The Auerfarm 4-H Education Center in Bloomfield, Connecticut announces the appointment of Erica Prior Fearn, CAE, as its new Executive Director, beginning July 24.
Fearn succeeds Interim Executive Director Barbara G. DeMaio, who held the position since March.
“Auerfarm is thrilled to have an executive of Erica’s caliber lead our organization. Her experience at the CT Farm Bureau at both the state and nationals brings a wealth of talent to our organization. In addition, Erica’s 25-year involvement with Connecticut
4-H, both as a youth participant and now as leader, speaks volumes about her commitment and passion for agriculture and the environment, which are at the heart of everything we do at Auerfarm,” said Mark Weisman, chair of Auerfarm’s board of directors.
“I have always admired the mission and work of Auerfarm. It is an invaluable community resource for children, families and guests from across the region who want to learn about agriculture and the environment. I look forward to working with its very dedicated staff and volunteer force to further enrich the visitor experience and chart Auerfarm’s future,” said Fearn.
In addition to her work with the CT Farm Bureau, Fearn served as a consultant to several agricultural and environmental related non-profits. Fearn has a BS in Animal Science from UConn and earned a certificate in Financial Success for Non- Profits from Cornell University.
Fearn is a resident of West Suffield, CT.
“We are very thankful to Barb DeMaio for serving as our Interim Director for the past several months. Her work was integral in maintaining Auerfarm’s level of excellence as a community resource,” said Mary Eberle, Auerfarm board member and chair of the recruitment committee. “We also thank Harvest Development Group for their assistance is recruiting both Erica and Barb to our organization,” said Eberle. “Harvest identified the type of leaders that we needed to continue Auerfarm’s heritage as a one-of-a-kind destination and experience.”
Setting a Course for Active Learning: An Interview with Senator Beth Bye
By Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, State 4-H Office
Elizabeth “Beth” Bye is the Executive Director of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. She has worked in early childhood education for over 30 years. She is also a member of the Connecticut Senate representing the 5th district which includes Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hart-ford. Beth has spent her career working to assure all children have access to high quality learning opportunities. I sat down with her recently to get her thoughts on the benefits of early childhood education.
Her background in early childhood development and education began with a BA and MA in Child Development from the University of New Hampshire. Beth states that she was interested in the research on the impact of infant daycare on child development and in helping children to develop internal controls. She adds that “you can al-ways impact children, but it’s great to set their course early in life.” When asked what the research says about how we educate our youngest children she responds, “the research tells us that young children learn actively. They need to interface with a variety of materials, and explore, move and go outside. They also need to interact with other children and teachers. Their brains are qualitatively different and so they take in information differently than adults.” Beth also states that “play is the work of children”. It is universal, like walking and talking and is essentially how children make sense of their experience. Developing an attitude toward learning that is enthusiastic and flexible is also important and early childhood education programs can help to set the stage for children to be eager and excited about learning through play and active learning.
Environment also plays a key role in creating an effective early child-hood education program. The environment needs to be conducive to learning with interesting materials and activities. Safety is a key factor as well. There is more fear among parents now regarding their child’s safety and so the question arises, how much freedom to allow children to explore and develop. Responsive care is critical to a safe learning environment. Building self-regulation is also important so that children can be part of a com-munity early on, learning how to work as a team, and care about others.
Beth credits the 4-H program with helping youth to create their own inquiry experiences with 4-H pro-jects and activities as well as teaching independence, enthusiasm for learning and contribution to com-munity. 4-H members learn these skills early on and it tends to stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Beth’s connection with Auerfarm began as a consultant for the Bloomfield Public Schools. Over 13,000 youth visit Auerfarm each year to learn about agriculture and the environment.
Auerfarm offers a variety of seasonal, school and summer enrichment programs that provide a wonderful setting for active sensory learning. Children take a hayride around the 120-acre property exploring the gardens, orchards and fields and also get to sample apple cider and maple syrup during seasonal programs. Auerfarm also has an ongoing relationship with the Wintonbury Early Childhood Mag-net School which visits the farm for several weeks during the year. What better backdrop for active learning than a 120-acre farm with animals, gardens, and orchards.
