Cross Pollination Adventure for Hartford County 4-H

By Stacey Stearns

Costa Rica group
L-R, Marlene Mayes, Annette Fischel-Kessler, Carl Salsedo, Ellen Paine, Sam Kenworthy, (CIRENAS staff missing is Ariadna Sanchez-Gutierrez).

Hartford County 4-H members will have the unique opportunity to participate in a Cross Pollination Adventure this summer. They will partner with a Costa Rican outdoor education center as part of a Cooperative International Learning Experience. UConn Extension has partnered with CIRENAS (Centro de Investigación de Recursos Naturales y Sociales) in Costa Rica on a multi-year program to provide learning opportunities that include creating a sustainable habitat project at the 4-H Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield.

“The ultimate goal is to increase the participants’ understanding of how the world’s habitats are interconnected. Working on this project will help each person appreciate that a single individual can play an active role in creating and maintaining healthy local and world ecosystems,” project coordinator Ellen Paine says enthusiastically. “For pollinators, especially ones that migrate like monarch butterflies and hummingbirds, we need to ensure appropriate habitat in the locals at both ends of their migration in order for the species to survive.”

Hartford County 4-H members between the ages of 14 and 19 will have the opportunity to apply in January 2016 for this experiential learning opportunity. The 10 selected 4-H members will spend time in Connecticut learning about biodiversity, permaculture, sustainable gardening, and pollinators such as Monarch butterfly and hummingbirds. Then, at the end of June, they will travel to Costa Rica on an award trip to spend an educational week at the CIRENAS center learning how and why Costa Rica plays a critical part in maintaining the health of Connecticut pollinators. They will explore the area’s flora and fauna, some familiar, some new, and via hands-on learning, gain experience in creating and maintaining permaculture gardens. During their time in Costa Rica, the Connecticut

4-H’ers will also participate in a home stay and work on a community service project in conjunction with the CIRENAS staff.

CIRENAS ocean view small
View from CIRENAS. Photo: Ellen Paine.

To complete their learning experience, participants will bring their expanded knowledge back to the 4-H Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield. “Students will design the layout and plantings and construct a sustainable pollinator garden with a monarch and hummingbird focus. This garden will adjoin the Foodshare garden already at Auerfarm,” Ellen says.

In early November, project coordinator Ellen Paine, UConn Extension educator Carl Salsedo, and Marlene Mayes, a UConn Extension Master Gardener volunteer at Auerfarm, traveled to Costa Rica to coordinate with the partners at CIRENAS. Together, they collaborated to develop and coordinate the Connecticut and Costa Rican sections of the program curriculum, discuss how to integrate local community members into the experiences, and address logistical aspects of the program.

Carl expressed his “…hope that participation in this program will greatly expand the participants’ horizons and help them cultivate an understanding of their own place beside the plethora of creatures they will study”. Marlene goes on to add, “This is an awesome experience, and one that presents a unique chance to experience the profound connections between people and the environment.”

The CIRENAS campus sits on the lower Pacific coast of Costa Rica on the Nicoya Peninsula, and backs up to a Calestas-Ario national wildlife refuge, offering a full-range of relatively untouched ecosystems. The mission of CIRENAS is built around place based education, applied research, community integration, and innovation.

The project is funded by a grant made possible by a bequest left to Hartford County 4-H specifically for international activities. It is a collaborative project between UConn Extension, the 4-H Center at Auerfarm, and CIRENAS. UConn Extension partners include the 4-H program, the Master Gardener program, and our horticultural program. A secondary objective of the Cooperative International Learning Experience is to focus on water quality and usage. This project will be further developed as the partnership between UConn Extension and CIRENAS grows and strengthens.

Applications will be available through the Hartford County 4-H Office as of January 1, 2016. They will be due back to the program coordinator no later than February 6, 2016. Selection interviews will follow shortly thereafter. For more information or questions, email the project coordinator, Ellen Paine at (