health

UConn Extension is 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

Washing Raw Poultry: Food Safety Choices

washing hands in the kitchenA study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reveals that individuals are putting themselves at risk of illness when they wash or rinse raw poultry.
“Cooking and mealtime is a special occasion for all of us as we come together with our families and friends,” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety. “However, the public health implications of these findings should be of concern to everyone. Even when consumers think they are effectively cleaning after washing poultry, this study shows that bacteria can easily spread to other surfaces and foods. The best practice is not to wash poultry.”
The results of the observational study showed how easy bacteria can be spread when surfaces are not effectively cleaned and sanitized. The USDA is recommending three easy options to help prevent illness when preparing poultry, or meat, in your home.
1. Significantly decrease your risk by preparing foods that will not be cooked, such as vegetables and salads, BEFORE handling and preparing raw meat and poultry.
  • Of the participants who washed their raw poultry, 60 percent had bacteria in their sink after washing or rinsing the poultry. Even more concerning is that 14 percent still had bacteria in their sinks after they attempted to clean the sink.
  • 26 percent of participants that washed raw poultry transferred bacteria from that raw poultry to their ready to eat salad lettuce.
2. Thoroughly clean and sanitize ANY surface that has potentially touched or been contaminated from raw meat and poultry, or their juices.
  • Of the participants that did not wash their raw poultry, 31 percent still managed to get bacteria from the raw poultry onto their salad lettuce.
  • This high rate of cross-contamination was likely due to a lack of effective handwashing and contamination of the sink and utensils.
  • Clean sinks and countertops with hot soapy water and then apply a sanitizer.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw meat and poultry. Wet your hands with water, lather with soap and then scrub your hands for 20 seconds.
3. Destroy any illness causing bacteria by cooking meat and poultry to a safe internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer.
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) are safe to eat at 145°F.
  • Ground meats (burgers) are safe to eat at 160°F.
  • Poultry (whole or ground) are safe to eat at 165°F.
  • Washing, rinsing, or brining meat and poultry in salt water, vinegar or lemon juice does not destroy bacteria. If there is anything on your raw poultry that you want to remove, pat the area with a damp paper towel and immediately wash your hands.
“Everyone has a role to play in preventing illness from food,” said Administrator Carmen Rottenberg of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). “Please keep in mind that children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. Washing or rinsing raw meat and poultry can increase your risk as bacteria spreads around your kitchen, but not washing your hands for 20 seconds immediately after handling those raw foods is just as dangerous.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that millions of Americans are sickened with foodborne illnesses each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
More information about this study is available in an executive summary.
Have questions? Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MP-HOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). Live food safety experts are available Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Expert advice is also available 24/7 at AskKaren.gov.

UConn CVMDL Tests Ticks for Disease-Causing Agents

tick testing at UConn
Photo: UConn Communications

Pet owners, livestock owners, and outdoor enthusiasts statewide need to maintain vigilance against ticks because as the fall season approaches will see an increase in their activity. UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL), part of the Department of Pathobiology & Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontline of tick testing to inform submitters of the risks associated with that tick. 

Ticks are disease-carrying arachnids that reside in moist areas, such as long grass and the leaf litter, and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting the agent that causes Lyme disease (the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi), it can also carry other disease-causing agents. A single tick can transmit more than one infectious agent.

“Our lab offers tick identification services, in addition to many other services,” says Dr. Joan Smyth, Director of CVMDL. Tick testing at CVMDL serves multiple purposes. It helps the person or veterinarian who submitted the tick understand the potential exposure of the subject that the tick was found on. Our researchers are also using the results from tick testing to track current and emerging disease producing agents carried by ticks, and to monitor for the spread of ticks that may have been recently introduced to our area, for example the long-horned tick. The data can be used in setting priority areas for prevention and vaccine development.

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately. CVMDL can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at CVMDL are first examined under a microscope by trained technicians to determine the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal. Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are common to that tick species. Results are normally reported within three to five business days of receiving the sample, but next day testing is available for an additional fee.

Please send ticks together with a small square of moist paper towel, in sealed zip lock bags. The submission form, pricing and the “Do’s and don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/468.

For more information, read the article from UConn Magazinethat includes tips to prevent tick bites, or watch the UConn Science in Seconds video. You can also contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl@uconn.edu or 860-486-3738 or visit the tick testing page on our website http://cvmdl.uconn.edu/service/tick.php.

