UConn Extension

Urban Agriculture Extension Program

farmers market
Urban agriculture students at the Danbury Farmers Market.

German Cutz is our Extension Educator for Sustainable Families and Communities. Here is a quick snapshot of a few of his programs for this fall:

  • Nine out of 11 participants completed the year-round urban agriculture training in Bethel. They graduation ceremony is being planned for January 16th, 2018.
  • Bethel urban agriculture program is currently recruiting new participants for the 2017-2018 course. There are six participants for the new round.
  • Bridgeport urban agriculture program started on November 16th. Green Village Initiative (GVI) is collaborating with UConn Extension providing classroom and garden space. Thus far, 15 people are enrolled in the program.
  • Knox Farms in Hartford has agreed to start the urban agriculture program in spring 2018. No date confirmed yet.

New Year Resolution: Take the 40-Gallon Challenge

What are you going to do differently in 2018? How about conserving water with UConn Extension.

dripping tapUConn Extension is inviting all Connecticut residents to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. The challenge began in 2011 as a campaign funded by the Southern Region Water Program and coordinated by the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Southern Region Drinking Water and Rural-Urban Interface Education Program Team.

As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additional indoor and outdoor water savings activities. The top three most pledged commitments are: reducing irrigation station runtimes by 2 minutes, using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and fixing a leaky toilet. There are many other commitments to choose from and each has a daily gallon savings equivalency. Some of the most impactful actions include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participants are encouraged to commit to actions adding up to 40 gallons or more of daily savings.40 gallon challenge logo

This year, UConn Extension is on a mission to spread the word about the challenge and increase Connecticut’s participation. To date, the number of pledges in Connecticut is 25, compared to around 2,000 in Georgia and 4,000 in Texas, states where this program is rooted. We want to increase that number many times over, and demonstrate our commitment to preserving this critical and limited natural resource.

Participation is open to residents of all states and counties. Farmers, gardeners, business owners, homeowners, school children, and all others interested are encouraged to participate and begin the conversation in their communities about why water conservation matters.

To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/ and fill out a pledge card. To learn more about what UConn Extension is doing about water quality and quantity issues in our state and region, visit http://water.extension.uconn.edu.

Setting a Course for Active Learning

Setting a Course for Active Learning: An Interview with Senator Beth Bye

By Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, State 4-H Office 

youth at Auerfarm meeting a rabbitElizabeth “Beth” Bye is the Executive Director of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. She has worked in early childhood education for over 30 years. She is also a member of the Connecticut Senate representing the 5th district which includes Bloomfield, Burlington, Farmington and West Hart-ford. Beth has spent her career working to assure all children have access to high quality learning opportunities. I sat down with her recently to get her thoughts on the benefits of early childhood education.

Her background in early childhood development and education began with a BA and MA in Child Development from the University of New Hampshire. Beth states that she was interested in the research on the impact of infant daycare on child development and in helping children to develop internal controls. She adds that “you can al-ways impact children, but it’s great to set their course early in life.” When asked what the research says about how we educate our youngest children she responds, “the research tells us that young children learn actively. They need to interface with a variety of materials, and explore, move and go outside. They also need to interact with other children and teachers. Their brains are qualitatively different and so they take in information differently than adults.” Beth also states that “play is the work of children”. It is universal, like walking and talking and is essentially how children make sense of their experience. Developing an attitude toward learning that is enthusiastic and flexible is also important and early childhood education programs can help to set the stage for children to be eager and excited about learning through play and active learning.

Environment also plays a key role in creating an effective early child-hood education program. The environment needs to be conducive to learning with 4-H clover youth member in garden projectinteresting materials and activities. Safety is a key factor as well. There is more fear among parents now regarding their child’s safety and so the question arises, how much freedom to allow children to explore and develop. Responsive care is critical to a safe learning environment. Building self-regulation is also important so that children can be part of a com-munity early on, learning how to work as a team, and care about others.

