Food

Ask UConn Extension

food, health and sustainability venn diagramDo you have questions about food, health, or sustainability topics? Ask UConn Extension. Extension educators are working in every town and city in Connecticut to bring the research of UConn to our communities.

UConn Extension is on a collaborative journey. We co-create knowledge with farmers, families, communities, and businesses. We educate. We convene groups to help solve problems. Connecticut is a small, diverse state with urban and rural spaces. We understand that because we live and work here. Extension educators are ready to connect you with our knowledge and help you to improve your community.

Do you have a garden and need help identifying why a plant is dying, or the insects that are eating your vegetables? Or maybe you want to start a garden, but have never planted one before? Our Extension Master Gardenervolunteers are at 9 locations statewide, including the Bartlett Arboretum in Stamford.

We received this email from Gloria, a resident of Middletown who recently visited our Master Gardener office in Haddam: “Hi, Just, a note to thank you for taking the time and effort to find answers to my gardening questions. I am starting to try some of your suggestions. Thanks again. I really appreciate your help.” You can also email or Facebook message your questions to our trained volunteers.

Many of our programs work with land use and municipal officials, connecting them with the education and resources needed for their positions. Carol Noble is an Engineer from Bristol who has worked with our Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR)MS4 program.

“Thank you and the NEMO staff for the support provided for theMS4 program. 2017 was a busy year to complete the updated municipal Stormwater Management Plan (SMP), public notifications, submittals and follow-up tasks. The guidance for the submittal requirements and the review comments you provided on the Bristol SMP were extremely helpful. Also, the NEMO webinars provided valuable information and training. The NEMO website for CT MS4 Guide; the GIS Mapping, Control Measures summaries and educational materials have been and continue to be valuable resources for the Bristol MS4 program. Looking forward to your continued support for pollution prevention in CT,” says Carol.

The UConn 4-Hyouth development program serves over 16,000 youth across the state every year. Volunteer leaders are an integral part of the program’s success, and work with Extension educators in our eight county offices.

“By the 2014 4-H Fair I felt ready to impart my knowledge onto others. For the first time I was able to walk someone through all of the steps of an archer. I would always

Garret helping a younger 4-H member
Garret works with a younger 4-H member at the Middlesex-New Haven 4-H Fair. Photo: Kara Bonsack

begin by strapping an arm guard on them and showing them how to position their feet. Then I would go on to explain how to hold the bow, nock an arrow, and pull back the string. What surprised me was adults’ willingness to learn. Although towering over me, they politely listened while I taught them what to do, letting me know that my voice mattered,” says UConn 4-H member Garret Basiel of Middlesex County. Garret is a freshman at UConn in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

“UConn: Thank you so much for all the time and effort put into having these classes for seniors. They have made a real difference in my life. Sincerely, Fran.” We received this letter from Fran, a Tolland County resident, after one of our recent classes with our Center for Learning In Retirement (UConn CLIR). CLIR offers meaningful and serious intellectual activities for adults from all walks of life, conducted in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. There are no academic requirements.

Extension has worked with farmers in Connecticut for over a century, and we continue to serve farmers in all sectors of agriculture, and at various experience levels. “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 growing 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,” states Yoko Takemura of Assawaga Farm in Putnam, a participant in our Solid Ground Farmer Trainings.

Collaboration has been a cornerstone of Extension’s mission for more than a century. Our most effective programs are built upon collaborations with state and federal agencies, communities, volunteers and families. With these partners, Extension has created and expanded knowledge in the areas and disciplines we serve; food, health, and sustainability.

How can UConn Extension help you? Just ask. Our Extension educators work statewide and are based at 10 locations throughout the state. We have resources available to help solve problems in your community. Find an Extension educator or location on our website at http://extension.uconn.edu, email extension@uconn.edu, message us on Facebook, or call 860-486-9228 with your question.

Seafood Prepping Tips

fresh seafood for sale in Connecticut
Photo: Judy Benson

Enjoy the healthful benefits of seafood, at least two meals a week.

