Environment

Brush Hill Farm – CT Dairy Farm of the Year

Brush Hill Farm – CT Dairy Farm of the Year 2017, UConn Extension Green Pastures Program

By Joyce Meader

Brush Hill Farm family
Brush Hill Farm family and team members.

Looking for cows at Brush Hill Farm? Look no further than the pasture. Other than a few hours a day when the cows are being milked in the barn, they enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and lush greens.

The herd spends their days — and nights – outside, from the moment the grass sprouts in April to the beginning of November, when winter starts to take hold.

The dairy farm in the small town of Bozrah isn’t the biggest dairy farm in the state, but this year, it’s been named Connecticut’s Dairy Farm of the Year, the 2017 Green Pasture Award winner.

The Green Pasture Award is given every year to one outstanding dairy farm in each of the New England states, with winners evaluated on production records; herd, pasture, and crop management; environmental practices; contributions to agriculture and the local community; and overall excellence in dairying.

Sarah and her husband, Texas Moon, oversee 35 Holsteins on about 160 acres. The farm’s been in the Brush family since the late 1800s, but while Sarah’s great-grandparents milked Jerseys, her grandfather and father rented the fields to local farmers for haying. Her dad had pigs, with little interest in cows, but Sarah and her husband used to raise heifers on the farm and sell them, then repeat the process.

Finally, in the early 90s, she and Texas rented the farm from her dad. They converted his pig barn to a freestall barn for their cows, started milking and haven’t looked back since.

Their three children were all involved in 4-H, and since this is a family operation, they help out when they can. The oldest, April, earned a degree in agricultural economics and worked on the farm until two years ago. Recent high school graduate Dixie loves being on the farm, says her mother, and is an award-winning member of the National FFA Association, while son Levi, 15, likes tinkering with tractors and other machinery.

Family is the focus of life on the farm, says Sarah, who admits dairying isn’t an easy way to make a living. “But it’s what we want to do,” she explains. “This is our comfort zone, our passion. My mom lives with us here on the farm, and though she’s never been a farmer, she’s part of the farm.”

The Green Pasture Award came as a welcome surprise. “It’s a huge honor to be nominated by our peers,” says Sarah, “and it shows that there is definitely still a place for small ‘ag’ in this country. Small or big – there’s room for all.”

Being a small operation, Brush Hill Dairy relies on community support as a key to success, whether it’s loyal customers showing up to browse the small farm store or the members of Brush Hill’s CSA garden. She and Texas are also gratified by assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has provided financial and other support to help establish the farm’s intensive rotational grazing program, as well as grants for other improvements. “We’re as sustainable as we can possibly be,” says Sarah, and that includes being mindful of the farm’s environmental impact.

But back to those ever-grazing cows. Think they mind being outside in all kinds of weather? As Sarah explains with a laugh, “In the spring, they’re ready to go out, and in November, they’re ready to come back in!”

My 2017 Climate Corps Summer Internship

By Nikki Pirtel

Bruce and students
Student teams led by Bruce Hyde and other CLEAR faculty will work with Connecticut towns as part of the UConn Climate Corps.

The shoreline community of Westbrook, Connecticut, situated halfway between New Haven and New London, is home to approximately 7,000 residents while supporting seasonal tourists with numerous beaches and shopping stores in the town’s outlet. It is also the municipality I was assigned to research and create a vulnerability assessment for during my time at the UConn Extension Office Internship in partnership with the Climate Adaption Academy and Climate Corps. Through the internship I achieved the Extension Office’s mission of using scientific research to engage with members of the public and municipalities, breaking down complex problems and developing easy to understand solutions that may help inform policy in the future.

