food security

Operation Community Impact: 4-H Helps Distribute Milk Statewide

UConn 4-H, the youth development program of Extension in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is organizing Operation Community Impact. This afternoon, 4-H members and volunteers are working with community partners and the UConn Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) to deliver 7,200 half-gallons of milk donated by Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) through their local facility, Guida’s Dairy in New Britain.

Operation Community Impact has two primary goals: to address community food insecurity issues and to reduce the amount of surplus milk that is being discarded due to the COVID-19 crisis. Background information on the project includes:

  • Because 30% of the fluid milk usually gets sold to restaurants, schools and institutions that are now closed; therefore, there is a huge surplus of fluid milk on the market that cannot be expeditiously processed into more shelf stable products like dried milk and butter.
  • The price of milk for the farmers have dropped from $19.00 per hundred pounds to $13.00 per hundred pounds because of this surplus.
  • Cows continue to produce milk at the same rate. As a result, hundreds of dairy farms across the country are now forced to dump their milk because the dairy plants have such a surplus, they have no room at the plants to store and process the milk because of the drop off in demand.
  • Meanwhile, food pantries are in desperate need of more food to help provide nourishment for the increasing number of individuals with food insecurity, due to the pandemic and more people losing their jobs.

DFA has generously agreed to donate 15 pallets of half-gallons of whole milk on Monday, May 4th, equaling 7,200 half-gallons, to be shared with food pantries across the state. UConn 4-H members and volunteers are distributing the milk in Litchfield County, Fairfield County, Hartford County, New London County, Tolland County and Windham County. 

“DFA Northeast farm families are pleased to donate milk processed at our Guida’s facility to provide nutritious dairy for family tables across Connecticut,” says Jennifer Huson of Dairy Farmers of America.

UConn 4-H and EFNEP educators are connecting with local food pantries in each county to deliver the milk. 4-H members and volunteers, Extension educators, and EFNEP program partners deliver the milk from a central drop off location in each county. Other businesses and partners are donating refrigerated trucks and space to assist with Operation Community Impact. 

“I am thrilled to be able to help coordinate this effort because I know firsthand how hard all farmers work to produce food for the rest of us,” says Bill Davenport, the UConn Extension educator coordinating Operation Community Impact, and the Litchfield County 4-H coordinator.

“When I heard about dumping milk because of the supply issue due to the school and restaurant closures, I decided we need to try to get some of this milk out of the surplus to help farmers stay in business and into the hands of families who are food insecure,” Bill says. “It makes no sense that we are dumping milk while there are people who desperately need food. Over 1,200 truckloads of milk are being dumped each day across the country so I decided to involve our amazing 4-H youth and parents to help connect the dots since the distribution of the milk is where the system is falling apart and need help. I hope that our actions will increase awareness of the issue and encourage others to help do the same across Connecticut and the region so that we can help move more milk out of the surplus and into the refrigerators of people who desperately need it.”

This is the third UConn 4-H dairy product distribution effort in two weeks. At the end of this effort, they will have helped secure donations and distributed 8,640 half-gallons of fresh milk and over 28,000 pounds of yogurt and sour cream from the dairy surplus inventory to families across Connecticut. The yogurt and sour cream were donated by the Agri-Mark Cooperative and Cabot.  

“Hartford County 4-H is excited to deliver this fresh milk to individuals and families throughout Hartford County. The actions of our 4-H members and volunteers, truly exemplify the words of the 4-H pledge “hands to larger service,” states Jen Cushman, a UConn Extension educator and coordinator of Hartford County 4-H.  

Community service is a key component of civic engagement in 4-H. This project provides 4-H members the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of consumers and dairy producers. We hope to secure more donations of milk and other dairy products so we can continue this effort over the next few weeks, or as long as it is needed. Bill Davenport, Litchfield County 4-H UConn Extension Educator, who grew up on a dairy farm in Litchfield and owns dairy cows in his brother’s herd in Ancram, New York, came up with the idea after learning about the milk surplus and that some farms had to dump their milk due to the challenges in the supply chain during the pandemic. Bill spearheaded this effort by securing the donations.

Operation Community Impact would not be possible without the efforts of many community partners, volunteers, food pantries and businesses in each of the six counties that the project is serving. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to everyone helping to connect those in need with the milk and dairy donations.

About Dairy Farmers of America

Dairy Farmers of America is a national, farmer-owned dairy cooperative focusing on quality, innovation and the future of family dairies. While supporting and serving more than 13,000 family farmers, DFA works with some of the world’s largest food companies to develop ingredients that satisfy their customers’ cravings while staying committed to social responsibility and ethical farming. For more information, please visit dfamilk.com.