The Auerfarm is a 4-H Education Center with 120 acres located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The Farm was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4–H Development Fund in 1976; however; has a rich history dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. The farm served as a model farm to other farmers in the 1950’s and hence, grew into a place that values education, outreach and engagement. The farm currently houses livestock including cows, goats, alpaca, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and chickens. It also has several large vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, and a blueberry patch. Extension supported the building of a greenhouse on the property that is heavily used by school groups and master gardeners. Each year 14,000 children and 5,000 adults visit and access educational programs at the farm.
CYFAR’s Tools for Healthy Living grant partnered with Auerfarm this summer to provide multiple weeklong day programs for low-income youth from Hartford. Each week twelve to fifteen 8-12 year old low-income youth from Hartford participated in a program designed to enrich their understanding of food, health, and agriculture through hands on learning. During this time, University of Connecticut (UConn) staff presented two lessons about issues related to food safety; these lessons are part of the Tools for Healthy Living curriculum that was developed as part of this grant project. The first lesson was a lesson on hand washing and the second was on how to avoid food related illness. Students also spent time in the gardens, visiting animals and preparing the food they had picked.
The summer program was a highly positive experience for students, many who had not attended a summer farm program before. Students were very excited to go to the gardens and the blueberry patch. Several students made statements including “we get to pick berries!” The students also indicated that “this is a new experience” for (most) of them and upon the announcement from the teacher that berry picking time was over several made comments that they “wanted to do it again.”
The children were very excited to be in the garden. One day, the UConn Master Gardener trapped a groundhog that she then showed to the students. The animal intrigued them all, but some had differing opinions about it. Some thought that it “looks mean” while others thought it “cute.” Educators explained why they caught the groundhog noting that they “eat eleven pounds of vegetables a day.” The children were assigned tasks to pick vegetables, weeds or get grass for the animals to eat later. The children really seemed to enjoy the garden experience stating “I want to have my own garden” and “this is the best day of my life.” This garden supports the Foodshare organization by producing 2 tons of produce annually for hungry families in Hartford. Extension Master Gardeners are active with the Foodshare garden ensuring we give back to the community. One student notes that, “she doesn’t even like carrots, but she is happy that she gets to help pick them so that people who are hungry can eat them.” The students were enthusiastic about taking the vegetables from the garden into the kitchen to prepare their lunches, including, salads, roasted beets, pizza, and tacos.
All of the youth attending this summer program loved the experience, particularly being in the gardens, blueberry patch and in the kitchen. They interacted during the food safety lessons and showed increased awareness for the need to do thorough handwashing and minimize food safety risks. The animals and gardens throughout the property served as platforms for interactive learning. One student exclaimed “I can’t wait to come back to camp next year.” Another stated, “I just really like the fresh air and mountains.” As a result of this project, our grant team strengthened our partnership with Auerfarm and provided many youth with a farm experience that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend.
Sherry Gray, PI Tools for Healthy Living
Mary Margaret Gaudio, co-PI Tools for Healthy Living
Jen Cushman, 4-H Extension Educator, Hartford County Extension
The 120-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is a private, non-profit education center located in Bloomfield. Over 15,000 students and family members participate in year-round 4-H curriculum-based school science programs, animal clubs, and Junior Master Gardening projects annually.
Hartford entrepreneur and retailer Beatrice Fox Auerbach and her husband purchased the farm in 1925. Beatrice took control of the farm and managed it for 40 years when her husband died in 1927. Dairy, poultry, and apples were produced. At its peak, the farm was 230-acres, and honored in 1950 for its innovation and modern practices. The family of Beatrice Fox Auerbach deeded the farm to the Connecticut 4-H Development Fund in 1976.
A volunteer board of directors and staff run the farm’s day-to-day operations and educational components. The partnership with UConn Extension brings the research from UConn to real life for visiting groups. Educational programs encourage critical thinking and curiosity through hands-on discovery in science and agriculture. Volunteers from the 4-H program, Master Gardeners, and the community are a vital component of the farm.
“We are very passionate about the mission of the organization, which is to connect people, agriculture, and the natural environment through education and recreation,” says Chairman of the Board Bob Lyle. “At Auerfarm we have a wonderful 120-acre outdoor laboratory for learning, and we focus on bringing young people and their families out for fun, hands-on lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“Youth learn about nutrition, food production, plant, and animal life,” Bob continues. “It’s gratifying to observe how participants enthusiastically react and enjoy learning in this kind of living classroom. We offer educational opportunities that many would not otherwise have.”
