UConn Extension

4-H Alums Shine as UConn Students

Hannah Kalichman and Lauren Marshall
Hannah (left) and Lauren (right) at UConn during the spring 2019 semester. Photo: Kevin Noonan

Lauren Marshall (’18 ENGR, ’19 ENGR MS) and Hannah Kalichman (’15 CLAS and ’20 LAW) are poised to graduate from UConn and have an impact on our community when they enter the workforce in their respective fields. Both are alumni of the UConn 4-H program, and we recently sat down with them to learn how 4-H shaped who they are today.

Lauren joined the Cock-A-Doodle-Moo 4-H Club in Tolland County at age seven. Over the years of her involvement, she showed goats, sheep, horses, and rabbits before joining the Hebron 4-H Horse club to focus on her equine project.

Hannah moved to Connecticut with her family the summer before fourth grade, and soon found herself as a member of the Cock-A-Doodle-Moo 4-H Club, where she met Lauren, and they became close friends. Hannah started with a miniature horse, progressed to goats, and also showed dairy cattle for several years. “I got involved with each species,” Hannah says, “and then met more people and my involvement grew. I couldn’t have done it without the 4-H club.”

Both participated in 4-H Horse Camp, competed in public speaking, and in the horse judging, hippology, and horse bowl academic contests. “All of the learning it took to be an involved 4-H member was challenging,” Lauren says. “It was learning how to study and overcoming a fear of public speaking at 8 or 9 years old.” Both note that there are lifelong rewards for overcoming challenges and facing fears.

“Taking the time to learn about horse health care, diseases, symptoms, and training was important,” Lauren says. “I rescued a Haflinger mare, and bring- ing her back to health and ride-ability needed to be a slow process. When she was healthy again, and had a new lease on life, I finally got to ride her, and that was really rewarding.

“The record keeping was the hardest challenge for me,” Hannah says. “It taught me not to procrastinate, and now I never put anything off. Collectively, all of the behind the scenes efforts at the 4-H fairs and horse shows is one of my favorite memories. A lot of time, hard work, and effort goes into getting an animal into the show ring, and I always loved that part of 4-H.”

The experiences in 4-H have helped shape the successful UConn careers of both Lauren and Hannah. Hannah graduates from the UConn Law School in 2020, and wants to clerk for a judge before focusing on one area of the law. She enjoys litigation and being in court, so may pursue that path.

Lauren graduates with her masters in May 2019, and will return to the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island where she interned in the summer of 2018, to begin her full-time position. Lauren also begins her PhD program in mechanical engineering on a part-time basis in the fall of 2019.

“All of my 4-H experiences impacted my course work at UConn,” Lauren says. “Public speaking, studying, working
in groups – all of these are required in
college, and I learned them in 4-H. I was a teaching assistant and member of the Engineering Ambassadors club, and public speaking was essential for both, it was a natural progression for me from public speaking in 4-H to public speaking in my roles at UConn.”

“100% of my work ethic is from 4-H, it totally translates into what we’re doing now,” Hannah says. “My January 2019 argument in the Appellate Court in Hartford felt just like giving a set of oral reasons in a judging contest. We competed in 4-H public speaking for so long, and got very comfortable with it.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

Conservation Planning

aerial view of Connecticut River and agricultural fieldsExcess fertilizer use and inefficient nutrient management strategies often are causes of water quality impairment in the United States. When excess nitrogen enters large water bodies it enhances algae growth and when that algae decomposes, hypoxic conditions—often called a “dead zone” occur.

Nutrients carried to the Long Island Sound have been linked to the seasonal hypoxic conditions in the Sound. There are many different sources of nutrients within the Long Island Sound Watershed, an area encompassing parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These sources include municipalities, industry, agriculture, forests, residential lawns and septic systems.

The Long Island Sound Watershed Regional Conservation Partnership Program (LISW-RCPP) is a technical and financial assistance program that enables agricultural producers and forest landowners to install and maintain conservation practices. The goal of this program is to enhance natural resources and improve water quality. Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the LISW-RCPP supports efforts that find common ground among agricultural producers and conservation organizations in working towards the sustainable use of soil, water, and other natural resources.