Beth credits the 4-H program with helping youth to create their own inquiry experiences with 4-H pro-jects and activities as well as teaching independence, enthusiasm for learning and contribution to com-munity. 4-H members learn these skills early on and it tends to stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Beth’s connection with Auerfarm began as a consultant for the Bloomfield Public Schools. Over 13,000 youth visit Auerfarm each year to learn about agriculture and the environment.

Auerfarm offers a variety of seasonal, school and summer enrichment programs that provide a wonderful setting for active sensory learning. Children take a hayride around the 120-acre property exploring the gardens, orchards and fields and also get to sample apple cider and maple syrup during seasonal programs. Auerfarm also has an ongoing relationship with the Wintonbury Early Childhood Mag-net School which visits the farm for several weeks during the year. What better backdrop for active learning than a 120-acre farm with animals, gardens, and orchards.

Celebrating Retirement

Fairfield County Extension educators and retirees

On Friday, December 8th the Fairfield County Extension team and past Extension staff had a luncheon at the Red Rooster restaurant in Newtown. Past Extension Educator, Joseph J. Maisano, Jr. and his wife Betty Maisano attended. Joe worked as a Horticulture expert and Extension Educator for Fairfield County for 30 years. He shared with us that he worked in Extension for 30 years and that this year marks his 30th year of retirement. He continues to be an avid gardener and volunteers on the board for the community garden in his retirement community.

Cook Before Eating

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH, Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

eggs
Photo: Iowa Extension

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving dinner through New Year’s celebrations, people who rarely spend time in the kitchen may be more likely to pick up a cookbook and make some cookies. Or, they may be stuffing their first turkey for Christmas day family dinner. Or possibly trying out a new appetizer for the office party—maybe even ceviche. (For those how may be unfamiliar with the term, “ceviche” it commonly refers to a shrimp or fish dish where citric acid, typically in the form of lemon juice or lime juice, is used to marinate raw fish or shrimp, often giving the appearance that the fish has been cooked.) Ceviche looks opaque and firm. But it is not cooked. The bacteria or viruses that may have been in the raw product have not been cooked away. They are still there. I have seen recipes for “faux ceviche,” that include cooking the shrimp or fish, but traditionally, it is not a cooked product. Consequently, it is risky. Ask your host or hostess if you are not sure of what they are serving.

Here is some guidance regarding foods or ingredients you may consider eating raw, whether you are a new cook or a seasoned cook who has always “done it this way” and “NEVER made anyone sick.” Keep in mind that your family may include very young children, the elderly or a chronically ill family member who may be at greater risk for the more severe consequences of a foodborne illness. So while you, a healthy adult, may be comfortable throwing caution to the winds and eating raw fish, uncooked cookie dough or even a taste of raw stuffing, the higher risk members of your family/friends circle really should not do this.

Be careful with raw eggs.

Raw eggs contain Salmonella. Not every egg. But no use betting on it. If you are choosing a recipe, such as eggnog, which calls for uncooked eggs, there is a safer alternative. Even if everyone is a healthy adult (and do you really know if they are all “healthy”?), it might be best to use a pasteurized egg product. They are often sold by the carton in the refrigerated egg or milk case. Otherwise, you might want to use a recipe for eggnog that preheats the egg to 160 degrees F to ensure that eggs are cooked sufficiently. Here is one from FoodSafety.gov: https://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/eggnog.html. Unfortunately, contrary to some popular cooking shows and magazines, adding alcohol to eggnog does not kill the Salmonella.

Watch out for raw doughs and batters.

We have all heard the warnings to avoid eating raw cookie dough—even though we may have all done it at one time with no apparent ill effects. Raw cookie dough or raw batters containing eggs share the same risk as raw eggnog. This would also be true of raw cookie dough that you might add to homemade ice cream. Commercial makers of cookie ice cream and other foods will use pasteurized eggs in their products.