1. Keep seafood cold* between store and home. Store immediately in refrigerator.

2. Use fresh fish within 1-2 days or wrap tightly and freeze immediately.

3. Thaw seafood overnight under refrigeration.

4. Keep raw seafood separate from cooked/ready-to-eat foods. Prevent raw/thawing seafood from dripping on other foods.

5. Refrigerate live (in shell) clams or oysters in shallow pan (no water). Cover with damp towel to maintain humidity. Use clams/mussels within 2-3 days and oysters within 7 days. Discard gaping shellfish that do not clamp shut when tapped.

6. Refrigerate shucked shellfish; use within 3 days.

7. Cook live lobsters or crabs the same day purchased.

8. Cook seafood to internal temperature of 145oF for 15 seconds (fish becomes opaque and flaky; shrimp/scallops turn firm and opaque).

*Connecticut Sea Grant has insulated bags for $3 each. Call 860-408-9128.

By Nancy Balcom

Solid Ground Farmer Training E-Learning

e-learning computer screen

Did you miss a class? A selection of trainings from the Solid Ground program are available in an e-learning format at newfarms.extension.uconn.edu.

BF 104: Soil Health and Management with Kip Kolesinskas is a three-part course. Participants will learn the basic soil science principles for maintaining healthy soils. Guidance on soil testing and reading soil tests is provided.

BF 105: Fruit Production for Small Scale Farming with Mary Concklin covers site selection and preparation, soil requirements for various fruits, varieties, planting and care, support systems and other key areas.

BF 106: Vegetable Production for Small Scale Farming covers everything from choosing crops to marketing, and pest problems. Trainers are Matthew DeBacco and Jude Boucher. There is a three-part training and PowerPoints available.

The full calendar of trainings is listed on the Solid Ground webpage. Staff includes Jiff Martin, Project Director; Charlotte Ross, Project Coordinator; and Mackenzie White, Program Assistant.

 

CT Seeks Better Information & Understanding of Produce Growers

Connecticut seeks better information and understanding of produce growers in the state

bushel of applesThe University of Connecticut Extension is collaborating with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) to support Connecticut produce growers covered by the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.  In order to do that, we need to have more and better information about farms that grow produce in Connecticut.

Better knowledge and understanding of who is growing produce in Connecticut, who is covered by the Rule, who may be eligible for an exemption, and who must comply fully with the Rule, can only help us improve implementation of FSMA rules and better meet food safety information and resource needs of Connecticut farms.

Every farmer that fills out the survey will be entered into a drawing to win one of two Connecticut Grown pop-up tents.  In order to participate in the drawing, the survey must be completed/returned by October 1, 2018.

We know that many farms are not covered by or are exempted from parts of the Rule.  Please complete the survey even if you think you may be exempt from parts of the Rule or not covered at all. The information we get from uncovered farms or farms with exemptions will help us to:

  • eliminate any farms from our mailing list that do not grow fruits or vegetables and
  • develop alternative food safety programs aimed at reducing food safety risks of uncovered or exempted farms and helping them meet food safety requirements of potential buyers of their product.

The questionnaire should take only 5-10 minutes to complete. There are three options for completing the questionnaire:

  1. If you would like to complete the online version directly here is the link: Farm Survey Questionnaire
  2. If you would like to complete this survey on your mobile device, scan the QR code here: Produce Survey QR Code
  3. If you would prefer a copy to be emailed or mailed to you, contact Diane Hirsch at: diane.hirsch@uconn.edu 

New Group of Students Trained in Seafood Safety

Nancy Balcom teaches a class at UConn Avery Point in seafood safety
Photo: Judy Benson

Before a bowl of clam chowder or a freshly grilled swordfish steak ends up on a restaurant diner’s plate, specially trained seafood handlers will have been working to eliminate any risk of contamination or hazards that could cause illness.

