food insecurity

Bountiful Harvests

mcc-community-garden-2By Dawn Pettinelli for UConn Extension

Community Gardeners Reap Bountiful Harvests While Average American Family Tosses 25% of Food Purchases Each Year!

A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!

A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!

Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.

A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.

So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:

http://site.foodshare.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/

http://communityplates.org/

http://www.rockandwrapitup.org/

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/how-to-help/plant-a-row

http://www.ampleharvest.org/index.php

Or call 2-1-1  http://www.ct211.org

Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.

Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.

Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local UConn Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.

As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.

And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday  (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.

 

 

What Every CT Resident Needs to Understand About UConn Extension

CES 100 greenI wish UConn Extension was not the best-kept secret in the state. It’s time everybody knew what a tremendous resource Extension is. Congress established the Cooperative Extension System as a national network in 1914 to tie university research to real life. UConn Extension programs have evolved over time, and as our state has changed, so has Extension to meet new and emerging needs. One hundred years after its inception, UConn Extension continues to impact the lives of our citizens statewide as it did 100 years ago.

 

The Smith lever Act came out of Congress to help communities grow better crops and plants, use land more wisely and provide safer food. It began by engaging youth through 4-H, their parents through adult education and farmers through training in cropping systems and business management. Those concepts still hold today but it has gone beyond rural agriculture and into urban audiences. These are “university” students in the community who still have concerns about growing food in a variety of ways, still have concerns about how we use our land and now more than ever, want information about food safety and nutrition.

 

A recent analysis found eleven or more UConn Extension programs are delivered in every single town throughout Connecticut. Over one hundred UConn Extension faculty and staff deliver 282 established programs that are grouped into four broad topic areas: food production, healthy living, environmental sustainability, and youth development/leadership. Here are a few examples of how UConn Extension has touched my life and is making a difference in the lives of others:

 

  • Ten years ago I became a Certified Master Gardener through UConn Extension. It opened my eyes to the impact that suburban homeowners have on polluting streams and waterways with fertilizer runoff, herbicides and pesticides. Our landscape management practices are dramatically different today; and my family is far more sensitive to reuse – we recycle to protect our environment and its limited resources.
  • Last month while preparing for an upcoming Farm Tour to benefit Extension, I met with a farmer who spoke with deep appreciation, and respect for his UConn Extension specialist. He helped the farmer implement techniques that reduce land erosion and production costs. Keeping farmers prosperous and productive makes our state a better place to live.
  • Ever since volunteering in a program to feed homeless, I’ve been sensitive to the thousands of people in our state who live with food insecurity, (not knowing when or where they’ll get their next meal). In 2013, UConn Extension helped research and publish a town-by-town analysis that provides those who run meal programs with much needed data to battle hunger in their towns. UConn Extension also directly helps families receiving government food assistance by sending their Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program specialists to community centers, teaching people how to stretch food assistance dollars with healthy food choices, and tasty meals.
  • The scope of 4-H has expanded since I was a member of a 4-H Club in Pennsylvania more than 40 years ago. Today over 17,700 Connecticut youth are enrolled in traditional clubs, and urban clubs located in towns like Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven and Hartford. Just as they did years ago, 4-H still emphasizes learning by doing, and nurtures leadership and citizenship skills important to creating strong, capable, future adults. The urban 4-H clubs provide after school programs that educate youth while keeping them safe and off the streets.

 

Remember, UConn Extension has 282 programs, plus thousands of electronic and written resources designed for consumers like you and me. Many services are free, low cost or priced at very affordable rates to defray costs.  Our federal and state tax dollars along with over $6.8 million in external grants, obtained by Extension educators, enable UConn Extension to be accessible and relevant information for the needs and concerns of today’s Connecticut. Explore the hundreds of services and programs available through your UConn Extension!  Find out more by visiting: www.extension.uconn.edu

 

Jennifer Riggs

UConn Extension volunteer

Chair, Centennial Committee