Conservation practices can achieve multiple positive environmental outcomes, including water quality improvement. A widemap imagery for conservation planning for farms variety of practices exist including in-field (cover crops, reduced tillage, diversified rotation and nutrient management), and edge-of-field strategies (grassed water ways, buffer strips, riparian area, bioreactors and wetlands). These changes, in turn improves nitrogen retention during vulnerable leaching periods in the spring and fall. Conservation strategies also function to safeguard other ecosystem roles, such as carbon sequestration, animal refuge habitat, fisheries and recreation.

Prioritizing areas for nutrient management strategies requires an understanding of the spatial relationships between land use and impaired surface waterbodies. Our project utilizes a geographic information systems (GIS) based approach to under- stand and act upon these important spatial relationships. In part, we are identifying contemporary and historical hotspots of agricultural land use by using satellite- derived land use land cover (LULC) classifications initially developed by
the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR). Spatial analyses depicting the proximity of agriculture to highly valued water resources (both surface and ground- water) serves as the foundational work that informs where efforts to protect and restore water quality will be most impactful to the greater Long Island Sound Watershed.

Our future work will pair spatial maps with modeled contemporary and historical nutrient loading patterns to expand regions of interest. Our goal is to provide education and tools that help farmers realize the benefits of sustainable agriculture with individual conservation plans tailored to their specific needs and objectives. Connecticut’s environment of diverse crops and farms offers unique opportunities and challenges. UConn Extension is offering soil tests and interpretations to assess each farm’s nutrient needs. We look forward to co-creating knowledge with farmers and developing soil health solutions for long-term production goals and resilient farms.

Article by Katherine Van Der Woude and Kevin Jackson

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns

UConn Extension Gives Back

UConn Extension has a long history of delivering high-quality educational experiences to the citizens of Connecticut. These programs enhance the wellbeing of families, communities, and businesses across the state. Extension faculty and staff plan and implement programs, and feel a deep sense of pride and commitment to extending knowledge, and very often, changing lives in the process.

Many Extension employees and retirees feel strongly about the need to give back to the organization that gave them their livelihood. Two of UConn Extension’s generous donors, one a current employee and the other retired, explain why they give back, and what it means to see their contributions enhance the lives of others.

Nancy Bull
Nancy Bull

Nancy Bull, Extension Professor

“Why give? Giving was part of my growing up as I watched my parents involved with my dad’s students and my mom’s social organizations. When I started in Extension, I saw how much 4-H volunteers gave of their time and talents, and how unselfish they were. While we did not always agree on how to do something, or why we should do so, had it not been for the volunteers involved in the 4-H and county fair programs, there would have not been the opportunity for so many youth to learn and grow.

It is the give and take between and among our engaged volunteers that is humbling for me. Giving of time is not always possible, and so at times I have chosen to give money. I have seen what our Connecticut volunteers can do with donated funds given by others, and what a difference those funds can make.

Over the decades of being involved with 4-H I have watched volunteers who had very little in material goods, give
of their time over and over again, even when their opinions were not always in line with mine. As we watch youth grow and evolve, I can see the next generation of volunteers emerging. Hopefully a few dollars here or there will make their roles and responsibilities a little easier, and the load a little lighter.”

Carole Eller, Retired Extension Educator

“I began working for Cooperative Extension with the 4-H Youth Development Program when I was in college. For two summers I was the water- front Director at Nassau County 4-H Camp. It was there I learned that women didn’t need to be Home Economists to be educators. My first job was in Niagara County, NY. Here, I was able to do wonderful things for low-income girls. I got people to donate money that allowed girls in the summer program to be taken to dinner at an up-scale restaurant, a first experience, and high school students to attend a concert and summer stock performance. I could see the importance of private donations to the lives of 4-Hers.

I was non-traditional in many ways. 4-H was not all cows and cooking. I worked in New Jersey, and then came to Connecticut in the mid 1970’s. First, working in Windham County and then Tolland. At about this time, Elsie Trabue, a former secretary in the state office died and left a trust fund with the university for 4-H. This money had few, if any strings attached, and it provided funds for rich experiences for kids. She set an example for me. I want all children to have the experiences of a 4-H program, not necessarily in a specific project area, but citizenship, leadership, science and technology. I hope that my contributions help future Extension Educators have the resources to keep reaching out and expanding kids horizons, making the world exciting in positive ways.”

