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The First HardCORE CT Apple Challenge

The First HardCORE CT Apple Challenge with Put Local On Your Tray!

hardcore apple challengeOctober is special for a few reasons. Everyone is getting back in the swing of things at school, the foliage outstanding, and the many varieties of delicious crisp apples are ripening atop trees in orchards across the state. The combination makes a perfect time of year to celebrate National Farm to School Month, CT Grown for CT Kids Week, and a new campaign known as the HardCORE CT Apple Challenge  coordinated by Put Local On Your Tray to celebrate CT grown products, and continuously encourage the importance and connectivity of food education. Put Local on Your Tray is a collaborative Farm to School project that assists interested Connecticut school districts to serve, educate, and celebrate regionally grown produce.

The campaign coordinated by Put Local On Your Tray was made public to anyone who wanted to participate and utilize the resources. All schools and school districts in Connecticut were encouraged to participate by sourcing local apples during the month of October, and placing signage so students and staff know where they came from. For students to take the challenge, there were three ways to participate. First, you could eat a CT Grown apple all the way down to it’s core. Second, you could try two different types of CT Grown apples and compare tastes. Third, you could take a trip to a local apple orchard to see how they really grow. Or even better, all three!

On the ground, with reports from our partners at FoodCorps Connecticut, there were so many different ways CT kids celebrated the HardCORE CT Apple Challenge. There was New Britain’s Gaffney Elementary Garden Club students challenging each other to see who could eat a local apple from Belltown Orchards in South Glastonbury totally down to the core, after learning all about the importance of seeds. At Meriden public schools, students enjoyed a special afternoon comparing the tastes of Fuji and Paula Red apples and voted at lunch what they liked best, realizing that not all apples are exactly the same. There was a field trip taken to Auerfarm in Bloomfield with Breakthrough Magnet School in Hartford, where students had the opportunity to pick and taste some of the apples grown right there on the farm, solidifying their understanding of how exactly apples come to be. Overall, there is a newfound appreciation going around in our schools for an idyllic CT crop – the apple.

There was lots of support from many partner organizations including the Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative, who helped create the concept of the campaign. The Collaborative consists of a group of nonprofit and state-agency representatives working to advance farm to school at the state level through policy, communications, and programming. The CT Apple Marketing Board, the USDA, and FoodCorps Connecticut all promoted the HardCORE Apple Campaign, with the promotion excitingly gaining national recognition in the USDA online newsletter, The Dirt, as something to look check out for the month of October.

Mike Koch, Food Service Director for New Britain Public Schools, is pleased to have the materials provided by the Local Tray Program. “We appreciate the efforts of the various groups that assist us with marketing and promotions of our locally sourced products. UConn Extension and FoodCorps have been integral partners to promote activities such as taste tests and local produce celebrations. We have been able to get students to try and appreciate new and different foods, and to step outside of their comfort zone. When we did an applesauce taste test using apples grown from Belltown Orchards in Glastonbury, the students began to realize this is food grown close to their neighborhood. When they make this connection, everyone wins; the student, the food service department, the school district, and the farm.”

Mike is just one of the Food Service Directors who has signed up to take the local pledge for his district this year. There are currently 30 districts that signed up so far to participate in the Put Local on Your Tray Program for the 2017-18 school year all over the state. The program is open to any interested school district, charter school, or private school. Go online to sign up to take the pledge to have at least one local Tray day this year. Sign up today if your school hasn’t already! We are gaining momentum and have many developments in store for this year, including two new poster designs to be released online soon! For more information after this date, please contact molly.putlocalonyourtray@gmail.com.

To stay informed with what is happening with the Tray project yourself, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter. You can also Like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram @putlocalonyourtray. For more information please visit http://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu or call 860-870-6932. Put Local On Your Tray is a project of UConn Extension, in partnership with the CT State Department of Education, FoodCorps Connecticut, and New England Dairy & Food Council (NEDFC).

Keep on crunching, Connecticut!

