Nutrition

Job Opening: Farm to School Project Coordinator

little girl holding a slice of apple at school

The CT Farm to School Collaborative (CTFTSC) is actively seeking to fill a newly created part-time position of Project Coordinator. Applications due by February 5th.  75% of the Project Coordinator’s responsibility will be working with the state’s leading Farm-to-School partners and allies to implement the recently developed CT Farm to School Action Plan. This work includes coaching and coordinating with 3 Action Team Leaders, supporting the activities of 3 Action Teams, and maintaining excellent communication systems with all stakeholders. The remaining 25% of the Project Coordinator’s time will be directly supporting the work of the CTFTSC, which includes staffing the monthly meetings, managing the ctfarmtoshool.org website and google group, coordinating efforts for CT Grown for CT Kids Week, and working with CTFTSC members on key annual events.  We hope to generate a competitive pool of candidates with strong representation from the global majority. View the job description.

#AskUConnExtension – How do I lose weight?

Our UConn Expanded Food and Education Program (EFNEP) educators are often answer questions from participants about weight loss. Heather Pease, one of our EFNEP educators, offers the following guidelines:

How do I lose weight?

fried chicken next to peppers and an apple
Fried chicken next to an apple and peppers on a white background. The photo was taken to illustrate healthy food versus unhealthy food.
Photo: UConn

The beginning of a new year turns our focus towards renewal and change. Many people will make a “new year’s resolution” such as losing weight.

Losing weight requires changing habits and behavior. Instead of losing –let’s put the focus on ADDING physical activity for stronger bodies and eating more nutrient dense foods that builds healthy bodies!

Smart goals” or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely intentions can help you make a plan for success. If you want to lose weight in the new decade- ask yourself:

Specifically: How?

  • Track what you eat for a week – where can you make some changes?
  • Eat less calories and move more-
    • Add more:
    • Fruits and Vegetables are low in calories, and high in nutrients
    • Add more: moving!
  • Try a free food tracking app to figure out the quality and quantity of food you are eating.
    • It can also tell you how many calories are you eating? How many calories are you burning?

Measure: How will you measure your changes?

  • Use measuring cups and timers to help you identify how much you are eating and moving
  • Log your movement with your phone
  • Try a free app like google fit or apple health to help measure movement.

Attainable: What steps will take to lose weight

Try using your phone to schedule 3 minute movements every hour at work- That’s 24 minutes of movement- try walking in place or go for a walk

Realistic: It takes time and intention to make change

  • Try to do add on to something you already do that is a good habit- when you eat dinner use a smaller plate
  • Try to set a small goal of exercising for 10 minutes; set a reminder schedule it at the same time every day and it will soon catch on

Timely: Most goals have a deadline- when do you hope to achieve your goal- remember weight loss is about sustainability and health

  • With weight loss the TIME piece can be how much time it takes to lose weight (usually 1 -2 pounds a month and maintain your new habits.
  • Use time to help you ease into new habits, walk 20 minutes after work every day in my house instead of eating. It is important to look at present habits and make small intentional changes J
  • Focus on adding minutes and activities to increase your physical activity, stamina and strength

Article by Heather Pease

Where can we get healthy food? #AskUConnExtension

Where can we get healthy food? Dr. German Cutz, one of our Extension educators, discusses urban agriculture as one option as we use innovative technology and new methods to grow food for our families and communities.

vegetables with two hands picking some up and question: Where can we get healthy food?

#AskUConnExtension

Video: Mike Zaritheny

Holiday Eating Survival Guide

a plate of chocolate covered pretzels with festive sprinkles on them
Photo: Air Force Academy

Choose:

  • Lower calorie appetizers- vegetables, or fruit
  • Avoid lots of cheese, and fried foods
  • Smaller plates and tall skinny glasses

Know your limits:

  • Eat before you go to a party or out holiday shopping
  • Make a healthy food for the party
  • Have a plan for healthy eating… 5 small appetizers and 2 drinks
  • 2 mixed drinks can have almost 500 calories and depending on the appetizers, it can run as high as 230 calories per appetizer
  • Indulge in a holiday treat closer to bedtime, you will tend to eat less than if you had it during the day
  • Be mindful of eating – slow down and pay attention
  • Carry hard candy mints to change the flavor of your palate or brush your teeth to signal yourself to stop eating

Start a new tradition:

  • Instead of giving cookies or chocolate try making soup mixes or salsa as gifts
  • Make a non-food craft as a holiday activity
  • Try walking, ice skating or sledding to enjoy the season
  • Try reducing fat and sugar in your holiday baking by substituting with applesauce

Article by Heather Pease, Extension educator, UConn EFNEP

What do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free…

organic food labelWhat do labels really mean? Organic, Natural, Cage-Free, Grass-Fed, Pasture-Raised and Local

You have probably seen these terms on food labels and in the news, but what do they really mean?  And how important is buying organic and natural foods when it comes to healthy eating.  Some terms are helpful and others are misleading. So, let’s look at some of these terms to see what they really mean.