As we look to the future of Extension and the ability to provide innovative programming that impacts families and communities across the state, support is needed more than ever.

To make a donation, visit the UConn Extension Online Giving Page at s.uconn.edu/extension

Article by Nancy Wilhelm

Basic Food Safety Practices at Home

making sauerkraut
Photo: Diane Wright Hirsch

What made you sick? Is it food you cooked at home?

While we continue to blame farmers, processors, food- service and restaurants for making the food that makes us sick, the fact is that home cooks are quite likely to handle food in a way that results in a foodborne illness. The safety of our food supply is the responsibility of all who grow, process, sell, prepare and eat food.

The “rules” for safe food handling can seem overwhelming. However, if you take these five small steps, you can have a big impact on the safety of your food at home. Save these on your fridge for a few days and see if you can make these habits part of your everyday food prep routine.

  1. Keep your kitchen, utensils, and hands clean.
  2. Handle raw and cooked foods with care.
  3. Use a food thermometer.
  4. Use a refrigerator thermometer.
  5. Get leftovers into the refrigerator ASAP after eating.

More detail on each of these food safety tips is in the full article at http://s.uconn.edu/fsathome.

Teacher Professional Learning: Professional Development Workshop

teachers during a workshopUConn Extension is leading a project that provides high school science teachers from across the state with a head start on a new way of teaching. Over the past two summers, 48 teachers from 38 school districts attended the 3-day Teacher Professional Learning (TPL) workshop, Land and Water.

The training, funded by a USDA/NIFA grant, was developed and is taught by Extension faculty from the Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) and partners from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and the Neag School of Education. This formidable partnership conducts three inter-related STEM projects collectively known as the Natural Resources Conservation Academy.

Connecticut is one of 19 states to date that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), an ambitious new way of teaching science that was developed by  a consortium of states and nonprofit science organizations including the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Research Council. Connecticut school districts are still in the very early stages of adopting NGSS method- ologies, and many teachers are eager for educational units and techniques that fit NGSS standards.

The main focus of the UConn workshop is the relationship of land use to water resource health, and the use of online mapping and other geospatial tools to help explore these relationships—particular strengths of the CLEAR team. The UConn campus and surrounding area provide an ideal outdoor laboratory to explore these concepts. Attendees sample three streams within about a mile of campus, all with very different characteristics based on the predominant land use of their respective watersheds—agriculture, urban, and forest. They then come back to the classroom, study their results, and compare notes to get a sense of the importance of land use in determining the health of a water body. Also used in the instruction is the campus itself, which has become a showcase of low impact development (LID) practices designed to reduce the impact of stormwater runoff on local streams. After learning about LID and touring the green roofs, rain gardens, and pervious pavements across campus, the participants visit a nearby campus build- ing and devise their own plan for LID installation. The workshop also introduces them to online mapping and watershed analysis tools that enable them to focus in on their own town, watershed or even high school campus, thus using their community waterways as a teaching tool.

Teachers leave the training with a wide variety of resources to help them in the classroom, not the least of which is their personal experience working through these topics with the Extension instructional team. In addition, the Neag members of the team have developed a 25-unit lesson plan that follows the educational progression of the workshop; teachers are encouraged to adapt all or part of the lesson plan for their use. Of the latest (summer 2018) class of 25 teachers, 100% said that the training was relevant to their classroom instruction, that the training was time well-invested, and that they would recommend the training to other teachers. Research is ongoing on how many teachers implemented all or part of the curriculum, and how it played out with their students. Although the project plan was for two workshops, they have been so well received that the team is holding a third TPL training in the summer of 2019 and is looking for resources that would enable them to continue this program for the foreseeable future.

Article by Chet Arnold

Natural Pesticide Issues

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel

As the gardening season gets underway, lots of homemade weed-killer “recipes” are cropping up on social media, usually containing some combination of vinegar, Epsom salts, and Dawn dishwashing soap. These are often accompanied by a comment such as “no need for pesticides or herbicides!” It may feel good to use familiar household items to control pests and weeds in your garden, but it’s important to understand the science behind such mixes – and the potential risks.

First and foremost, these mixtures ARE pesticides or herbicides. They are intended to kill a pest, in this case weeds.