Through their experiences at Auerfarm, youth connect to their food environment while building a foundation in STEM education. Auerfarm recently finished construction of a new animal barn, and over the course of the year, the farm has many different species including alpacas, sheep, beef cattle, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits.
“The 4-H club at the farm works with the animals to further their understanding of various STEM-based concepts such as nutrition and animal health,” Hartford County 4-H Extension Educator Jen Cushman explains. “In addition, various school-based, summer programs, and birthday parties integrate the animals into their learning experiences. For example, enrichment programs highlight the life-cycle connections between chickens and eggs, baby animals, and the role that alpacas and sheep play in the creation of yarn.”
The Master Gardener/Foodshare garden is a quarter acre vegetable garden used as a demonstration site for learning the basics of environmentally responsible vegetable and flower production. Students learn about growing conditions through understanding management of soil, water, insects, and diseases.
Opportunities to watch seasonal progression of plants, as well as observation of birds and wildlife are available in the garden. Master Gardeners work with approximately 300 volunteers throughout the season. Each year, volunteers harvest over 3,600 pounds of fresh produce for distribution to the community kitchens through Foodshare.
An anonymous $50,000 grant allowed the 4-H Farm to install a 20 x 48 polycarbonate rigid-walled greenhouse, which has space for in-ground and bench-top growing. Classes and demonstrations are held in the greenhouse.
“It’s a sunny and green oasis during the winter months,” Hartford County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Bailey mentions. “Spinach and herbs grow throughout the winter, and as the season shifts, more varieties are planted. While heated, we run it as a cold house with minimal non-solar heat in the winter, yet it stays warm enough for several cold-hardy plants.”
The greenhouse expands growing space available, and extends growing seasons, allowing for more educational programs. Master Gardener volunteers are growing more plants for the Foodshare production garden in the greenhouse.
Sarah is the Junior Master Gardener program statewide coordinator, and utilizes the greenhouse to teach students how plants grow, science experiments, and techniques for planting and harvesting. Teachers receive instruction at the greenhouse, and take hands-on curriculum back to their schools. Sarah is also developing a multi-generational Gardening with Families series.
“I look forward to engaging current UConn students in the activities of Auerfarm through internships and service learning to expand the connection between Auerfarm and UConn,” Jen concludes. “By tapping the expertise of UConn Extension specialists, I anticipate enhancing the agricultural production and practices that occur on the farm.”
New Greenhouse helps 4-H Center at Auerfarm Teach Youth the Science of Gardening
By Sarah Bailey, Master Gardener Coordinator, Hartford County Extension Center
Winter may have been unusually cold and long this year, but there was a sunny and green oasis at the 4-H Center at Auerfarm. Spinach and herbs grew throughout the winter, to be joined by all manner of vegetables, herbs and flowers as the seasons shifted. Over the last year students planted seeds, weeded the ground-level beds and sampled fresh produce right from the source. The first killing frost is no longer an end to the growing season; it simply signals a shift into the new greenhouse. Funded by an anonymous $50,000 grant, the 20 x 48 foot polycarbonate rigid-walled structure provides both in-ground and bench-top growing space, along with room for classes and demonstrations. While heated, it is being run as a “cold house” with minimal non-solar heat in the winter, yet stays warm enough for several cold-hardy plant varieties. On a sunny January day, it feels like July!
The building is home to a variety of programs and events. Area schoolchildren take part in Farm to School programs, and Junior Master Gardener (JMG) participants learn about how plants grow, do plant science experiments, and plant and harvest produce. Teachers receive JMG program training to bring gardening and environmental hands-on curriculum back to their schools. Along with the specific youth programming, the greenhouse also hosts programs for the adult UConn Master Gardeners who help grow plants for the Foodshare production garden on the farm.
Additional growing space and an extended spring and fall growing season have allowed for additional gardening and food-related events throughout the year. An additional benefit has been the creation of venues for multi-generational experiences. Currently under development is a series on Gardening with Families along with a Saturday program on gardening and the environment for youth.
UConn Students from UConn’s Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders on Social Entrepreneurship and participants from either North or Sub-Saharan Africa came out to 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm camp in July. After a morning in the garden, everyone ended up in the shade sharing information about themselves and showing the campers where they came from on the map. The campers took the students to see the farm animals, as well. This is the eighth year the Institute folks have volunteered at the garden.