On Monday, October 26, the White House will recognize 12 individuals from across the country as White House Champions of Change for Sustainable and Climate Smart Agriculture. UConn Extension’s Jiff Martin was selected as one of the recipients.
These individuals were selected by the White House for their achievements and will be honored for exemplary leadership and innovation in agricultural production and education. The Champions have helped implement agricultural practices to promote soil health and energy efficiency, improve water quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change can no longer be seen as a distant threat. It is already impacting forest, grassland, and cropland systems in the United States, and is threatening agricultural producers and their communities. These Champions understand the challenges our nation is facing from a changing climate and are taking steps to build resilience to the impacts of climate change, which also protects their bottom line. The program will feature remarks by United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Jiff Martin is the Sustainable Food System Associate Educator for UConn Extension, which is part of the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. Jiff has worked for over 12 years on food and agriculture issues in Connecticut, helping residents discover local agriculture, connecting kids to healthy, whole foods, and researching community food security in Connecticut’s 169 towns. Her recent work includes leading a team of Extension Educators to assist new farmers in production and farmland management; directing two AmeriCorps service learning programs; and educating consumers through BuyCTGrown.com’s 10% Campaign, under which residents and businesses are asked to pledge 10 percent of their food and gardening budget to locally-grown products. Jiff was previously State Director for the American Farmland Trust and Food Policy Director at Hartford Food System.
The Champions of Change program was created as an opportunity for the White House to feature individuals who are doing extraordinary things to inspire and empower members of their communities. The event will be live-streamed on Monday, October 26 at 2:00 PM ET. Visit www.whitehouse.gov/live/ to tune in. To learn more about the White House Champions of Change program, visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions. You can also follow the conversation at #WHChamps and #ActOnClimate.
Today is World Soil Day! Did you know? Soil is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production and for services to ecosystems and human well-being. It is the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity, and therefore requires the same attention as above-ground biodiversity. Soils play a key role in the supply of clean water and resilience to floods and droughts. The largest store of terrestrial carbon is in the soil so that its preservation may contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Soils also serve as a platform and source for construction and raw materials. The maintenance or enhancement of global soil resources is essential if humanity’s need for food, water, and energy security is to be met.
The origins of the American Thanksgiving celebration can be debated. For early settlers, the occasion was often religious in nature, offering thanksgiving and praise for many blessings, not just a bountiful harvest. But, traditionally, we are taught that the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving Day in 1621, following their first harvest in the New World. Accounts indicate that this was a three day feast, attended by both the new world settlers and Native Americans, who shared what they had produced as well.
In 1863, Thanksgiving was given national holiday status in a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. While it has come to mean many things (football, the beginning of the holiday shopping season, etc.), the holiday continues to be a celebration that is centered on bringing family and friends together for a large meal, often at least partially based on that 1621 Pilgrim feast.
One thing we know for sure…the meal shared by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans was locally grown! It might have included turkey, but definitely duck, goose, or even pigeon and venison; shellfish, including lobster, oysters, mussels and clams, smoked fish; corn porridge made from Indian corn; chestnuts and walnuts; and pumpkins and squashes. Potatoes and cranberries had not arrived yet: and if they had pumpkin, there was no pie, as flour was not available. They might have had some fresh vegetables, but in November they were likely limited to onions, beans, cabbage, and carrots.
Chances are, they meal was composed to a large extent of meat, fish, and fowl and more meat, fish and fowl.
So, since we, too, are located in proximity to the first northeastern settlers, why not be true to tradition (at least a little bit!), and try for a Thanksgiving feast composed of food grown and/or processed in Connecticut. It can be done pretty easily with just a little effort.
First, consider what produce is seasonally available. The Crop Availability Calendar located on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) web site (go to www.ct.gov/doag and click on “Where to find Connecticut Grown Products”), indicates that in November, apples, carrots, greens, mushrooms, onions, pears, potatoes, turnips and winter squashes (including pumpkin, acorn, butternut, and others) are available. Find these fruits and veggies at a farmer’s market or local farm stand near you. Occasionally you may be able to find local products at your larger grocery store as well, but support your farmer at the source. There are over a hundred farm stores in Connecticut. A listing by county can be found on the DoAg website as well. Farmer’s markets are beginning to wind down for the season, but many remain open until Thanksgiving, selling the very produce listed above. At least 10 on the DoAg listing remain open until November 22, with a handful holding on until late December.
Some might think, “OK, that’s the easy part, what about the turkey?” Just as you can buy local produce, in our state, it is possible to support local producers of turkey and other fowl, shellfish from our waters and, perhaps, if you are a hunter (or, at least good friend with one), add venison to the mix.