About Guida’s Dairy

Since 1886, Guida’s Dairy has been providing high-quality dairy products to consumers in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Northern New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and eastern New York. In 2012, the company became a part of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), a national, farmer-owned cooperative, based in Kansas City, Kan. Guida’s Dairy offers an extensive line of products, including fluid milk, cream, ice cream mixes, fruit drinks, orange juice and a variety of other dairy products. For more information about Guida’s Dairy and our products, visit guidas.com.

About UConn 4-H

4-H is a national program with six million youth participating in various project areas who learn life skills, supervised by over 500,000 volunteer leaders. UConn 4-H serves over 17,000 Connecticut youth each year.

The 4-H program is organized into four program areas including Agriculture, Civic Engagement, Healthy Living and STEM. These themes all overlap throughout the 4-H experience, with emphasis placed on creating well-rounded individuals. 4-H is the youth development program offered through the UConn Extension system within the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The purpose of UConn as Connecticut’s land grant university is to provide the citizens of Connecticut with educational opportunities through teaching, research and extension programming. For more information about 4-H and how to join visit 4-H.uconn.edu.

Today’s Drop Off Locations

Hartford County: Hartford County’s allotment of 1,368 half-gallons to over 21 food pantries throughout Hartford County, on the afternoon of Monday, May 4, 2020 at approximately 1 PM at the Windsor Park and Ride (just of rt. 291/91) where it will be offloaded into waiting vehicles owned by 4-H member families. Those vehicles will each then drive directly to their designated food pantry and safely deliver the milk to be handed out to food pantries. Contact: Jennifer.Cushman@uconn.edu or 860-409-9074.

Litchfield County: 1 PM at Litchfield Community Center – 421 Bantam Rd, Litchfield, CT 06759 – Contact William.Davenport@uconn.edu or cell number: 860-459-6753

New London County: Approximately 1 PM at New London County 4-H Camp – contact Pamela.Gray@uconn.edu 

Tolland/Windham Counties: Approximately 1 PM at Foodshare in Bloomfield – contact Maryann.Fusco@uconn.edu

Fairfield County: Approximately 1 PM at Bethel – contact Edith.Valiquette@uconn.edu

Growing Food with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and UConn Extension have been collaborating thanks to a U.S.D.A. Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program to enhance agricultural production, food security, and health of tribal community members.

UConn Extension Growing Food With the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

#AskUConnExtension #UConnImpact

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

CT Food Justice VISTA Project is Recruiting

VISTA flyer recruiting services members for 2018-19 for food justice projectsThe CT-Food Justice VISTA Project is recruiting for the 2018-2019 year, and we are also seeking a VISTA Leader to help manage the project with our Project Assistant. Our project is sponsored by UConn Extension, in partnership with some of the most effective and innovative nonprofit organizations in low-income communities in Connecticut, is leading a multi-site project with 16 VISTA members in 2018-2019. This project is designed to strengthen programming and improve coordination among similar food security programs seeking to empower communities to create positive change in their food environment and improve access to healthy food.
VISTA Members help to build the capacity of their host site organization. Together, we strive for a multi-generational, racially and economically diverse group of leaders with the skills to move communities across Connecticut towards a just food system. With VISTA Member support, host sites commit to empowering their communities to have impact on food-related programs and services, and the food system in Connecticut as a whole.
 
Please see the links to the sites we are looking for both VISTAs and VISTA Leader:
 
For the VISTA Leader the applicant has to have served as an AmeriCorps Service Member or Peace Corps here is the listing for the VISTA Leader. The VISTA Leader will serve out of the UConn Extension office of Tolland County and need a car to travel to our partner organizations for site visits and member support.
 
Below you will find the listing to the sites we have across the state that are recruiting for VISTA Service Members:
 
Visit our website for more information on our project: https://sustainablefood.uconn.edu/ctfoodjustice/

Eat Smart Live Strong

Heather-Elmwood Senior CenterUConn Extension’s SNAP-Ed Food Security partnered with Elmwood Senior Center in Danbury to offer the USDA Eat Smart Live Strong program this summer. Programs are led by Heather Peracchio, Extension Educator and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.  Seniors are provided  $15 vouchers towards fresh produce and round-trip transportation to the Farmers Market twice per month thanks to a Buck Foundation grant given to the Danbury Farmers Market Community Collaborative. The program aims to increase seniors fruit and vegetable consumption, daily physical activity and increase access to the farmers market. Heather is pictured with the bulletin board that has been placed at Elmwood Senior Center to promote the program and use of the Danbury Farmers Market this summer at Kennedy Park. Each class includes USDA Eat Smart Live Strong program materials, an interactive nutrition class and a cooking demonstration.

