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.
“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.
“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:
Improve food security
Improve economic viability
Improve youth engagement and communications
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
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.
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.
The 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:
UConn 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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.”