Actually, finding locally grown poultry might be easier than you think, though the trick is ordering your bird before they are all spoken for. Demand is greater than supply for that locally produced turkey. Again, go to the Department of Agriculture web site above, click on “Connecticut Grown Products” and head to the Poultry and Eggs section. Here you will find listed by county and identified by product (turkey, chicken, eggs, etc.) a poultry producer near you. Again, it is extremely important to order early. I can tell you this from experience. A few years back I had to drive two hours to Sterling, (almost to Rhode Island) to pick up a turkey that was way bigger than I needed; just to get a “local” bird for my Thanksgiving dinner! Now I order in October and don’t have to drive nearly as far.
If your holiday meat of choice is the venison you (or a friend) were lucky enough to bring home, just a few food safety notes to keep in mind. The Pennsylvania State University has a great resource for handling deer safely, titled, “Proper Care of Venison from Field to Table.” This publication “contains guidelines and helpful hints to help you ensure that the food you’re providing is safe.” Nothing ruins Thanksgiving like a bout of foodborne illness!
We all know that sometimes what makes a holiday meal special is not the main players, but the bit parts: relishes, sauces, condiments and desserts. Use Connecticut eggs in your pies, cream in your whipped cream (beats the spray can any day!), and butter on your mashed potatoes or in your sweet potato brown sugar glaze. Sweeten your desserts (or sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, carrots or acorn squash) with local maple syrup. Add spice with locally sourced pickles, relishes or sauces—a good place to find them is your local farm market. Complete your dinner with a locally produced milk, cider, wine or beer.
Additional lists on the Connecticut Grown site include those for apple growers, honey producers, maple sugar houses, meat producers, organic farms, and vineyards and wineries. Or, contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-877-486-6271 for more information.
How many of us really have the ability to grow all the fresh produce we need for a year? Just having a back-yard vegetable garden can be a luxury. Some of us don’t have the yard, the time or maybe even enough sunshine, to produce enough fruits and vegetables to sustain a family of two, four or more for a few summer months, let alone a whole year. So we are left to make regular trips to the grocery store and ponder one of the great questions in this 21st century life: local, organic or …..whatever?
What’s Behind Your Choices?
The recent outbreak of E. coli sourced to California spinach has further fueled the debate. Conventional growers pointed the finger at the “organic” practices of the spinach grower; smaller, local growers everywhere were assuring customers that their product was “safer”; and consumers just got more confused. Fruits and vegetables can be local and organic; local, not organic, but grown with sustainability in mind; imported and organic; grown in California using IPM practices (Integrated Pest Management), etc.
First of all, it is important for buyers and consumers of produce to understand the words being used to describe fruits and vegetable growing practices these days.
Here is a glossary to help you out:
Of, or relating to the city, town or district rather than a larger area. Choosing locally grown foods can also mean buying fruits and vegetables (and sometimes other foods) that are in season, forgoing the winter peaches or asparagus in your superstore produce section.
A system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organically produced foods also must be produced without the use of antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. Cloning animals or using their products would be considered inconsistent with organic practices.
SustainableMeeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In agriculture, this can mean using natural pest control methods and fewer pesticides, choosing practices that improve soil; and considering environmental health, economic profitability and social responsibility when making practice choices.
While we all debate the virtues of the local Stop and Shop or Shaw’s; or whether it makes sense to drive 20 miles to the nearest Whole Foods store or Trader Joe’s, more Connecticut residents are thinking about how and where the food we buy from these stores is grown and produced. Almost 25% of Americans are now choosing to eat foods produced organically at least some of the time.
The demand is so high that now the “big box” stores have jumped on the organic bandwagon. And this makes some people nervous. They are concerned that this will lead to yet another type of industrial-size farm (this one producing foods organically) that still trucks its product thousands of miles away. The cynics among us also worry that the economic clout of these corporations may lead to a watering down of current organic standards as it gets more difficult to meet the demands for produce defined by the current rules.
Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to find organic produce all of the time. In some parts of the country, including Connecticut, the climate can make organic practices impractical for some crops—especially when growing strawberries or apples in a rainy spring or humid summer. Some farmers can’t afford the time or funds needed to become a “Certified” organic grower, but do strive to do as much as they can. Integrated Pest Management or IPM is used by many Connecticut farmers who choose not to go down the organic road. IPM is defined by the National IPM network as “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health, and environmental risks.” Farmers make their living on the land and are as worried about the health of the environment (and their children) as any one else. Following IPM practices helps them to minimize the use of chemical pesticides.