Many of those handlers will have learned their skills in training offered by Connecticut Sea Grant, including a three-day course held in September of 2017. The three days of training took place at the Avery Point campus of UConn. There, 22 seafood processors, wholesalers and dealers in products ranging from sushi to oysters to soups learned how to identify and control hazards associated with fish and shellfish to keep the public safe and their businesses running smoothly. Completion of the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) classes are required by a 1997 federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulation.

“Any wholesale seafood company has to have at least one HACCP-trained person,” said Nancy Balcom, associate director of Connecticut Sea Grant and co-teacher of the class with Lori Pivarnik, coordinator of food safety outreach and the food safety education program at the University of Rhode Island. While students in the recent class came from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York, previous classes have drawn from outside the Northeast.

After completing the nationally standardized course developed by the Seafood HACCP Alliance of seafood scientists, regulators and industry members, students receive a certificate of training completion from the Association of Food and Drug Officials. They then go back to their workplaces to write site-specific plans for potential seafood safety hazards for the products they handle, applying HACCP principles, Balcom said.

She said HACCP plans are then implemented by each company to manage and minimize the risk of seafoodborne illnesses. Training 75 to 100 seafood processors and

students at the seafood safety course
Photo: Judy Benson

regulators each year, Balcom said she and Pivarnik have trained more than 2,000 individuals in the application of HACCP principles over the past 20 years. Sessions are offered alternately between Avery Point and URI in Narragansett. No exam is given to students at the end of the class, but they build experience developing plans for different seafood products as a group exercise to help them immediately apply what they learn once they return to their own businesses. That is in everyone’s best interest. “The test comes when the FDA comes in and inspects them,” Balcom said.

Balcom and Pivarnik team up to teach the three day standardized class for industry and regulators, as well as a one-day practical course that, in combination with an online course offered through Cornell University, also meets the FDA training requirement. Since 1999, Balcom has offered eight equivalent HACCP training courses specifically for Connecticut shellfishermen under the auspices of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference—the only trainer to do so. Connecticut’s shellfish harvesters are all licensed as seafood dealers, so they fall under the FDA HACCP regulation.

Finally, since 2001, as a School to Career offering, Balcom has taught the standardized industry course 13 times for senior high school students at The Sound School in New Haven, Lyman Hall High School in Wallingford, Bridgeport Regional Aquaculture Science and Technology Education Center (BRASTEC) and Grasso Tech in Groton, training 291 students who focus primarily on aquaculture.

The newest group afforded that opportunity were the 17 students from Lyman Hall and Sound School who gathered at the New Haven campus over four days this spring. The HACCP certification training is part of the requirements for Sound School seniors taking the Shellfish Production course.

“It provides a school-to-career opportunity for them,” Balcom said. “Whether they go on to college or start working for industry, the knowledge gained in the class will serve them well. It will make them more viable candidates for working in the seafood industry.”

Article by Judy Benson

Enroll in the Master Composter Program

holding a wormEnroll Now in the UConn 2018 Master Composter Program

Almost 25% of household waste can be recycled through composting. The purpose of the UConn Master Composter program is to educate and train residents about the basics of small scale composting and in exchange for the training, volunteers will pass on their knowledge to others through outreach activitiessuch as talks, demonstrations, tabling at events, providing promotional activities, working with schools or community gardens etc. Master Composter classes will be held at the Tolland Agricultural Center in Vernon. There will be 4-week night lectures (October 16, 18, 23 & 25), Worm Day (Oct 20) and 2 Saturday field trips with only one being mandatory. The cost of the program is $100. The Master Composter brochure with registration information is available at www.ladybug.uconn.eduor www.soiltest.uconn.eduor call (860) 486-4274 for more information.

 

WORM DAY

Saturday, October 20, 2018 at the Tolland County Agricultural Center from 10 am to 2 pm.