There is another potential risk to eating raw batters and doughs that you may not even be aware of.  It is the flour.  Yes, the flour.  Flour is considered a raw agricultural product. It has not been treated to kill potential foodborne pathogens (microbes that cause illness). Since 2008, there have been five foodborne disease outbreaks tied to flour, two in Canada, one in New Zealand, and two in the US. So, even if a dough contains no eggs (pastry dough, for example), it is best not to eat it raw.

Think twice before serving raw meat, fish, or shellfish.

Honestly, I like a raw clam now and then. Some of my food safety colleagues look on aghast while others join in. Maybe you prefer raw oysters or sashimi. However, I do this knowing the risks I am taking. I do it rarely and only when I think the purveyor has been meticulous—and I still know there is a risk! Lots of folks do not know or understand the risks. Bacteria, such as Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio vulnificous and parasites that include tapeworm and Anisakid nematodes may be associated with raw fish and shellfish. Again, if you are healthy, and visit restaurant or seafood retailers who are very careful, your risk may be less than that of an immune compromised adult or young child. However, the risk is never zero. So, during the holidays, choose a faux “ceviche” recipe that involves marinating cooked shrimp or fish. Serve oyster stew or clams casino that have been checked with a food thermometer.

If your holiday recipes include some of these risky ingredients, keep in mind that you can spread the pathogens that cause foodborne illness during the preparation steps. When you are cranking out trays and trays of cookies or appetizers, you need to practice the basic sanitation skills that will keep your food safe. Always use clean hands when handling any raw food and wash them again after handling that food. Use clean surfaces, cutting boards, knives, mixing spoons or other utensils: then wash them thoroughly in hot, soapy water before using them to prepare other foods. If that flour you used to dust the pie shell gets spread around or the raw egg drips onto the counter where you are decorating sugar cookies, it could end up in your salad or on your kid’s hands (which at some point will end up in their mouth).

Check the clock as you are baking and try not to leave doughs (or other raw ingredients, for that matter) out for more than four hours at a time. This allows the pathogens to multiply, increasing the risk for cross-contamination.

Finally, every cook is told to taste their dishes before presenting them to the guests. It’s one of the first questions asked of competing chefs on the cooking shows: “Did you even taste this?”  But, please, do not taste until the risky ingredients are cooked through. I will never forget a Christmas Eve in my childhood when Mom had made the stuffing, containing raw sausage and eggs, the day before. She always liked to taste the raw stuffing. (Right!) She spent Christmas day in bed….and the bathroom.

For more information about safe food preparation during the holidays, visit our website at www.foodsafety.uconn.edu, or foodsafety.gov, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

CT 4-H Explorers Program for 5 & 6 Year Olds

By Pamela Gray, New London County 4-H Program Coordinator 

In response to requests from leaders and parents for the UConn 4-H program to incorporate Cloverbud-age youth, we ran a pilot program in 2017 for 5-6 year olds. With pilot year success, it is now an official addition starting 2018!

4-H Explorers is an age appropriate 4-H experience for five and six year-olds (plus seven year-olds/special needs youth who find this setting more suitable than a 7-19 age club). Explorers Club members do not have pro-jects or competitions. Instead, they explore all the different activities and experiences 4-H has to offer, and participate in events and meetings through activity-based, cooperative learning and positive encouragement.

The focus of activity-based learning and feedback is to pro-mote the 4-H’ers’ confidence in meeting new 4-H explorer members working in barn carrying haychallenges. Re-search on these age levels indicate the best way to build confidence is to provide many opportunities through activities that emphasize success, however small. The CT Explorers use The Big Book of 4-H Cloverbud Activities (Ohio State University) and Clover Adventures: A Leader’s Resource Guide (University of Maryland Extension) curriculum. The activities in these books are specifically designed to meet the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional needs of this age group, while being framed in the 4-H experiential learning model. Busy, messy, and hands-on are the motto for Explorers Clubs! Each club receives the curriculum from their 4-H office when Leaders are trained and the club is enrolled.