What about choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables over the organic stuff trucked in from California or Chile? The arguments seem to be getting stronger for buying local. Gas prices and the limits to petroleum resources encourage some to question the wisdom of getting organic grapes from South America in December. My favorite reason to choose local is to support the Connecticut, or at least, the New England or Northeastern farmer. Someone once told me that it wouldn’t be long before all of our milk came in boxes from California or Wisconsin…and we would pick it up from an unrefrigerated aisle in the local supermarket. Yum. I now buy milk produced by Connecticut dairies whenever it is available. I like to see the farms along my trips on I91 through the Connecticut River valley. I like to visit the New Haven farmers’ markets and Hindinger’s farm stand in Hamden. I’ve come to know a lot of local farmers and hope that my business will help to keep them in business for a long time.
Others offer good reasons to choose local as well. Eat Local Challenge suggests the following:
Eating local supports the local economy—more dollars spent here stay here.
Locally grow produce is fresher, giving you more taste and more nutrition for your dollar.
Locally grown produce is usually picked at the peak of ripeness (just think farm fresh peaches versus those in the supermarket).
Buying local keeps us in touch with the seasons. How hard is it really to forego the bland, dry, tough winter strawberries from California? Wait for the farm-fresh crop during June or freeze some to use in the winter months.
Local farmers grow can grow unusual varieties and meet the cultural food needs of the local population as it changes.
Defense of the local food system might be easier as food travels less and is handled by fewer people. A strong local food system also insulates against natural or man-made disasters that may affect an entire industry in industrial-sized growing regions of the country or internationally
Successful farmers stay in business—preserving open space.
As to whether organic or locally produced foods are “safer” or more “healthful” or nutritious is a question that science has not answered definitively. You can probably find research and scientific journal articles to support any side of the argument. Fresh produce does experience losses in nutritional value and quality once it is harvested. So it makes sense to eat it as soon as possible after picking. But whether this is significant to an individual’s nutritional health is unclear.
Some would argue that if we all had to rely on local family farms in this day and age, we would all starve. That may be true. When it comes right down to it—we are lucky to have the opportunity in this country to choose for ourselves if we want to buy local, organic, both or neither.
Photo: Tomatoes at Bishop’s Orchards in Guilford. Credit: Jude Boucher, UConn Extension
After a food-filled holiday season (including, I must confess, raspberries, grown somewhere in South America, in a fruit salad…), it is time that many of us resolve to eat healthier and, perhaps, to attempt to eat more locally grown foods. It sure can be difficult to live with THAT resolution during winter in Connecticut.
Eating seasonally can get a bit tedious over the long hard winter if your supply is limited by either amount or variety. But, many farmers are now extending their growing seasons with greenhouses, high tunnels and other production methods. You may find the fruits of their winter labor at a winter farmers’ market near you. Actually, there are 10 of these markets in the state—one is likely not far from you. Included are the Fairfield and New Canaan Farmers’ Markets in Fairfield County; the Hartford Market at Billings Forge in Hartford County; CitySeed’s indoor farmers’ market in New Haven, Madison farmer’s market and Guilford farmers’ markets in New Haven County; Stonington Winter Farmers’ Market in New London County; Coventry, Ellington, and Storrs Winter Farmers’ Markets in Tolland County; and Stonington farmers’ market in New London County. Check with the local market near you for hours, days and times. Some meet only once or twice a month, others continue to be open weekly.
Keep in mind that shopping at the farmers’ market in the winter is different than in the summer—or than in a super market in the winter. If it is an outdoor market, it WILL be cold—or there may be snow on the ground. Indoors or out, the food choices will be different. You might find beets, carrots, celeriac/celery root, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, salsify, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. If you are not familiar with, let’s say, kohlrabi or rutabaga, type the name into your favorite search engine (or leaf through a good general cookbook) and you will be sure to find a tasty recipe or two.
You might also discover Belgian endive, broccoli, broccoli raab/rapini, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chicories, curly endive (frisée), escarole, kale, or radicchio.
Hearty leafies like escarole, chicories, endive and radicchio make a great base for a winter salad. Because they have stronger flavors than the usual romaine or ice berg, they make a great base for other seasonal foods. Try escarole or arugula with pears and walnuts. Or try making a cole slaw with red cabbage and shredded kale—it is really delicious with dried cranberries or chunks of fresh apple added.
Flavor your winter veggies with leeks, onions and shallots. They can pretty much all be used interchangeably, but there are subtle flavor and pungency differences that may lead the eater to favor one over another. Try them raw, in salads; cooked, in just about any soup, stew, stir fry or casserole; or roasted, alone or mixed with other winter vegetables.
