motto—“To Make the Best Better”—now?

I’m always striving to be the best person and professional that I can be for myself and my students. I try to make sure their voices are heard and encourage them to put

Erin Morrell as a 4-H member showing her dairy project.
Erin Morrell as a 4-H member showing her dairy project.

their best foot forward and create programs and events that are better than the previous ones. This allows them to grow and make the best better.

How did 4-H contribute to your leadership skills?

Being involved with 4-H was the first time that I had held leadership positions, first in my local club, and later on in the New London County Fair Association. It taught me how to work with others on projects, delegate, and achieve a goal. It also helped me understand some budgeting and historical record keeping skills.

Why should young people join 4-H?

It is a great way to get involved in the community and give back. 4-H also teaches you many life skills that can carry over into your personal life and professional life down the line. I still keep in touch with many people that I met through 4-H.