Want to learn more about invasive earthworms in Connecticut? Ever thought about making a worm bin to recycle kitchen scraps into rich vermicompost? Join us for Worm Day! It is free and open to the public. Following presentations on beneficial and invasive earthworms, and how to make and care for a worm bin, folks are invited to make their own worm bins. Attendees supply the materials and we will supply the worms. A $5 donation is suggested to cover the cost of the worms. Go to www.ladybug.uconn.eduor www.soiltest.uconn.edufor more information. Please RSVP as we need to know how many worms to bring!

Building Community Through a Garden

Dozens of bright yellow Goldfinches flew alongside as I made my way up the winding driveway past their meadows and into the heart of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. The high, wiry whistle of the birds sounded the alarm at my arrival. I parked behind the barn, and climbed the hill to the Foodshare Garden, a project of the UConn Extension Master Gardener program.

The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program has provided horticulture training and a community outreach component for the last 40 years. Master Gardeners are enthusiastic and willing to learn. They share their knowledge and training with others through community outreach projects.

The 120-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is a private, non-profit education center. It was deeded to the Connecticut 4-H Development Fund by the family of Beatrice Fox Auerbach in 1976. Over 15,000 students and family members participate annually in year-round 4-H curriculum-based school science programs, animal clubs, and Junior Master Gardening projects.

One of the Master Gardener volunteers is Marlene Mayes of West Hartford. She grew up on Tariffville Road in Bloomfield. The 1774 house was the only one left standing after King Philip’s War and later, was part of the Underground Railroad. The oldest of six children, Marlene spent her youth playing in the woods and building hay forts with her sister in the neighbor’s barn. Life often has a way of coming full circle, Marlene is back gardening in the same area of Bloomfield as the lead volunteer in the Foodshare Garden.

The Beginning

Marlene and student at Auerfarm
Marlene (far right) with a group of students at Auerfarm. Photo: Sarah Bailey

Marlene retired in 2001 from the Torrington Public School System, but wasn’t ready for full retirement, and became the School Administrator at Grace Webb School in Hartford. She also wanted to take the Master Gardener course, and the director at Grace Webb allowed her to use her vacation time for the Wednesday class each week from January through April of 2004.

“I was lucky to merge the ending of one phase with the beginning of another, and hook into something I was so interested in,” she says. The 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm was one of the group outreach assignments for Master Gardener interns.

“When we went up to the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in the beginning it was just a field, an overwhelming field. We started by weed whacking rows between the grass,” Marlene recalls. “There was no coordination, it was very frustrating. I decided to take over, and got my husband Ed involved and a couple of other guys. They weed whacked, mowed and rototilled for us.”

“Our goal is to raise sustainable, low-maintenance plants that people can replicate at home,” Marlene says. “We planted currants, elderberries and asparagus. The whole garden is about teaching and getting people to grow things in their own backyard.”

In 2006 Marlene and her group of volunteers at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm asked the Hartford County Extension Council for money to build raised beds, and began installing them. There are 50 raised beds in the garden now. The following year, she found herself serving on the Extension Council too.

“Sarah Bailey became the Master Gardener Coordinator for Hartford County the year after I began volunteering. She’s been supportive from day one, and we’ve also become very good friends. Sarah is a big part of creating that community around the program. She talks with us about problems and helps us find creative solutions. She has wonderful leadership skills. We also developed the Junior Master Gardener Program and conducted a teacher training for some school gardens, and developed curriculum for them to use.”

The Volunteers

The volunteer community in the Foodshare garden at 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm has a lot of fluidity; people come and stay for as long as they can. Marlene tries to plant something interesting every year to engage the volunteers. Many of the volunteers are consistent and have been with the program for six or eight years; for example, one gentleman is totally focused on the maintenance and has been coming for years to help with it. Over the course of a summer there will be 600 volunteers total working in the garden. High school students volunteer in May and June fulfilling the hours required by their school. These students often keep volunteering after their hours are done.

“There is a sense of community and excitement to whatever it is we’re doing at the garden; every day is a new day,” Marlene says. “We had a woman come with her son this summer, and she stayed while her son was volunteering. They were planting a new succession of beans, and she said, ‘This is fun!’ – it’s really neat to get that reaction from adults. You’re up there almost next to the sky when you’re working in this garden.”