The CT 4-H Explorers at the Fair outlines how Explorers can participate meaningfully at the county 4-H fairs while not engaging competitively, and the CT 4-H Explorers Activity Summary provides a way for kids and/or clubs to reflect on their activities and successes. What were Ivan’s favorite activities this year? “Making pasta salad for Food Show,” and learning to hold a rabbit.

4-H explorers showing goats at county 4-H fairExplorers from clubs in New London, Middlesex, Litchfield, and Fairfield counties participated in Giddy-up Games, Food Shows, Public Speaking, and Skill-a-thon. In their club meetings they visited farms, learned how maple syrup is made, learned about birds, played in some dirt (planting seeds), cooked, made dioramas, posters, and collages, and much more hands-on learning.

One 4-H Explorer Leader observed “some things that attract new-to-4-H families are: no cost to join, no dues, and no uniforms to buy. The curriculum is varied, flexible, and parents stay for meetings and get involved.”

Heading into the 2018 4-H year, we have 16 Explorers Clubs across the state and 74 kids. If you would like to learn more about CT 4-H Explorers or how to start a club, click here for the handbook or contact your county 4-H office.

Nutrition Education Outreach in Fairfield County

Nutrition Education Outreach November 2017
Submitted by Heather Peracchio
EFNEP graduates at Morris Street School in Danbury
 
SNAP-Ed programs:
Nutrition outreach at the Danbury mobile pantry reached 265 families on November 8th and the mobile pantry in Bethel on November 29th reached 183 families. 
 
EFNEP:
The Soccer and Nutrition program reached 22 children and adults on Friday November 3.  Adults and children participated in the program which follows the Cornell University Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula.  There was a hands-on demonstration of a stir-fry recipe where parents and children participated in cooking and everyone taste tested.  The classes have been scheduled and advertised to parents for the first Friday of the month each month through October 2018.
The EFNEP adult program at Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff began on October 16, 2017 with 24 new moms enrolled. In November, participants attended class on November 6 and November 13th, with their graduation ceremony on Monday November 27th. Below is a photo of the graduation ceremony, 16 EFNEP participants completed the program Monday evening with 6 more anticipated to graduate in December.

Laura Irwin: 4-H Alumni Spotlight

Laura Irwin showing a Hereford beef animal at a fair
Laura Irwin

It was never a question of if Laura Irwin of Hartland would join 4-H, but rather, when she would become a 4-H member. “My mom always wanted to be a 4-H member, and never had the opportunity,” Laura recalls. “So, she made sure her children did. I joined when I was 7-years old, and I’m still a volunteer and junior advisor for the Hartford County 4-H Fair Board.

Laura was a member of the Granby 4-H Club, and quickly seized every opportunity offered. She started riding horses when she was 8 years old, and then developed a 4-H goat project when she was 12. At age 16, she began a beef cattle project, and then swine came after that. Laura’s beef and swine projects were through the Gilbert family of North Granby, longtime 4-H volunteers. She also volunteered with the Hemlock Knoll 4-H Club.

Laura always tries to maintain a positive attitude, and you quickly realize this while talking to her. She handled the increasing responsibility and challenges of multiple 4-H projects with the same poise, determination, and professionalism that she demonstrates on a daily basis.

As a 4-H member, Laura came to UConn for Goat Day, and also visited the Greater Hartford campus for fashion review and other 4-H events. When considering colleges, Laura applied to UConn, Delaware Valley, and Colorado State, but never planned to go anywhere besides UConn. “I completed my first two years at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield,” she says. “It offers a competitive financial aid package and I was able to participate in the gap program, and then transfer to UConn with all of my general education courses completed.”