While you’re at it, this might be a good time to splurge a little and buy some locally produced meats, poultry or shellfish. Locally produced animal protein foods may be a bit more expensive, but one taste and you will know that is was worth it. Most farmers’ markets will have these products as well as local artisanal cheeses and other dairy products. Give them a try and you will be hooked.
Finally, while not grown locally, citrus fruits are certainly a “seasonal” food. It makes sense to add them to your grocery list at this time of year-even if you know they won’t be found at your local farmers’ market. First of all they provide vitamin C and other nutrients that might be difficult to find in a limited seasonal diet. Look for those grown in the US, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and California, if that will make you feel better (local can be defined as you see fit, here!). Sliced oranges are great in winter salads made of a mixture of radicchio, escarole and endive. The sweetness of the oranges offsets the bitterness of the greens. Finish with some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. You can also use dried cherries or cranberries in this salad along with some walnuts or pecans.
Sprinkle orange juice over cooked beets or carrots, or use the rind in cranberry bread. Limes and their juice are often used in recipes that are Indian, Central American or Caribbean in origin. A bit of lime juice along with a handful of cilantro will make a black bean soup even better.
The 124-acre 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm is located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. Hartford entrepreneur and retailer Beatrice Auerbach deeded the farm to the CT 4-H Development Fund in 1976. Founded in the early years of the twentieth century, Auerfarm had been honored many times as a model site that included 60 purebred Guernsey cows, 20,000 chicken and 300 apple trees. Today, the Auerbach legacy to the 4-H Education Center is expressed through the variety of 4-H education programs offered to families and children in the areas of gardening, agriculture and environmental science. Over 15,000 students and family members participate in year round 4-H curriculum based school science programs, animal clubs, and Junior Master Gardening activities.
Visitors are invited to walk the property, go to the animal barn, the blueberry and raspberry beds and tour the newly established herb beds and the organic Master Gardener/Foodshare garden located on the hill above the animal barn. The children’s herb garden, “Thyme in Auer Garden,” developed in 2012, provides a new area of horticultural discovery as butterflies, birds and flowers present themselves in a symmetrical raised bed. Children readily access and experience the colors, smell, and taste of the New England hardy perennials while they learn that plants provide medicine, flavorings, aroma and seed for wildlife. With funding from a generous friend of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm and the hard work of Master Gardeners and volunteers, the herb garden has become a place to pause and reflect on the beautiful surrounding landscape.
The Master Gardener/Foodshare garden is a quarter acre vegetable garden used by Master Gardeners and 4-Hers as a demonstration site for learning the basics of environmentally responsible vegetable and flower production. Students study growing conditions through understanding soil, water, insect, and disease management. The garden offers multiple opportunities helping in the seasonal progression of growing plants as well as observation of wildlife, especially birds. Approximately 300 volunteers come out to help the Master Gardeners on the weekends. Enjoying the farmland setting and giving back to the community provides a meaningful reward for the volunteers. They do seeding, weeding and harvesting of approximately 3600 pounds of fresh produce for distribution to the community kitchens in and around Hartford.
UConn Extension has been adding new programs in Sustainable Food Systems over the past couple of years. Extension Educator Jiff Martin is helping to coordinate a team of talented individuals as they build these programs. “I am more of a generalist than a specialist, so for me teamwork is pretty essential to getting things done,” Jiff says. She points out that food issues can bring a variety of people together naturally – much like cooking together and eating together. She also notes, “There are enormous challenges ahead if we really want to see a sustainable food system that meets our needs for fresh, healthy, affordable food today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations from doing the same. That’s why I believe most of the work around sustainable food systems nationally tends to depend on regional collaborations and coalitions.”
The Scaling Up Program for Beginning Farmers, funded by USDA, is a three-year outreach and training program for new and beginner farmers in Connecticut. “In the whole farm planning activity of this program, an extension educator team will work intensively with at least 10 beginning farmers over three years, helping them navigate multiple challenges as they scale up their farm enterprises into full-time viable and growing operations,” Jiff begins. Areas of education for the whole farm planning participants include: business management, IPM, crop planning, labor management, equipment use, conservation, land access and tenure. “We will also develop a set of new training tools and curriculum to help beginner farmers acquire Farm Management skills in the core areas of production planning, infrastructure decisions, and non-production management. Extension educators in the Scaling Up Program include: Jude Boucher, Leanne Pundt, Joe Bonelli and Mary Concklin. The team also hired Eero Ruuttila to serve as the Sustainable Agriculture specialist and Kip Kolesinskas as the Land Conservation specialist. An advisory team of farmers and agricultural professionals are also working with the team, as well as partner organizations: CT NOFA, New CTFarmers Alliance, CAES and Land for Good.
