Author: Stacey Stearns

Celebrating National Farmer’s Day

Jiff Martin
Photo: Roxanne Pandolfi

Today is National Farmer’s Day, and here at UConn Extension, we celebrate our farmers every day. Extension professionals work statewide to help farmers improve their operations, diversify crops, and scale up their business models.

Jiff Martin is our Food Systems Extension Educator and works with agricultural producers statewide to strengthen agriculture and promote local agriculture and food systems. She developed new training and resources for beginning farmers, available through the Solid Ground program. The trainings and resources span farmland access, business planning, season extension, agricultural mechanics, marketing and more.

In 2023, Jiff and UConn Extension, in partnership with a BIPOC-led organization, E&G Community Builders introduced the Leaders of Color in Conservation (LOCC). It provided training and mentoring to eight individuals in conservation planning and common practices on small farms and included both online training and farm field days. These eight people then worked with three BIPOC farmers each, helping with conservation and natural resource goals. USDA-NRCS funded the project.

These programs are examples of the work UConn Extension does every day to support Connecticut farmers. Jiff Martin is being recognized by the USDA-NIFA and APLU Northeast Region Individual Excellence in Extension Award at the APLU Annual Meeting in November.

Congratulations, Jiff, we appreciate all you do!

Meet Maggie Ng

Maggie Ng standing in a field with yellow flowers behind herMaggie Ng recently joined UConn Extension as an outreach assistant for our vegetable crops and hemp programs, based in our Vernon office. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts where her focus was on climate change in agriculture. Maggie conducted a year-long research project for her thesis, interviewing local farmers on climate change and how it impacted their operations.

What is your area of interest and how did you get started?

Coming from Los Angeles, I had never set foot on a farm before going to Hampshire. I started farming my first year at Hampshire College, did field work, and managed the CSA, among other responsibilities. I am interested in climate mitigation and adaptation because of working on an actual farm and seeing the issues firsthand. Farmers have a resiliency and totally innate flexibility and adaptability and those have encouraged me to keep going. I farmed until July 2022 when I joined the UMASS Extension team.

What will your role be with UConn Extension?

As an outreach assistant, I’ll be going on farm visits and conducting farmer outreach on vegetable crops and hemp. I’m contacting people in the state and setting up visits to address their concerns. I’m a resource for them while they’re working to achieve their goals. I’ll also be updating a lot of the materials that our programs have.

What excites you the most about working with UConn Extension?

I’m excited about being a resource and the opportunity to connect with farmers and build that community – making connections and being outside.

What is one thing you hope people will learn from you and your work?

My dream is for people to take away that climate change is happening, and it will affect them. I want to build relationships where farmers trust us, and we’re learning from them too. Extreme weather events are going to increase in frequency – heat, drought, floods, unseasonably cold temperatures – and the takeaway is that it’s happening and I’m a resource to help.

What is the most unusual job you’ve had?

Being a farmer in Los Angeles; we were based in the mountains of Malibu with livestock, vegetables, and flowers. It was gorgeous and felt like an oxymoron.

What are some of your hobbies and other interests?

I love to swim and find nature spots, especially during the summer. I’m excited to explore Connecticut. I’ve also recently started photography and restoring old cameras. I’m looking to build a community within and outside farming in Connecticut.

Cultural similarities among indigenous people of U.S. and Nepal

Cultural affinities are a bridge that maintains our connections, even when we might feel distinctly separate. While each Native community is unique regarding its own distinct culture, language, history, and unique way of life, indigenous people worldwide share some common values based on the understanding that their lives are part of nature and cannot be separated from nature. For example, costumes, musical instruments, pottery, and the houses of Nepali tribes appear similar to those of Native Americans. While peopling of the Americas is a debated topic, it is an accepted theory that ancestors of the Native Americans were nomadic hunters of northeast Asia who migrated over the Beringia Land Bridge (lowered sea levels during the last Ice Age exposed dry land between Asia and the Americas) into North America approximately 16,000 years ago. In this video, UConn Extension Educator, Dr. Shuresh Ghimire, shares cultural similarities between the indigenous people of the USA and Nepal.

Ask UConn Extension: Why are Maple Leaves Turning Brown and Falling Early?

brown maple leaves along a roadsideThis summer has been one for the books, at least weather-wise. It has been rainy with little periods of dry weather, and the warm nights coupled with high humidity have provided an excellent opportunity for certain fungal pathogens to develop. Anthracnose species are just some of the fungal diseases that affect many plants, especially those under stress, and certain maples were infected earlier this season.