Laura is a junior majoring in Pathobiology, graduating in 2019. She wants to double major in Animal Science and become a large animal veterinarian. “If I don’t become a veterinarian, I will complete a graduate program at UConn, focusing on research and becoming a pathobiologist, I’m already exploring work-study options in this field.”

Her experience in 4-H has enhanced her course work here at UConn. Material being covered in Introduction to Animal Science, Genetics, Pathobiology, and Physics courses is all an extension of the knowledge she gained through her 4-H career.

This fall, Laura competed in the Little International Livestock Show at UConn that is organized by the Block and Bridle Club in the Department of Animal Science. She showed a sheep, and won premier showmanship. “I credit 4-H for the win in Premier Showmanship at the Little International,” Laura says. “I never would have had the knowledge and skills without 4-H.”

Earning the respect of her riding instructor and having her 4-H project work come full circle were the most rewarding parts of 4-H for Laura. She began taking lessons with Lisa Dinsmore when she was 8-years old, and now Lisa looks at Laura as a knowledgeable horse person, and an equal.

Laura worked with her Hereford beef cow and calf every morning during her last year in 4-H and was Reserve Grand Champion Showman of Goshen Fair in 2015. Laura was able to see her calf grow up, have her own calf, and Reserve Grand Champion in the Cow-Calf class at the highly competitive Big E. The calf represents the third generation of Laura’s 4-H project work with that beef cow family.

In 2015, the Hartford County 4-H Fair advisors selected Laura as the Louis Kristopik Award winner at the 4-H Fair. The award recognizes a youth member who takes initiative, demonstrates leadership, and the ability to work as a member of the team. “It meant a lot that they picked me out of all the 4-H youth members because everyone is equally deserving,” Laura says. “If you receive the award you know you’ve done an excellent job.”

Laura began playing the piano when she was 6-years old, and knows many pieces by memory. “Music was my passion before 4-H,” she says. “I have a deeper understanding of poetry and lyrics of music. It’s still one of the pathways I use to connect with my brother.”

“I enjoy working with youth, especially those with special needs,” Laura mentions. “I want to stay involved with 4-H and help other youth gain the confidence to speak up for themselves. If you don’t have your own voice, what do you have?”

By Stacey Stearns

Cold Storage: A Sustainable Way to Preserve the Harvest

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

cold storage procedure at home for fruits and vegetables
Photo Credit: NAL/USDA

A young couple I know if looking to buy their first house. She prefers older homes with character, he wants space for a big garden. They came upon an older home with a dirt basement floor….I immediately thought that it might be a good candidate for a root cellar. In earlier times, when many people grew their own food, lived miles from the nearest grocery store, and did not have the benefit of electricity or refrigeration, they often stored some fruits and vegetables for the winter in root cellars or outdoor cold storage areas or pits.

Today it can be difficult to use the basement for storage as many of us now use our basements as living spaces. We may have furnaces, boilers or woodstoves in our cellars—instead of dirt floors and cold storage shelves. We do everything we can to keep out the dampness. And houses are built to retain heat in order to save energy. And, of course, in general, Connecticut temperatures seem to be warmer longer into late fall and early winter, than they used to be. All of this means that we just have to be a bit more creative if we want to store our late summer/fall crops into mid-winter.

You should recognize that “ideal” storage conditions for many vegetables are not attainable around the average home. Commercial cold storage options often involve a modified or controlled atmosphere, reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide level, while high humidity is maintained in an air−tight, refrigerated storage room. It is important to understand that these conditions cannot be achieved at home…your home-stored apples will not be equal to the quality of a store-bought apple in January or February.

That said, there are many lower-tech options for storing apples and other foods at home. You just have to remember to follow the rules!

  • Pay attention to and monitor temperature, humidity and air flow;
  • Keep fruits away from vegetables (fruits release ethylene which speeds the ripening process of vegetables);
  • Minimize the effects of strong smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage or rutabagas.