The volunteer schedule hasn’t changed since Marlene took over in 2004. Volunteer days are Thursday and Saturday from 9-12, unless it’s raining. In the hot weather the volunteers take more breaks and use the benches. The benches also enhance the meditative function of the garden.

Thursday is harvest day and Saturdays are for maintenance. Marlene’s husband, Ed, loads up the car on Thursday and takes the produce to Foodshare. “Ed has been a consistent back-up for me all of these years, I couldn’t have done it without him,” Marlene says. “Our son Tim has also helped with maintenance.”

“We’ve met people from all over the world in the garden,” Marlene continues. “It’s absolutely amazing. African exchange students in the agricultural business program at UConn come up every summer. We learn a lot by comparing notes. We also had a fellow Master Gardener from an Israeli kibbutz who was very interesting to talk with.”

In 2017, the garden produced 4,423 pounds total that was donated to Foodshare. This year, the volunteers are measuring donations by the number of meals, although Marlene notes that the total may be lower because of weather related challenges.

The Gardens

The Foodshare garden is ¼ acre. Two years ago Marlene fundraised for a fence for the garden because the deer were eating everything. Now the challenge is the

raised bed in foodshare garden
A raised bed in the Foodshare Garden. Photo: Stacey Stearns

woodchucks and the rabbits.

The Medicinal Garden, Greenhouse and Herb Garden were all funded by UConn Extension. Marlene designed the circular herb garden. Funding for projects that the Master Gardeners complete at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is from UConn Extension, the Connecticut Master Gardener Association, or fundraised from private donors. Even the seeds used to grow the garden are obtained through donations.

Projects are implemented in phases. The greenhouse was built with funds from a grant by an anonymous donor to the UConn Foundation who greatly appreciated what the Master Gardeners are doing through their community outreach. The first-year volunteers had to haul water up the hill in buckets from the kitchen. This year, irrigation was installed for the greenhouse, solving the water problem.

“You keep learning as you go – mechanics, botany, pest management and whatever else is needed. We all work together as a team,” Marlene says. “It’s not a one-person thing. We’re all passionate about gardening, creativity, and work together to make it happen.”

“It never stops at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm; something is going on all of the time. If you tie into any part, it’s fascinating. Everything is research-based, the greenhouse is always a research project. We also have to factor in daylight hours, watering schedules, and how many growing seasons we can fit in each year. There is enthusiasm for wherever the problem we have to solve is.”

The next challenge for this intrepid group of volunteers is figuring out how to run the greenhouse in the colder winter months. The cost of propane has been a challenge; however, the group wants to donate consistently to Foodshare throughout the year. They are discussing raising house plants or some sort of tropical that can be sold as a fundraiser, and used as a teaching tool for the students that visit the farm each year. Tomatoes and peppers will be transplanted from the garden into the greenhouse this fall, and microgreens will also be raised for Foodshare.

Marlene also wants to continue expanding the medicinal garden and the educational component around it. Native American medicinals fascinate her as she discusses how it’s never a single herb, and always a combination of herbs.

“Our volunteer work at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is never boring, and I’m not tired of it yet,” Marlene concludes. “The Master Gardener program creates a sense of community and camaraderie. There is no judgement, everyone works together and has a sense of responsibility – it’s very binding in a nice way.”

Applications are currently available for the 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener program. Classes will be offered in Stamford on Mondays, Haddam on Tuesdays, Farmington on Wednesdays (an evening class), Bethel on Thursdays, and Brooklyn on Fridays. Applications are due by Tuesday, October 9th. More information can be found at mastergardener.uconn.edu.

To learn more about volunteering in the Foodshare Garden at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm for the 2019 growing season email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu or call 860-409-9053. To make a donation please visit http://s.uconn.edu/givemg.

Article by Stacey Stearns

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