Using the town’s Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan and various mapping services, I compiled a list of assets that I determined to have some level of vulnerability to climate hazards (such as flooding, sea level rise, damage from high precipitation events) primarily based on their geographical location to bodies of water. Although this information was similar to that described in the town’s plan, my created final product takes the basic material and provides recommended actions to reduce vulnerability, thus going one step further. With my help and the aid of future interns, the municipality can prepare for the impacts already being seen from climate change while simultaneously saving money. Figuring out the best way to protect assets and people within communities, whether proposing solutions on a town wide or specific infrastructure basis (an approach this internship takes with the Climate Corps Information Sheet), is an important discussion to have and comparison to make. Creating the vulnerability assessment was a rewarding process and the completed 38-page document (including references and figures) is something that I am proud to show to anyone willing to learn about the risk-based evaluations. I hope that the work done in this internship will grow into a much more substantial program and help Connecticut become a leader in climate adaptation.

Additional internship responsibilities included website updating and offering recommendations for a role-playing exercise that will occur in a new Climate Corps related class during the upcoming semester. These activities helped me reflect on past, similar experiences so that I could make any changes to proposed material to avoid previous problems I had encountered. Finding links to put on the Adapt CT website (through UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research) helped bring out my creative side and allowed me to delve into topics that really interest me.

Although attending meetings (except with the Westbrook town planner) and conducting a field site visit were not a part of my official obligations, seeing people and infrastructure in person really tied everything in the internship together. By seeing the people, along with their properties and other assets, that will be most negatively impacted by climate change in the future, my work felt much more important knowing what I did this summer may have a positive influence in time. Talking to members of shoreline communities from various backgrounds also made me realize that the climate will leave people of all classes vulnerable to events such as sea level rise, storm surge, flooding and tropical storms/hurricanes. Overall, this was more than just a summer job, rather a learning experience teaching me the ins and outs of local government, how input from the public affects an administration’s policies and the importance of maintaining natural landscapes within man-made ones.

UConn Extension Encourages Water Conservation with the 40 Gallon Challenge

By Angie Harris

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 10, 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.

On September 15, 2017, UConn Extension will launch their outreach efforts at the Big E in Springfield, MA with pledge forms and water savings materials available to encourage Northeast residents to take the challenge. The Big E, also known as The Eastern States Exposition, is billed as “New England’s Great State Fair”. It is the largest agricultural event on the eastern seaboard and the seventh-largest fair in the nation. 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.

Videos Showcase Farm Energy

aerial view of Oakridge barn

Renewable energy has a lower environmental impact than energy generated by burning fossil fuels. Connecticut has a goal to secure 27% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Recently, four videos on farm energy were produced to showcase different options available to Connecticut Farmers. Ace Begonias in Bethany has an energy-efficient lighting project. Full Bloom Apiaries in Franklin installed solar panels and an energy-efficient project. Oakridge Farms in Ellington installed solar panels on their dairy barn. Paley’s Farm Market in Sharon also installed solar panels.

Farmers considering improving energy efficiency or generating renewable energy on the farm should first address current equipment performance. The highest cost savings comes from energy efficiency: the cheapest power is power not used. A farm energy audit can help a farm determine if equipment upgrades will save energy and money through greater energy efficiency.

However, investment in reducing energy use or converting to renewable sources can often be costly. Maintenance, repairs, and costs to replace components such as the inverters should be estimated. Producers need to work through the income tax deductions, depreciation benefits, and the sale of renewable energy credits to determine if the investment is financially feasible. There are several funding sources for audits, feasibility studies, loans, and grants for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on Connecticut farms.

The Connecticut Farm Energy Program (CFEP) serves as a resource for information about funding, incentives and financing on-farm energy projects. CFEP provides technical assistance to eligible Connecticut producers in applying for USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants. REAP is a federal program to foster economic development and growth through grants and guaranteed loans.

UConn Extension funded production of the videos in partnership with Connecticut Farm Energy Program, USDA Rural Development, and Energize CT. The videos can be viewed online at http://s.uconn.edu/farmenergy.

Welcome New Trail Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly!

Kristina
Kristina Kelly.