Outdoor Storage

Some vegetables can be stored outdoors—or even remain in your garden, if well protected. Root crops including carrots, parsnips and turnips can remain in the garden, if rodents are not an issue. A well-drained location is essential as a muddy puddle does not do much for your stored carrots. Once the ground is cold, or begins to freeze, protect the vegetables from frost and fluctuating temperatures with insulating materials such as clean straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil.

Mounds or pits are a good way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celery root, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. Use a well-drained location, and cover the ground with insulating mulch. Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most: use it up quickly or cook and freeze for longer storage. If rodents are a problem, try burying a 20-gallon trash can in the ground. Several small holes should be made in the bottom to allow for drainage (keeping in mind that rodents may be able to get through a dime sized hole).

Indoor Storage

A Connecticut home—especially an older one—offers several options for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. You could use a breezeway, a shed, a Bilco-type basement door area or a garage that is not used for storing your automobile, lawn equipment or chemicals that may affect the flavor of your stored produce. You may be lucky enough to live in a house with an old root cellar or a cellar that does not warm up too much when the furnace gets turned on. Check the room temperature to make sure that the area is cool enough (32˚F–60˚F) and be sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much. The relative humidity (moisture in the air) of these locations will also affect what type of produce can be stored. Some produce (garlic, onions) store better in dry conditions, while others (apples, root crops) prefer conditions to be more humid.

A pantry, attic, or unheated room is useful for short-term storage of potatoes and onions as long as there is no danger of freezing. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of dried foods, such as dried beans, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables. A warm storage area, such as an attic, can be a good environment in the fall for drying herbs, beans, walnuts, or hickory nuts.

A well-ventilated basement with central heating is generally dry and has a temperature range of 50˚F to 60˚F. It may be used for ripening tomatoes and for short-term storage of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Managing your storage area

Once everything is stored away, you will need to monitor your storage areas, paying attention to temperature (can be made cooler or warmer with ventilating windows that can be opened and shut); humidity (a relative humidity of 90%–95% is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. A relative humidity of 60%–75% is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and other squash). Check the storage area at least weekly. Look for evidence of rodents. Check to see that produce is still dry. Remove and discard anything that is rotten or moldy.

Food safety and cold storage

Exploding pressure canners and botulism scares can keep folks away from canning, but cold storage is pretty much risk free. If it doesn’t work, you will see, feel or smell that your food has spoiled—and you will not eat it! Cold storage temperatures also slow the growth of spoilage organisms and enzymatic action (causes over-ripening and rotting). However, there are a few food safety hazards you should pay attention to.

First, be sure to use storage containers that are food-grade. Never use drums, garbage cans or containers that might have held garbage, pesticides or other chemicals. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not contaminated with pesticides or manure. These should be new materials and should be used only once as they will become contaminated with mold and bacteria.

An important risk to consider is that when using cold storage, particularly outdoor storage options, you need to be wary of the presence of rodents or the pesky neighborhood raccoon. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the root cellar. Look for gaps (even very small ones) between the ceiling and walls, walls and floors and around any air vents or windows. Search areas around vents, joints between the walls and roof and the area under the cellar. Patch any cracks or gaps around pipes or plug openings with steel wool. Use storage containers that animals cannot chew through, such as metal, plastic or tightly woven mesh with openings smaller than ¼ inch. Secure the top of the containers in the cellar or the lids of buried containers so that they cannot be opened by animals.

When you are ready to use your fruits and vegetables during the winter months, inspect everything you take out. While small amounts of mold can be removed from hard fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, generally, if there is mold, we recommend tossing it out. Mold toxins have been associated with allergic reactions and some are cancer causing agents. Wash everything thoroughly with water and a scrub brush before eating.

Finally, at the end of the season, be sure to clean all containers and the room itself in order to reduce the presence of molds and bacteria.

For more information about managing a cold storage area and a storage chart for specific fruits and vegetables, search for the following article, which was used as a source: Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, from Washington State University Extension, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.