FoodCorps CT is a service program for college graduates focused on improving school food environments via school gardens, nutrition education, and farm to school. Five FoodCorps service members are working in the following school districts: Bridgeport, New Haven, Windham, New Britain and Norwich. The FoodCorps fellow, Dana Stevens is based out of the Tolland County Extension Center. “FoodCorps service members are incredibly motivated and effective, and it’s inspiring to see what this ‘boots on the ground’ program can do to excite children about healthy, fresh food,” Jiff says. “The service members, partner organizations and advisory team are another group of experienced and talented people who together are making FoodCorps CT into a model program. “ Extension and UConn team members include: Maryann Fusco-Rollins, Erica Benvenuti, Heather Pease, Heather Peracchio, Tina Dugdale and Linda Drake.
The BuyCTGrown project is building the #1 online hub for our community of consumers who are ready to discover and experience local Connecticut agriculture. UConn Extension is partnering with CitySeed, a non-profit in New Haven, as we plan to redesign the website, www.BuyCTGrown.com and launch the 10% campaign in 2013. “The 10% Campaign is a great concept modeled on a project from North Carolina. It engages consumers and others that are already excited about local agriculture and tracks the economic impact that occurs when consumers, chefs, food service directors and produce buyers make a commitment to buying 10% local.” My vision is that other extension educators will want to join the 10% Campaign as local campaign coordinators, in the same manner that North Carolina Extension has mobilized over 100 coordinators. UConn Extension team members Ben Campbell and Nancy Barrett have been working with Jiff, as well as CT Dept. of Agriculture, CT Farm Bureau, and CT NOFA on laying the groundwork for the 10% Campaign.
Tapping into the local food movement and a growing interest in ‘collective impact’ strategies, on December 4th, over 80 individuals gathered at the Middlesex County Extension Center to launch the Connecticut Food System Alliance. Jiff and a planning team of 8 partner organizations worked over several months with a facilitator to lay the groundwork for this statewide network of food system leaders, practitioners, and stakeholders. A new listserv was also launched in tandem: CT_Food_System_Leader-L. “The timing is right for this sort of network and there is real pent-up opportunity for more collaboration, alignment, and joint action,” Jiff states. Extension team members that have participated so far include Mike O’Neill, Bonnie Burr, Diane Hirsch, Joe Bonelli, and Linda Drake.
One experience at a time, children in Connecticut are learning where their food comes from, how to grow their own, and how to prepare local fresh produce to nourish themselves.
Beginning last August, FoodCorps service members have been placed in five communities across the state for a year of service. Their efforts focus on connecting with parents, school administrators, teachers, food service staff, and community members, to create healthier food environments for children.
FoodCorps is a new national service program in its second year, it is similar to Teach for America or Peace Corps. The program works with state organizations to host young leaders, known as service members, in low-resource communities to help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Through hands-on nutrition education, garden program building and support, and farm-to-school procurement assistance for cafeterias, the goal is to change the food systems children are a part of, from the individual to the institutional level.
The five service members are in: Norwich, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Windham. They have been developing new programs, like the Food Day event at Barnum Elementary in Bridgeport. Service members are also expanding the reach of existing programming, they coordinated “Fuel Up to Play 60” trainings in Norwich, Windham, and Bridgeport schools. FoodCorps is also acting as an extra pair of boots on the ground for service site organization initiatives, for instance helping Common Ground develop the School Garden Resource Center in New Haven and Bridgeport.
Individuals come to this year of service with a wealth of experience, inspiration, and a desire to contribute something positive to the world. As Liz, the service member in Norwich explains, “I now know that there are people struggling every day to put food on my table, sometimes at the expense of putting food on their own. I know that there is an epidemic of obesity in America, posing serious health risks to children. I have learned that food has the power to bring people together, but also to tear communities apart. I want to be a part of the food movement that encourages healthy food environments, healthy kids, and healthy communities, even if that requires a lot of time, hard work, and personal change”
The FoodCorps program is run out of the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon by Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator. FoodCorps co-captains are: Dawn Crayco, Deputy Director of End Hunger CT!; Christiana Jones of Jones Family Farm, and Dana Stevens, Connecticut FoodCorps Fellow. The FoodCorps Connecticut program hopes to expand to additional sites across the state in 2014.
If you would like more information about the program, you can like “FoodCorps Connecticut” on facebook, or email Jiff at email@example.com, or Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those interested in becoming a FoodCorps Service Member, applications for next year can be submitted from January 15th through March 24th. Please visit www.foodcorps.org for more information.