Under the USDA FRTEP grant we have with Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, on the morning August 15th, Erica Benvenuti, Mike Puglisi, and Alyssa Siegel-Miles of the UConn Extension EFNEP program conducted a food preparation workshop for the tribal youth. There were 13 teens and seven adults at the event. Erica and team did an excellent job engaging and teaching the youth to prepare three sisters meal – corn, squash and bean (tribe’s traditional meal) and salsa. The objective of the workshop was to teach the tribal youth the importance of healthy food and give hands-on training on food preparation (from washing hands to following recipe to serving food). This falls under our goal of improving the overall health of the tribal members. I personally very much enjoyed the workshop.
Submitted by Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, and PI on the grant
August is National Sandwich month! With school around the corner, it’s a great time to learn to make the PERFECT sandwich. Sandwiches are a quick, easy and an affordable way to pack in nutrition when hiking or biking too!
Start with a whole grain base and go from there! Next, add a protein source such as lean meats or plant proteins, like peanut butter or tofu. Then load up the fruits and veggies from lettuce and tomato to apples and cucumbers – the options are endless! Finish your sandwich with a spread or low-fat dressing.
This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.
For the sixth year in a row, the UConn Animal Science Creamery has 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 1742 products from over 250 entering companies. The Chipotle and Green Chile cheeses were awarded second and third place in their category, respectively. Congratulations!
Cari and Ken Donaldson had always wanted to farm. After finding a property in Willington, they established Ghost Fawn Homestead five years ago. Today, gardens and vegetable beds dot the hillside, while chickens quietly go about their day in the yard.
“We are the second owner of this farm. It’s just under 10 acres, and we currently have three acres in cultivation, with plans to expand,” says Cari Donaldson. “New farmers don’t know what they don’t know, or what resources are available. UConn Extension has been really good at bridging that gap for us.”
Farming can be a challenging profession filled with joys, discomfort, and economic risk. The Donaldsons have tapped into a suite of UConn Extension programs to help them get established as farmers, including the Solid Ground Farmer Trainings, Vegetable Crops Integrated Pest Management, Put Local on Your Tray, as well as Taste of Mansfield.
“Cari has been a smart user of Extension resources and training,” says Jiff Martin, associate extension educator in sustainable food systems. “As much as we want to help her family’s farm business grow, her feedback also helps us grow and evolve our own programming so we can offer new farmers the types of help they really need. We’ve been especially interested in supporting Cari’s enthusiasm for selling to schools and have leveraged resources through our Put Local on Your Tray program to assist.”
Put Local on Your Trayhelps school districts source, serve, and celebrate local food by incorporating Connecticut-grown ingredients into school lunch menus. In the 2019-2020 school year, more than 80 school districts will participate in Put Local On Your Tray.
“Stephanie Richard, the Mansfield schools’ food service director, gave us an entrance into the wholesale market,” Cari says. “It’s a weight off our minds being able to grow for the schools. I can’t say enough about UConn Extension’s Put Local on Your Tray Program, and Stephanie. People are always the most excited about the fact that we grow food for the schools.”
“As a food service director, I find that Put Local on Your Tray is a great asset for promotional and marketing materials,” says Richard. “Making arrangements with farmers, meetings, figuring out how much product we can take in and work with pulls time away from the marketing part. With Put Local on Your Tray, I am able to focus more time on building relationships with farmers and coaching my staff who work with the produce.”
Working with Richard also helped Cari Donaldson develop the language she needed to attract other wholesale buyers, including other schools that will begin purchasing from the farm in the fall.
“Put Local on Your Tray has information that schools need to alleviate their concerns about purchasing from local farms,” Donaldson says.
And Put Local on Your Tray isn’t the only program offered by Extension to help new farmers in Connecticut.Solid Ground Farmer Trainings, for example, are for farmers with less than ten years of farming experience. Small group workshops are offered in-person with experts in soils, production, farm finances, pesticide safety, irrigation, agriculture mechanics, and more. Fact sheets, guides, videos, and online tutorials on the program’s website are frequently used resources by farmers throughout the state.
Charlotte Ross, project coordinator for Solid Ground Farmer Trainings, owns and operates Sweet Acre Farm in Lebanon. Before serving as project coordinator, she participated in Extension’s beginning farmer trainings. Ross says, “We’ve learned a lot about new farmers through the Solid Ground Training Program. New farmers are as time-limited as anyone and are hungry for practical knowledge. Given the amount of information you can find online already, our training provides more than how-to instructions. They offer opportunities to have your questions answered by an expert, hands-on practice, and a chance to network with other new farmers.”