 

UConn Study of Food Insecurity in Connecticut is New Tool to Combat Hunger

By: Sheila Foran & David Bauman for UConn Today 4/10/13

Connecticut residents generally have dependable access to food, but the picture is not all rosy.

A recent U.S. Household Food Security study showed that about one in seven households in the state reported not having enough money to buy food they needed in 2011. And agriculture officials say that between 2008 and 2010, nearly 13 percent of Connecticut’s residents lived in “food insecure” households, while 38 percent of those residents lived in “households with very low food security.”

A new study by the University of Connecticut’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy and Department of Cooperative Extension, 2012 Community Food Security in Connecticut: An Evaluation and Ranking of 169 Towns, evaluates the state’s capacity to address food security challenges and provides a guide for policy makers on how to get food resources to the state’s residents most at risk.

town by town

A town-by-town representation of the risk that a resident is food insecure.

The UConn study focuses on a town-level assessment of factors affecting the state’s “food security,” a socioeconomic term that defines easy access to safe and healthy food.

“Although it is extremely difficult to pinpoint where food insecure households are located, one can look at certain variables such as location of food retailers, bus routes, and participation in public food assistance programs to draw comparisons on a town-by-town basis,” says Jiff Martin, a sustainable food system associate with UConn’s Cooperative Extension System and co-author of the study.

Conducted by UConn researchers in cooperation with the Connecticut Food Policy Council, the study updates a previous UConn report in 2005 that was the first to examine community food security in the state. After seven years, the current report offers a new assessment of community food security that should be of interest to town planners, and civic, environmental, and public health authorities seeking to reduce disparities in access to healthy food across the state, say the study authors.

John D. Frassinelli, chair of the Connecticut Food Policy Council, agrees: “This update to the 2005 study will be very useful for groups working on the ground, as they assess their progress and make decisions regarding resource allocations to have the most impact.”

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The study also evaluated the proximity of each town to food retail stores.

To define “community,” the study adopted the boundaries of Connecticut’s 169 towns and created three rankings to examine each community’s food system: population at-risk for food security; retail food proximity; and public food assistance programs. Each ranking combines several variables into one discrete measure that is used to assess each town’s capacity to provide its residents access to healthy food.

For the first ranking – population at-risk – the measure includes a town’s population mix using poverty and unemployment rates, and socioeconomic characteristics such as income, vehicle ownership, educational attainment, and number of children per household, to determine the likelihood that a town’s residents might be food insecure.

The food retail measure considers each town’s proximity to food retail stores and the variety of food cost options these establishments make available to a town’s population. Given residents’ ability to shop for food in neighboring towns, this measure considered not just the closest food retailers, but all retail options within a 10-minute drive from a town’s population center.

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Another measure looks at how well served residents are by public food assistance programs.

The food assistance ranking measured how well a town’s residents are being served through public food assistance programs, and whether public bus transportation is available to provide people access to food resources.

To interpret the rankings, if a town is identified with a large population at-risk for food insecurity, for example, then it can examine how well it is providing for its residents through both access to food retailers and whether residents are being served through public food assistance services and public bus transportation.

The study maps all of Connecticut’s 169 towns to provide a visual picture of each town’s performance. The maps will be useful for comparing needs and performance between towns, notes Adam Rabinowitz, senior researcher with UConn’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy and co-author of the study.

“On all of the maps, there are some very apparent clusters of similar rankings throughout the state, but the maps also provide an easy identification of where neighboring towns rank starkly different,” says Rabinowitz. “This is a great opportunity to start questioning why those differences exist in these adjacent areas.”

Given that Connecticut has towns with vastly different sizes, the study also created five categories of town size – based on population – and ranked towns within each category to compare towns of a similar size. Maps of the rankings based on town size categories are also available on the study’s website.

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The food retail measure considered not just the closest food retailers, but all retail options within a 10-minute drive from a town’s population center.

The study should be of interest to town leaders, anti-hunger advocates, and community groups seeking to improve access to healthy food in Connecticut, notes Rabinowitz, adding that growing public interest in safe and healthy food is fertile ground for policy makers to focus attention on the goals of community food security.

“We hope,” Rabinowitz says, “that these results will be used to stimulate town-level discussion, and may even help prioritize further analysis and commitment to strategies that will strengthen community food security in Connecticut.”