  1. Natural

The term “natural” broadly means minimally processed and free of synthetic dyes, coloring, flavorings and preservatives.  These foods can still contain such ingredients as high fructose corn syrup and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).  Natural is largely unregulated by the USDA for most foods except meat, poultry and egg products. Foods containing meat, poultry, or eggs must be minimally processed and free of artificial ingredients in order to be labeled “natural”. However these animals may be given antibiotics, growth hormone, and fed GMO feed.

  1. Organic

Organic claims on food products are regulated by the USDA.  Organic foods must be produced without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.  These foods are also produced using methods that promote the conservation of our natural resources.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are raised without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones.  These animals also must be raised in living conditions that encourage natural behaviors such as the ability to graze on pastures and are fed 100% organic feed.   This makes it less likely that these animals will carry disease or create antibiotic –resistant strains of bacteria.

Organic crops must be grown in safe soil, have no modifications and must remain separate from conventionally grown crops.  Farmers are not allowed to use synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge –based fertilizers.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization that provides and annual list called the “dirty dozen”.  The list names 12 fruits and vegetables found to be highest in pesticide residues based on laboratory tests from the USDA.  The dirty dozen currently includes apples, celery, tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, imported nectarines, grapes, spinach, kale, pears, cherries, and potatoes. However, 2016 FDA residue findings suggest, particularly for domestically produced foods, that pesticide applications generally demonstrate compliance with legal and established agricultural practices.   The majority of samples tested contained no detectable pesticide residues while any detected residues were typically present at levels far below the tolerance levels.  This testing was conducted on produce that was not labeled organic.

In the United States there are 3 levels of organic claims:

  • 100 –percent Organic. Products that are completely organic or made of only organic ingredients qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Products in which at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic qualify for this claim and a USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic ingredients. These are food products in which at least 70 percent of ingredients are certified organic. The USDA Organic seal cannot be used but “made with organic ingredients” may appear on its packaging.
  1. Grass –fed and grass- finished or 100% grass-fed.

If an animal is grass- fed and grass-finished then their feed was composed entirely of grass, legumes, and green vegetation up until the animal was slaughtered.  However, this label does not address the use of antibiotics, hormones, or pesticides.  USDA defines “grass fed” as it applies to labeling but does not regulate it in any way.  So when shopping for meat, you need to make sure you are getting 100% Organic, Grass-Fed meat.  Grass-fed beef is leaner and has been shown to have healthier omega-3 fatty acids.

  1. Cage –Free

This term simply indicates that animals were not kept in cages.  They are still in an enclosed facility, but with unlimited access to food and fresh water.  The facility; however; could be very small and crowded with little room to move about.  This health claim does not mean that animals were free to roam in pastures or that they had access to the outdoors.  Many cage-free claims are not certified, making it a misleading label.

  1. Free- Range

USDA has approved this term for animals that were raised in a sheltered facility with unlimited access to food, water, and access to the outdoors.  It does not indicate that the animal went outside in its lifetime, only that there was a door to the outside.  The term does not specify the outdoor conditions, but pastures are permitted to be fenced and covered in netting.

  1. Pasture – Raised

USDA has not developed a definition for this term yet; however; many farmers use it to distinguish themselves from “free range” farms.  Animals are free to roam outdoors with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and indoor shelter in case of bad weather.  This differs from “free range” in that pasture-raised animals spend more time outdoors than indoors.  This is the most ideal label to look for when choosing chicken and eggs.  Often these animals are not given growth hormone or antibiotics, but you need to ask to be 100% sure.

  1. Locally Grown

What is local food?  Unlike organic standards, there is no specific definition.  Generally local food means food that was grown close to home.  This could be in your own garden, your local community, your state, or your region.  People buy locally for the financial benefits, less transportation of the food and freshness of the food.  Small local farmers often use organic methods, but sometimes cannot afford to become certified organic. Visit a farmers market and talk to the farmers.  Find out how they produce the fruits and vegetables they sell.

In summary, it is important to look at claims on the foods that you buy to be sure you are getting what you want.  Be aware of the differences in labels so that you know what you are buying, particularly if it costs you more than conventional foods.

References

Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) 2019. Interpreting Pesticide Residues in Food. Issue Paper 66. CAST. Ames, Iowa.   www.cast-science.org

http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/food-labeling/organic-foods

http://eatright.org/.

http://www.helpguide.org/life/organic_foods_pesticides

http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/12735  – what do-organic-natural-cage-free

 

Article by Sherry Gray, UConn Extension Educator

Updated: 11/13/19

Farm to School Month

It’s here! National Farm to School Month, which means its time for the HardCORE Challenge – eat a #CTGrown Apple or Pear to the CORE!


Follow this link to find an Orchard near you.

Fall is the quintessential time to visit a farm with apple and pear picking, corn mazes, pumpkin patches, cider donuts and so much more!

We will be celebrating local agriculture the whole month – CT Grown for CT Kids Week is October 7-11th with National School Lunch Week October 14-18th. Check out the National Farm to School month toolkit  for wonderful ideas to celebrate the whole month!