“You just want to farm. You don’t want to be a salesman, but that’s half of the job,” Ken Donaldson says. “UConn Extension helps with that. The networking and assistance in finding buyers is huge, and has been the most beneficial part of our involvement with Extension. We’re getting better at farming each year, and that’s a really cool thing.”
The Solid Ground Farmer Trainings are sponsored by the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development ProgramAward #2016-70017-25416.
The guide is the work of the Connecticut Aquaculture Permitting Work Group, comprised of: David Carey and Shannon Kelly of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Aquaculture; Krista Romero and Mike Payton of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection; Cory Rose of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Tessa Getchis of Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension.
Quamyia Foye is an undergraduate at UConn and attended GMO 2.0: Science, Society and the Future and wrote the following summary of the event, along with her perceptions.
Overview of Risks and Benefits of Genetically Engineered Crops
Dr. Paul Vincelli, extension professor and provost distinguished service professor from the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Kentucky, presented a presentation touching on the benefits and risks of genetically engineered crops. In the first part of Dr. Vincelli’s presentation, he discussed non-GMO breeding/ conventional breeding which is a less precise, controlled and more disruptive form of growing agronomic and horticultural crops. Since conventional breeding leans more to the traditional side some people prefer this method over genetic engineering. However, Dr. Vincelli made a very strong point, that when it comes to genetic change what matters is not how it is made but what it does. Genetically engineered crops, crops whose DNA has been modified using genetic engineering methods, are typically seen in a negative light due to it being ‘man-made’ even though there is no current scientific evidence that shows any negative effects. The greatest concern when it comes to genetically engineered crops is transgene flow. A transgene is a gene or genetic material that was genetically engineered from one organism to another. ‘The introduction of a transgene (called “transgenesis”) has the potential to change the phenotype of an organism (A. J. Clark 2011)”. Based off of this information it can be seen that when it comes to transgene flow an individual’s main fear and concern is that a different gene from completely different organisms can be passed along to an unrelated crop which is viewed as unnatural and unsafe by some people. However, that is not the case. Two examples of crops being genetically engineered and having positive benefits are aflatoxins and tomatoes. Aflatoxins in its natural state are one of the most potent carcinogens but due to gene splicing its carcinogenesis traits was reduced making it a safe substance and a disease resistant tomato was created with a single gene from a pepper. Just by simply modifying/inserting a gene these two crops were improved which in turn can be beneficial for farming and human consumption. At the end of this presentation, Dr. Vincelli stated that there is no umbrella GMO and that there are different applications for each type of plant. When it comes to genetically engineering crops it should be taken on a case by case basis therefore, nothing should be excluded since everything is unique in its own way.
GMO Plant Technologies
Dr. Yi Li, a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture at UConn CAHNR, discussed GMO plant technologies and its positive benefits. At the beginning of the presentation, he explained the process of transferring specific genes to crop plants. An example Dr. Li gave was how drought tolerant low yield corn plant was ‘combined’ with a drought sensitive high yield plant which created a drought tolerant high yield corn plant. This process first begins when plant p1, drought tolerant but low yield, drought gene is isolated and then precisely inserted into plant p2, which is drought sensitive but high yield which then produced the drought tolerant and high seed yield corn variety. Dr. Li then goes on to discuss how GMO plants are not monsters and that transgenic plants can occur naturally. For example, in the genome of a cultivated sweet potato, there is Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes. Since 1997 we have been consuming GMOs, and since then, there has been an increase in the production of genetically modified soybeans, cotton, and corn. Nearly 100 percent of these crops planted in the US are GMOs and up to 80 percent of packaged foods contain GMO ingredients. When some individuals see such high percentages, they often question what is being modified in the food that they are consuming. Typically, the mass majority of food that is modified has beneficial properties. For example, genetically modified apples have a longer time span of freshness. Golden rice is modified to prevent blindness, cotton is modified to resist certain insects, and there are genetically modified papayas that are virus resistant. There are also studies that show and prove that planting Bt corn, a type of transgenic corn that “produce the insecticidal proteins that occur naturally in Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis), reduces the use of insecticide. Even with there being scientific proof that there are beneficial properties in genetically modified organisms some individuals will still try to discredit it and state that since it is man made there is bound to negative side effects. However, what many people do not understand is that GMO and traditional methods of crop production are fundamentally the same. Both traditional and GMO breeding methods are involved in gene transfer. The only difference is that with traditional breeding the first plant, which has the desired gene, and second plant create a new plant type that has a combination of both of the plant genes which includes the specific desired gene. When it comes to GMO breeding methods only the desired gene from the selected plant is inserted into the second plant. This results in a new plant species that has an almost identical genetic makeup of the second plant except it has the specific desired gene now apart of its DNA. Overall, there are three major plant breeding technologies which are, gene editing, traditional breeding, and genetically modified organisms. When it comes to public acceptance and effectiveness GMO is the most effective yet least accepted, gene editing is in the middle with both effectiveness and acceptance and traditional breeding is the least effective yet the most accepted. Based off of these results it can be seen that when it comes down to what is actually beneficial the public tend to lean towards their belief than the actual veracity. We need to use all possible tools to improve crop yield in order to feed the current population because based on the data presented it shows that as the world population increases the area which crops are grown decreases which can cause significant problems pertaining to the demand of food and the population.