Ask UConn Extension

food, health and sustainability venn diagram

Do you have food, health, or environmental sustainability questions?

Ask UConn Extension.

We have specialists located throughout the state to answer your questions and connect you with the power of UConn research.

Fill out this form with your question: http://bit.ly/AskUConnExtension

Staying Hydrated

woman and man drinking water from bottles
Photo: NEEF

With summer in full swing, how can you beat the heat, stay cool, and keep healthy when temperatures soar? Besides staying indoors in the air-conditioning and seeking shade when you’re outside, you need to stay hydrated. Why? Because dehydration can lead to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Signs of heat stroke include hot, red, dry, or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; headache; dizziness; nausea; and confusion.

Drinking water tops the list of how to stay healthy in the heat. Although water intake varies depending on several factors (including age, size, gender, health, activity level, and weather), as a general rule of thumb, aim to drink 8-10 cups of water every day.

Need help boosting your water intake? Follow these hydration tips:

Drink up—but watch what you drink.
Drink plenty of fluids but avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, and high-sugar content as they might contribute to dehydration. Water should be your go-to drink because it’s calorie-free, low-cost, and readily available.

Take it with you.
Carry a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go—in the backyard, in the car, to work, to the gym, and running errands. Most public places (such as parks, malls, grocery stores, and office buildings) offer water fountains. Fill up your water bottle at stops throughout your day to ensure a cold drink of water is always at your fingertips.

Jazz up your H2O!
Tired of plain ol’ water? While you can purchase flavored water, you can save money and make your own. Try adding a slice of cucumber or a squeeze of lemon to your water. Or crush some raspberries in ice cube trays, fill with water, then freeze to add flavored cubes to your water glass. Like mojitos? Forget the alcohol but mix the other ingredients (lime juice, soda water, mint leaves, and just a sprinkle of sugar) for a refreshing twist.

Eat water-rich foods.
If the thought of consuming a half-gallon or more of water every day turns you off, think beyond the water glass. While you should drink plenty of water every day, you can also eat your way to hydration to supplement your water intake. (FYI: Only 20% of your water needs are met through food.) Choose high-water-content foods, such as peaches, grapes, oranges, melons, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, zucchini, spinach, and lettuce. Guess what else counts? Broth-based soups like chicken, beef, or vegetable broth. (Soups also provide a great way to get in a serving or two of vegetables.) You can even try a frozen fruit-juice popsicle! It all adds up over the course of a day.

Read more about extreme heat and your health and find additional water resources from the USDA.

Source: National Environmental Education Foundation

Mashantuckets Participate in Food Prep with EFNEP

Under the USDA FRTEP grant we have with Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, on the morning August 15th, Erica Benvenuti, Mike Puglisi, and Alyssa Siegel-Miles of the UConn Extension EFNEP program conducted a food preparation workshop for the tribal youth. There were 13 teens and seven adults at the event. Erica and team did an excellent job engaging and teaching the youth to prepare three sisters meal – corn, squash and bean (tribe’s traditional meal) and salsa. The objective of the workshop was to teach the tribal youth the importance of healthy food and give hands-on training on food preparation (from washing hands to following recipe to serving food). This falls under our goal of improving the overall health of the tribal members. I personally very much enjoyed the workshop.   

Submitted by Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, and PI on the grant

Extension & Bike Walk CT promote nutrition, fitness, & bike safety

three children in helmets on bikesUConn Extension, part of UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, Bike Walk Connecticut, and the Meriden Farmers Market will promote healthy living at the Get Out- Get Active-Get Healthy Bike and Back to School Rally on Saturday, September 7th from 8:30 am to 12 noon on the Meriden Green. This fun event will feature bicycle and helmet safety demonstrations, games, helmet decorating, a bicycle raffle, as well as nutrition education. Youth and families are encouraged to bring their own bikes or borrow a bike from Bike Walk Connecticut’s fleet, sized for ages 9-12 with a few for ages 5-8. Join us to practice bicycle safety and agility skills taught by certified League Cycling Instructors (LCIs). Under Connecticut State Law, anyone under the age of 16 is required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, so families are encouraged to bring helmets if they have them and wear closed-toed shoes. New bicycle helmets will be available for free, first come, first served. Healthy food demonstrations will be provided by the UConn Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Chef Kashia Cave, founder of My City Kitchen. This event is made possible by a grant and funding from the David and Nancy Bull Extension Innovation Fund at UConn, UConn Extension PATHS (People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability) Team, Bike Walk Connecticut, the Meriden Farmers Market, Community Health Center of Meriden and Meriden Public Schools. The free rally is open to the public on Saturday, September 7th from 8:30 am to 12 pm at the Meriden Green Amphitheater on State and Mill Street in Meriden. We look forward to seeing you there! For more information contact Laura Brown at 203-407-3161 or laura.brown@uconn.edu.