Learn more, find recipes, and see participating schools at the website for Put Local On Your Tray.

UConn Extension is Growing Food and Health with the Mashantucket Tribe

“The mission statement of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) states they will ‘…establish a social, cultural and economic foundation that can never be undermined or destroyed…,’” says Tribal Councilor Daniel Menihan, Jr. MPTN was facing challenges growing their fruits and vegetables at a scale to meet the tribe’s needs on their land in Ledyard, and some members were struggling with diabetes.

UConn has enjoyed a long history of engagement with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal community. Many members have graduated from UConn and served on the UConn Foundation Board, among others. Despite the fact that there is an Extension office only 10 miles from the reservation, MPTN has rarely participated in any educational outreach or training offered by UConn Extension.

UConn Extension received the four-year Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) grant from USDA-NIFA with the goal of having the tribe share their ideas for growing food and health, and help them learn about the Extension resources that are available. As a result of the grant, the relationship between MPTN and UConn is strengthening, and there is growth in agricultural production, food security, and health for the tribal people.

heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes grown by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Photo: Noah Cudd

“MPTN is still learning, but they are now able to grow their own food, in what looks like a commercial setting,” states Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, Vegetable Crops Extension educator and principal investigator on the grant. “They have high tunnels, a rototiller, a plastic mulch layer, and cold storage, which are common tools for a commercial farm.”

Extension provides expertise through one-on-one consultation, and classroom and hands-on training on-site in a collaborative setting. Educational outreach addresses the following critical areas identified by the MPTN Council:

  1. Improve food security
  2. Improve economic viability
  3. Improve youth engagement and communications
  4. Improve nutrition and diabetes awareness through collaborative education

An Extension program involving several specialists in fruit and vegetable production, farm business management, marketing, 4-H youth development, health and nutrition, communications, evaluation and assessment is working with the MPTN on their goals. Tribal members are participating in other Extension programs, beyond the scope of the grant. A 4-H club is being established at MPTN to increase opportunities for youth.

“Once this grant came, we started working with UConn Extension Educators. There has been a substantial gain in the knowledge and skills regarding growing food, writing a business plan, nutrition, and health,” says Jeremy Whipple, a MPTN member.

Growing with MPTN

Extension provides education for MPTN in state-of-the-art sustainable vegetable and fruit production techniques, and through

people in the greenhouse at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation
UConn Extension educators work with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in a high tunnel. Photo: Shuresh Ghimire

collaboration with MPTN, is melded with traditional and historical tribal farming methods. This provides MPTN with a means to continue the richness of their history while moving into modern sustainable farming economically.

Tribal youth are included in all aspects of the agricultural venture with the tribe’s expectation that several youth will develop major roles in the business venture. Two tribal youth are being paid by the grant to work in vegetable production at MPTN.

“Learning how to grow tomatoes, including pest management, is one of the many things I enjoy working with on this grant” Ernest Pompey, one of the tribal youths working on this grant says. “I am excited to share what I learned about growing and eating healthy food to other youth in my community.”

“The tribe also established a community garden where they bring other youth from the community to teach them about growing. The knowledge is expanding within their own community, and they are teaching each other now,” Shuresh says.

making the three sisters recipe with members of the Mashantucket tribe
Extension educators make the Three Sisters recipe with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

UConn Extension’s nutrition team is working with the tribal community health providers to deliver educational programming in healthy eating and diabetes prevention using classroom education, and hands-on learning in the selection and preparing of healthy food, and exercise through gardening. The goal is to reduce the risk and incidence of diabetes in the tribal community.

“The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) utilizes a hands-on approach to nutrition education, combining nutrition knowledge with enhancement of skills to apply this knowledge to prepare healthy foods that are convenient, affordable and culturally appropriate,” says Mike Puglisi PhD, RD, state EFNEP director. “Erica Benvenuti, New London County nutrition educator, taught children in the MPTN High 5 Program the importance of food safety and increasing vegetable intake, and enhanced learning through getting the children involved in preparation of a traditional recipe prepared by the MPTN, the Three Sisters Rice recipe.”

The grant is starting its third year, and another Extension educator is working with tribal youth and adults in developing a business plan for the agricultural venture to increase their success rate. Youth and adults are also learning about their agricultural history and how it can successfully be integrated into today’s modern sustainable agriculture by combining classes with in-field learning experience.

“Ultimately, after the grant ends, MPTN’s farm will operate as a commercial vegetable farm would in terms of production and reaching out to Extension when they do need help. They will be independent, and continue growing their operation to support the goals of the tribal nation,” Shuresh states.

Article by Stacey Stearns and Shuresh Ghimire

Ask UConn Extension

food, health and sustainability venn diagram

Do you have food, health, or environmental sustainability questions?

Ask UConn Extension.

We have specialists located throughout the state to answer your questions and connect you with the power of UConn research.

Fill out this form with your question: http://bit.ly/AskUConnExtension

Mashantuckets Participate in Food Prep with EFNEP

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

national sandwich month infoAugust 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.