We welcome our new Trail Census Coordinator Kristina Kelly!

Kristina has experience coordinating volunteer data collection programs such as DEEP’s Riffle Bioassessment by Volunteers (RBV), and has developed a passion for citizen science as away to involve the community in environmental education, protection and advocacy.

She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Geography with a concentration in Sustainability where she enjoys studying environmental protection, community engagement, and natural resources. At home, she enjoys gardening, photography and taking care of animals. She has two cats, a hamster, and maintains bird feeders for all of the neighborhood squirrels.

Stay tuned for trainings as we enter the fall data collection season as an opportunity to say “Hi!” to our new Coordinator, and to stay up-to-date in program goals and expectations.

Can You Hear Me Now? Smartphone Maps (That Work) Off The Beaten Path

By Cary Chadwick

It’s summer. Family vacation time. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting for this all year. We had planned to take the family west for two weeks in the mountains. Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Off the beaten path. Round up the kids, pack up the camping gear (and also…arrange flights, rent an RV, organize logistics, do we have the bug spray?), and let’s go!

The truth is, in the weeks leading up to the trip, work kept me BUSY (see here) and I slacked when it came to researching the fine details of the trip.  I didn’t worry too much, we had made our critical Yellowstone campground reservations months before. We had a place to stay. We could figure the details out when we got there. But as it turns out, I (like many others) had forgotten one minor detail. These rugged places, some of the most beautiful land our country has to offer, is lacking only one thing…cell phone service. What sounds like a bonus feature of being in the mountains (and it was), also made my on-the-fly planning a little more challenging.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but one thing became pretty clear to me on this trip – we live in a world that relies heavily on the tiny computers we carry around in our pocket. Smartphone devices give us driving directions from point A to point B.  They help us find our way to that secret hot spring, stunning vista, or backcountry waterfall. But, many of these maps and apps rely on the technology of the front country – cell service, to calculate driving directions or ask Siri where the closest ranger station is.

maplets on smartphone
The Maplets app in action in Grand Teton National Park.

So, what’s an ill prepared camper to do? Enter Maplets. Maplets is an offline mapping app that allows users to download georeferenced maps (or georeferenced your own maps!) to a smartphone device and use them, along with the GPS in the device, to find your way around the world – even in the middle of nowhere. Once a user adds a map, it is made available to all Maplets users. There are 1000’s of georeferenced maps available in the app. So when I overheard someone mention that the National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center had free wifi, I knew what to do. I scurried over, connected to wifi, downloaded the Maplets app on my iPhone ($2.99 – worth every penny) and did a search for user added maps. Several maps of Tetons and Yellowstone popped up, including the official NPS park map. A quick download to my device and suddenly, I was no longer lost in the woods. That familiar blue “current position” marker was placed perfectly on the park service map, indicating my location at the Visitor Center. For the next two weeks, we used Maplets to find our way through the parks and wild places of the west. Highlights of the trip included hikes to glacial lakes in the Tetons, a visit to Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, and sleeps in the rugged Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. So, Maplets FTW (for the win). Be sure to check it out for your next visit to the backcountry! You’re guaranteed to be tagged as the “geo-geek” of the family (an honor, IMO (in my opinion)), but you might just save the day when you’re all looking for that hidden trailhead.

Become a Master Composter

compostingBecome a UConn Master Composter! The purpose of the Master Composter Program is to provide local compost enthusiasts with the tools and information necessary to educate and teach interested community members about composting and reducing the amount of solid waste sent to the state’s incinerators and landfills. Participants would attend classroom sessions at the Fairfield County Extension Center in Bethel, CT. Two Saturday field trips will also be scheduled, with one being mandatory Classes begin Thursday, October 6th and will run for 4 consecutive Thursdays, plus on Worm Day which is Saturday October 21st .