Download the flyer: Back to School Bash- Meriden-2019

August is National Sandwich Month

national sandwich month infoAugust is National Sandwich month! With school around the corner, it’s a great time to learn to make the PERFECT sandwich. Sandwiches are a quick, easy and an affordable way to pack in nutrition when hiking or biking too!

Start with a whole grain base and go from there! Next, add a protein source such as lean meats or plant proteins, like peanut butter or tofu. Then load up the fruits and veggies from lettuce and tomato to apples and cucumbers – the options are endless! Finish your sandwich with a spread or low-fat dressing. 

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Extreme Heat Reminders and Local Cooling Centers

person drinking water backlit by sun
Drink water the day before and during physical activity or if heat is going to become a factor. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol, especially before strenuous exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Rhett Isbell)

The National Weather Service has issued an Excessive Heat Watch for the entire state. Connecticut residents should prepare for extreme heat over the next several days.

In a recent press release, Governor Lamont offered residents some tips to beat the heat and reminded those in need to call 2-1-1 to locate a cooling center in their community.

Many Connecticut cities and towns open cooling centers or shelters during heat waves and extreme hot weather. 2-1-1 maintains an up-to-date listing of active cooling centers, including location information, hours of operation, and other pertinent details.

To locate a cooling center near you click HERE or dial 2-1-1 to speak with a contact specialist.

Stay safe and beat the heat:

  • Slow down, and avoid strenuous activity.
  • Check on those most at-risk several times a day (infants, young children and older adults).
  • Never leave children or pets alone in a closed vehicle.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Find an air-conditioned shelter. (Dial 2-1-1 or click HERE for a list of cooling centers).

Additional safety tips and extreme heat related information can be found on 211ct.org’s Extreme Hot Weather Page or in 2-1-1’s Extreme Heath Precautions and Safety Tips eLibrary paper.

Dial 2-1-1 or visit www.211ct.org for access to services and to stay informed during any extreme weather episode.

Tips from the National Institute on Aging

Tips From the National Institute on Aging

faucet with running water
Photo: Kara Bonsack

The bladder can change with age. Follow these 13 tips from the National Institute on Aging to keep your bladder healthy.

  1. Drink enough fluids, especially water. Most healthy people should try to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid each day. Water is the best fluid for bladder health. Ask your healthcare provider how much fluid is healthy for you.
  2. Limit alcohol and caffeine. Cutting down on alcohol and caffeinated foods and drinks—such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and most sodas—may help.
  3. Quit smoking. If you smoke, take steps to quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
  4. Avoid constipation. Eating plenty of high-fiber foods (like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits), drinking enough water, and being physically active can help prevent constipation.
  5. Keep a healthy weight. Making healthy food choices and being physically active can help you keep a healthy weight.
  6. Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help prevent bladder problems, as well as constipation. It can also help you keep a healthy weight.
  7. Do pelvic floor muscle exercises, also known as Kegel exercises, to help hold urine in the bladder. Daily exercises can strengthen these muscles, which can help keep urine from leaking when you sneeze, cough, lift, laugh, or have a sudden urge to urinate.
  8. Use the bathroom often and when needed. Try to urinate at least every 3 to 4 hours. Holding urine in your bladder for too long can weaken your bladder muscles and make a bladder infection more likely.
  9. Take enough time to fully empty the bladder when urinating. Rushing when you urinate may not allow you to fully empty the bladder. If urine stays in the bladder too long, it can make a bladder infection more likely.
  10. Be in a relaxed position while urinating to make it easier to empty the bladder.
  11. Wipe from front to back after using the toilet. Women should wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from getting into the urethra. This step is most important after a bowel movement.
  12. Urinate after sex. Both women and men should urinate shortly after sex to flush away bacteria that may have entered the urethra during sex.
  13. Wear cotton underwear and loose-fitting clothes. Wearing loose, cotton clothing will allow air to keep the area around the urethra dry. Tight-fitting jeans and nylon underwear can trap moisture and help bacteria grow.