Now, let’s look at the science:

Vinegar is an acid. At the right concentration, it damages by burning any part of a plant it comes in contact with. If the plant is in the ground, it does NOT get the root; many plants will grow back. It is non-selective, meaning it will damage any plant it touches, including desired ones. Household vinegar is 5% acetic acid; to be effective on anything other than tiny seedlings the concentration needs to be at least 10%. Horticultural-grade vinegar is 20% and can carry a “Danger – caustic” signal word, which is stronger than many other herbicides on the market.

Salts work by desiccating plants – again, all parts of the plant it touches. Salts, however, build up in the soil and can harm desired plants nearby. Since most homemade recipes need repeated application to be effective, the salts will build up. Epsom salts are touted because they contain magnesium instead of sodium, but too much magnesium will interfere with phosphorus uptake.

Dawn detergent is not a naturally-occurring substance. It, like any soap, is used as a sticker agent, helping the other materials stay on the plant longer. Like many detergents, it contains methylisothiazolinone, which has acute aquatic toxicity and 1,4-dioxane, which is a known groundwater contaminant with carcinogenic properties.

These may be do-it-yourself recipes, but they definitely are not natural.

An additional issue with home recipes is the variability of the mix. Many don’t even have specific measurements. Also, because home remedies are often perceived as “safer”, a person may choose to increase the concentrations, changing the potential environmental risk.

Many of these recipes do indeed kill – or at least reduce – weeds and unwanted vegetation. But they also have collateral impacts, some of which may be significant.

The garden center shelves have changed in the last several years. There are now many naturally-derived pesticides on the market, which have been tested for effectiveness, are labelled as to their environmental impact and deliver a consistent product every time. They generally are safer to use and pose less environmental risk than many of the older synthetic materials – the same goal of homemade mixes. Look for products that are OMRI certified. The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides an independent review of products, such as fertilizers and pest controls that are intended for use in organic production.

For more information, please contact the UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Find the location nearest you at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ or email Sarah.Bailey@uconn.edu.

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Living Shoreline Planted in Stonington

group working on living shoreline students planting in Stonington group from living shoreline living shoreline planting

 

The tidal marsh migration buffer at Dodge Paddock Beal Preserve in Stonington was planted on Friday May 3, 2019. With a stalwart group of dedicated volunteers, over 100 native plants were put in. This area borders a coastal wetland and the plants need to be able to withstand occasional salt spray as well as possible inundation during extreme storm events. This part of the preserve, owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy, was formally a cultivated garden. Garden plants were removed and the area was covered in black plastic last summer to kill any remaining roots and seeds. The area was seeded with native grasses in the fall of 2018 with a planned spring planting. As sea level rises, areas within the preserve are getting wetter and wetter, so native plants were carefully chosen to withstand wetland migration.

By Juliana Barrett

Welcome Abby Beissinger to UConn Extension!

Abby BeissingerUConn Extension and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture are proud to announce our newest team member, Abby Beissinger. Abby has accepted the position of Plant Diagnostician in the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. Her first official day was May 28, 2019.

Abby attended the University of Wisconsin and received a B.A. in Anthropology in 2011. During her undergraduate studies, she focused on agriculture and sustainable development, and implemented development projects in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uganda. Abby spent two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching urban agriculture and gardening to youth in Massachusetts, and a summer with the Student Conservation Association leading trail crews in Chicago. From her work, she realized she was drawn to plant pathology and how plant diseases impact human livelihoods.

In 2016, Abby graduated from Washington State University with a M.S. in Plant Pathology. Her research focused on how management decisions of Potato virus Y impact the epidemiology and etiology of the virus. She then relocated to University of Connecticut to run the Conservation Ambassador Program in the Department of Natural Resources & the Environment. She fostered a statewide volunteer network of 90+ community partners including schools, non-profits, and government agencies to mentor high school students conducting long-term conservation projects. She enjoyed helping students make an environmental impact, and was drawn back to plant pathology to support growers and agricultural networks.

Abby is an example of the winding path people take to discover plant pathology, and is excited to serve as UConn’s Plant Diagnostician. In her spare time, Abby can be found in her garden growing food and flowers, painting, dancing, or exploring cities and their greens spaces.

Please join us in welcoming Abby to UConn Extension! Please visit our website for more information on the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

Authors: Karen Snover-Clift and Abby Beissinger