A Master Composter Certificate is awarded to those who have attended all program sessions, demonstrated a solid understanding of composting principles and practices, and engaged in a minimum of two outreach activities. Program fee is $100 payable to University of Connecticut. Enrollment will be limited to 24 participants.  Visitwww.ladybug.uconn.edu for more information or call (860) 486-4274.

Join the Big Bug Hunt to Beat Garden Pests

mealybug
Obscure mealybug (photo credit: J. Allen, UConn)

Major citizen science project tracks garden bugs to identify when and how they spread
Key points

  1. The Big Bug Hunt is an international research project to track when and how garden bugs spread.
  2. Participants are helping to create a pest-alert system that will warn gardeners when pests are heading their way.
  3. Anyone can take part and reporting a bug takes seconds. The more reports received, the quicker the pest-alert system can be developed.
  4. Now-in its second year, The Big Bug Hunt has already identified patterns in the way some major pests spread. Additional reports will improve accuracy and speed development of the pest-alert system. BigBugHunt.com

CT Needs a Passport to the Parks

waterfallWhat is the Passport to the Parks?

The Passport to the Parks is a $10 charge added to your 2-year motor vehicle registration which would generate an estimated $14.3 million each year for the operations, maintenance, and improvement of your State Parks. In return for paying this charge every other year, all motor vehicles with CT license plates would gain day use parking entry to the State Parks for free (the parking fee charged for out-of-state vehicles would continue).

This would be an amazing value considering that one weekend visit to a shoreline Park like Hammonasset Beach State Park costs $13, and a season’s pass to the State Parks is $67.  This would reduce traffic backups entering parks, and help CT DEEP redistribute more seasonal workers to manage land, wildlife, and water resources for the public since fewer seasonals would be needed to staff entry gates.

Will the Passport to the Parks totally fund the Parks?

No, but it would generate about 80% of the funding for the Parks from a new funding source (the total budget for State Parks at full operations is ~$18 million). Making 80% of State Parks funding “reliable” from year to year would allow the Parks to operate more smoothly by reducing current timing problems related to the annual budget process (e.g., the state fiscal year starts July 1st, right before one of the busiest weekends of the year, and DEEP has to staff-up with seasonals in April/May to be ready although there typically isn’t a budget in place for the next year). Obviously, it would be better for State Parks funding to be 80% reliable versus 100% vulnerable.

It is important to note that if the Passport to the Parks funding is combined with out-of-state parking fees along with camping, cabin, and other facility rental fees being dedicated to DEEP for Park and Campground management rather than to the General Fund, the Parks can become virtually self-sufficient.

Is the Passport to the Parks Necessary?

Absolutely! This year, 4 campgrounds were closed, museum and nature center hours were cut, seasonal workers were reduced by almost 50%, 12 full-time park maintainers were given pink slips, and the revised Governor’s Budget for 2018-19 proposes a large funding cut along with moving to “passive management” for most Parks. If the current trajectory continues, further Park and campground closures and losses of public services are imminent. The chronic underfunding of the Parks must be addressed with this new source of funding in the 2018-19 state budget, or we risk losing the immense value that State Parks provide to Connecticut.

How important are Parks to Connecticut?

State Parks are an essential part of our state’s natural legacy in many ways. If they are allowed, through neglect, to become liabilities rather than assets, the tremendous benefits currently supported by State Parks could be lost. An economic study by UConn documented that Connecticut’s state parks and forests generate over $1 billion/year in revenues for the state and support more than 9,000 private sector jobs. Furthermore, for every $1 invested in the State Parks, an impressive $38 is returned to State and local coffers. Beyond significant economic benefits to the state and local communities, State Parks provide recreation and public health benefits, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and many other irreplaceable ecosystem benefits as well. Also, for many economically strapped families in many communities, State Parks and Forests provide the only quality outdoor recreational opportunities available for public use without charge.

If you have questions about the Passport to the Parks, please contact Eric Hammerling via ehammerling@ctwoodlands.org.