GMOs and Big Agriculture in the US
Gerry Berkowitz, a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, at the University of Connecticut CAHNR program presented both his work and that of Robert C Bird, professor of Business Law and Eversource Energy Chair Business Ethics, at the UConn school of business. Dr. Berkowitz touched upon the effect of GMO’s on agriculture and how we need to question what is being presented to us. He stated that we need to be aware that what we consider the ‘truth’ is based on the best evidence available, but that is not always, or often not, the final story. When it comes to certain issues, the public’s perception will usually conflate, which is to combine several issues into one. For example, there was a case where a groundkeeper sued Monsanto after he developed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after using Roundup various times throughout the day at extended periods. Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is a known carcinogen which Monsanto, its manufacturer, failed to provide warning and appropriate information regarding the potential danger of the product. The judge, in this case, allowed evidence from internal emails and experts warnings, as well as a 2015 WHO-IARC classification of glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. The groundkeeper went on to win the lawsuit. When it came down to it, there was not even solid scientific evidence that Roundup is actually carcinogenic. As mentioned previously, in 2015 the WHO-IARC stated that Roundup was ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’. The US EPA concluded that Roundup was ‘not likely to be carcinogenic’. Since there is no solid conclusive evidence the judge based his decision on Monsanto’s failure to provide information on the possible carcinogen. Due to the public perception of companies such as Monsanto and the misconstruing of what the case was about, after and during the case there was a lot of backlash concerning Monsanto GMOs, and its agrichemicals when in actuality this case did not pertain to GMOs or the toxicity of agrichemicals. Mr. Berkowitz also brought up the controversial topic of GMO labeling. He asked do consumers have a right to know where they are spending their money towards food and to link this to their value system? In simpler terms, do individuals have the right to know exactly what is in their food and should they be able to associate this with their beliefs and or the worth of the food? In the US, nearly 80 percent of consumers prefer to have GMO labeling laws, yet many companies oppose it. One viewpoint was that if GMO labeling did happen there would be an increase in non-GMO food prices. Mr. Berkowitz disagrees. Since we already have certified organic labeling, he believes that the real reason is that if products with GMO were labeled, there would be a reduction in purchases. Currently, when it comes to GMO labeling, Congress has passed national labeling law preempting state standards which were directed by the USDA to establish a labeling standard which can vary from an actual label to a QR scan.
My perception of the event
In conclusion, this event exhibited various perceptions and methods of GMO and overall did a splendid job. All the panelists were passionate about what they were discussing and were able to explain their topic in a clear and concise manner. I also enjoyed the crowd’s participation and engagement with the panelists and how they did not stray from asking tough questions. For example, one participant asked in terms of labeling would they prefer if a product simply stated it was genetically engineered or it stated which type of genetic engineering was done. Dr. Vincelli said he was in favor of labeling genetically engineered foods for social reasons and not scientific. He stated that he really did not have a good answer to completely explain his reasoning and also commented that he would not be in favor of the product stating what type of genetic engineering was used because it would be too complicated for individuals. Dr. Berkowitz explained that he supports labeling simply because the public supports labeling however he does not believe that it should be for genetic engineering types because people have problems with the technology and not the type of engineering. Dr. Li then stated that he prefers to eat GMOs than conventional produce, so he supports both types of labeling. This type of engagement provided extra insight into GMOs and the panelist viewpoints as well as gave the audience time to process new information and be able to process and put everything together. Ultimately, this event was a great experience and provided much insight into GMOs and how people perceive them.
Where did you get your degrees?I received a bachelor of veterinary science and animal husbandry (equivalent to DVM) and a master’s degree in veterinary biochemistry from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research in Pondicherry. I completed my PhD from UConn in animal science with a focus on food safety and microbiology. (Editor’s note: Her graduate student profile ison this blog.)