Pick Your Own Apples – Avoid Those with Bird Droppings

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Extension Educator/Food Safety

apples on tree

Photo: Stacey Stearns

Connecticut has an abundance of farms that open their gates to those who want to pick their own raspberries, apples, vegetables and other seasonal offerings. I have picked raspberries well into October in the past, though I am not sure how the hot summer and early fall have impacted the longevity of the berry season this year. But, you can easily find apples and perhaps pears only a short drive from where you live. To find Pick Your Own (PYO) farms near you, go to www.ct.gov and search for “pick your own farms in Connecticut.” This will bring you to a list of farms by county offering small fruits (berries), large fruits (apples, pears) and vegetables as well as pumpkins and Christmas trees.

However, this is not an article simply about where to find PYO farms. This is a message about being a responsible PYO customer.

Chances are you have read articles about fruits and vegetables being the source of foodborne outbreaks in recent years. Produce has risen to the top of the list as likely sources of illnesses caused by Listeria, Salmonella, E. Coli and parasites such as cyclospora and cryptosporidium.

Produce can be contaminated in the field and during harvest. Wildlife can deposit poop in the fields or directly on the fruits or vegetables; rodents and insects can contaminate produce with animal manure that can be on their feet; those who harvest produce can contaminate apples or pears or berries with dirty hands. Irrigation water can also contaminate produce if the source is not safe. Nature is nature, but there are things you can do to minimize your risks.

In a PYO operation YOU are the farmer, the harvester, the handler. While most consumers would never eat berries or apples from the grocery store without washing them first, they think nothing of plucking the strawberry right off the vine and popping it in their mouth. Or they let their young children do it—a population that is more vulnerable to the worst effects of a foodborne illness.

So, what are some simple guidelines for a safer PYO experience for you and your family (and others who follow you in the field or orchard)?

  • Clean hands are important

Be sure to wash your hands before picking. Your farm does not have a handwash station? Complain. Especially if this farm also has an animal venue—goats to pet or llamas to feed. After visiting the animals it is especially important to wash your hands. Sanitizer does not do much good on dirty hands. You need soap and water. If sanitizer is your only option, certainly you should use it. But farms by now should know the need for both bathroom and handwash facilities for their patrons.

  • Don’t even think of coming here if you are sick

When I was picking raspberries a few weeks ago, a young woman in the next aisle was complaining to her companion that she did not feel well. She had a sore throat and was coughing. I moved away from her. Sick people should not be picking berries. Period.

  • Use clean containers

Again, if the farm does not provide clean containers, bring your own or go elsewhere. It could be as simple as lining reuseable bins or boxes with a clean plastic bag or liner for each new customer. Containers with even a few hours of accumulated juice, dirt and field debris can certainly harbor the bacteria that we really do not want to bring home with us.

  • Don’t pick up fruit from the ground

Again, two words: wildlife and poop. Pick berries from the vine, fruit from the tree. “Drops” always run the risk of being contaminated with microbes that can cause an illness. If you see any evidence of deer or other droppings, be sure to tell a farm employee.

  • Pick fruits and veggies that are in good condition

Avoid produce that has evidence of bird droppings. Rotten, moldy or produce that may have been chewed by bugs or rodents should be left on the vine. Rotten spots, cuts, and other breaks in the surface of the fruit or vegetable can be a microbe’s doorway to the inside. Handle what you pick carefully.

  • Leave Fido at home (and NOT in the car)

Farms do not really need another animal to worry about. Dog waste is no different from that of wildlife. Even the most conscientious owner can leave traces behind as they pick up after their dog.

And, finally, watch the kids. PYO operations are a great way to teach children where their food comes from. It gets them outdoors and provides much needed time away from touch screens. But, it is important to teach them good PYO etiquette as well. Do not let them pick up drops from the ground or eat directly off the plant and tell them why it is not a good idea. Teach them the importance of washing their hands before handling food. Feed the kids before you visit: bring a water bottle, but it is best not to eat snacks in the field. Save the picnic for later.

Please do not change diapers in the field. Remember what I said about wildlife and poop? Do that in your car and be sure to dispose of the dirty diapers in a covered trash receptacle.

For more information on safe food handling, contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271 or visit www.foodsafety.uconn.edu.