What did you do before you came to UConn?Before I joined UConn, I worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year. I was involved with developing a research program on poultry and fresh produce safety, including writing grants and collaborating with other faculty from various disciplines. I also taught two upper level undergraduate courses and worked on several food safety outreach and recruitment activities in Tennessee.
What will your work here at UConn focus on?I plan to work with Connecticut poultry processors and fresh produce growers to promote food safety through dissemination of relevant research findings and associated trainings. I have visited various extension offices in Connecticut and the UConn campuses to begin to learn about food safety education requirements in the state.
For the first six months, I will concentrate on training Connecticut’s growers and producers to comply with the new Produce Safety Rule (PSR), which is part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
I will conduct other trainings, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for meat and poultry producers. Connecticut does most of its training sessions in early spring and late fall, but other New England states do their trainings at different times. This provides plenty of options for growers and producers who can attend training anywhere in the region.
In addition, I understand and appreciate that this is a New England effort, therefore, I will be meeting and working alongside extension educators in the region from other states to introduce myself.
Moreover, I enjoy writing grants and would focus on applying to agencies that promote food safety outreach. I believe this would add to a strong food safety research program here at UConn.
Name one aspect of your work that you really like.I love meeting new people, talking to them and making connections. I believe its important to learn about the challenges that poultry processors, fresh produce growers, stakeholders, farmers and workers face to comply with food safety regulations. I want to know their concerns and help find solutions to their food safety issues. I think this aspect of my role blends well with my personality.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?I have a 2-year-old daughter, and I love spending time with her. Also, I am a die-hard tennis fan, and I am glad that Flushing Meadows, NY (venue for the US Open Grand Slam) is nearby.
Small-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.
Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.
D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.
“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”
In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.
“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”
D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.
Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.
A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.
A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.
Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”
Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.
Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Connecticut Grown Food
As you celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July, choose Connecticut Grown foods for your holiday gatherings. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “Stop by your local farm store or farmers’ market as you prepare for the holiday weekend. Your purchase will support a local family business and nothing tastes as good as fresh, local, Connecticut Grown food on your picnic table.”
Berries are in full swing with blueberries and raspberries just starting and strawberries finishing up. Combine all three to create delicious desserts, salads and even breakfast casseroles. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes from triple berry trifles to spinach berry salad on our Connecticut Grown Pinterest page with a “4th of July Treats” board featuring an array of red, white and blue dishes.
This holiday weekend also heralds the availability of sweet corn. While the early spring weather has put sweet corn a few days behind schedule, some farmers started picking this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming holiday to stock farm stands. Others, like Dave Burnham of Burnham Farms in East Hartford, CT, will have it available this weekend. “Starting Saturday we will have sweet corn available,” he said. Stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to pick up early butter and sugar sweet corn.
For the grill masters, Connecticut farmers offer a range of meats including chicken, lamb, and beef, as well as, bison and turkey. Whether you prefer wings, steak, burgers or sausage, rest assured there is something for everyone.
Use local honey or maple syrup to make your own marinade and toss together a salad using fresh Connecticut Grown greens as a healthy side. Find a meat, vegetable, honey and maple syrup producer near you at www.ctgrown.gov.
If a clambake is more your style, Connecticut’s coastline is home to an abundance of seafood, including oysters and clams. Shellfishing is an important component of Connecticut’s economy along with recreation and tourism industries. When selecting shellfish look for names such as Copps Island, Stella Mar, Mystics, and Ram Island or places including Fishers Island Sound, Noank, Norwalk and Thimble Islands.
Complete your appetizer trays with an award-winning Connecticut cheese and include ice cream, yogurt or milk from a Connecticut dairy farm family in your desserts. Don’t forget to visit a Connecticut farm winery or brewery for your favorite adult beverage to enjoy responsibly with friends and family.
From all of us at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, we wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.
Article and photo: Connecticut Department of Agriculture
What made you sick? Is it food you cooked at home?
While we continue to blame farmers, processors, food- service and restaurants for making the food that makes us sick, the fact is that home cooks are quite likely to handle food in a way that results in a foodborne illness. The safety of our food supply is the responsibility of all who grow, process, sell, prepare and eat food.
The “rules” for safe food handling can seem overwhelming. However, if you take these five small steps, you can have a big impact on the safety of your food at home. Save these on your fridge for a few days and see if you can make these habits part of your everyday food prep routine.
Keep your kitchen, utensils, and hands clean.
Handle raw and cooked foods with care.
Use a food thermometer.
Use a refrigerator thermometer.
Get leftovers into the refrigerator ASAP after eating.