Driving along the road, maples infected with anthracnose can be clearly seen. The foliage has turned brown, leaves appear to be drying up, and leaf fall may be extensive. On some trees, it appears as though only seed clusters remain on the trees while leaves are almost all on the ground. This premature leaf drop may affect the tree’s ability to manufacture carbohydrates for next spring’s growth spurt. When leaf fall occurs early enough in the year then trees can produce new leaves before fall so this is not an issue. Leaf drop began on many trees in August, so time will tell what lingering effect this will have on some maples.

All maples including sugar maples (Acer saccharum), Norway maples (A. platanoides), red maples (A. rubrum), and others are susceptible to infection from anthracnose when environmental conditions, host pathogens, and a susceptible host plant combine to make a perfect storm for disease development. While normally a minor disease of maples, environmental conditions that promote disease infections that are persistent can be more than just an aesthetic issue and be more serious on trees already weakened by other issues.

Anthracnose fungi overwinter within dead leaf tissue and in any infected twigs and buds. The fruiting bodies are produced in the spring from any leaves left on the ground or from the infected twigs and buds. The spores that are produced will be spread by splashing rainwater or wind. Spores are only produced when the environmental conditions are right – usually during periods of mild and wet weather that occur from spring into late summer. Typically, these spores are more numerous in late spring and early summer, as they were this year. During hot dry weather, spore activity is less, but we certainly did not experience these conditions this year.

What can a homeowner do if their trees have suffered from anthracnose this year? The easiest thing to do is rake up the leaves from infected trees and remove them from the property. If dumped in the woods, infections can occur on any trees near those leaves. Infected twigs can be pruned off, and discarded, but that is not practical for large trees. Get a soil test to determine if any nutritional deficiencies need correcting. A pH that is too acidic can be raised by liming correctly based on soil test results. Maples can struggle in soils where the soil pH is too low. Sometimes repeat limestone applications are needed.

Do your best to make sure the growing conditions you can control like compaction issues, fertilization needs, problems with flooding, infected leaf pick up, and other things that may affect tree health are taken care of. Next year may be the total opposite of this year and may or may not bring a different set of problems for maples. Anthracnose may not be a concern if we have a drier year, and that is what many of us homeowners and gardeners hope for – perhaps!

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home and Garden Education Center

For questions on maple anthracnose or if you have any other gardening questions, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education at (877) 486-6271 or www.homegarden.cahnr, or your local Cooperative Extension Center.

Applications Due Soon: 2024 Master Gardener Program

Applications are due on October 13, 2023 for the Master Gardener Program.

three women in a shed with vegetables and blueberries harvested from gardenDo you enjoy horticulture and want to expand your knowledge and also help others? Apply for the 2024 UConn Extension Master Gardener program.  Applications are due October 13, 2023 and classes begin on January 8, 2024. Class locations for 2024 are Stamford, Norwich, Torrington, New Haven, and online.

Students enrolled in this program receive training in an extensive range of horticultural and environmental topics, including botany, plant pathology, entomology, integrated pest management (IPM), herbaceous and woody ornamentals, fruits, vegetables, turfgrass, invasive plants, and diagnostic techniques for the home gardener.

“I have to say that the quality of the instruction was exceptional. Many of the topics brought me back to my time at UConn as a plant science major, classes that took a semester condensed to a single class,” said Althea Langer, a program graduate. “My outlook on my own garden and those of others has definitely been impacted by this course. I’m much more aware of nature and that we need to be guardians of it by how we all treat our own small spaces.”

UConn Extension Master Gardeners are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The program provides the opportunity for beginner, intermediate or experienced gardeners to increase their personal knowledge of the practice of gardening … The program allows you to meet with like-minded people over a common interest – growing plants,” said Ken Sherrick, an Advanced Master Gardener.

The program fee is $495.00 and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

Full UConn Extension Master Gardener program course details and information and the application is available at

Protect Humans and Animals from Mosquitoes

mosquito biting a human

The presence of mosquitoes carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus (EEEV) on the rise in Connecticut, according to surveillance program from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and testing from UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL) in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Protect both humans and livestock with these steps:

Heather Peracchio Recognized for Community Contributions

man and woman with an award
Heather Peracchio receiving her 40 Under 40 award from P.J. Prunty, President of the Danbury Chamber of Commerce.

UConn Extension professionals work in communities throughout the state, to apply the university’s research in practical settings and help improve lives. Heather Peracchio, an Extension professional based in Fairfield County, exemplifies these attributes for her work in community nutrition.

Peracchio, a registered dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist, joined UConn Extension in 2012, after receiving her Master of Science from the UConn Department of Allied Health Sciences and serving four years as an assistant extension educator with them. This summer, she was recognized as a 40 Under 40 award recipient for Fairfield County.

Fairfield County 40 Under 40 Honorees are diverse, passionate, and committed difference makers that are transforming the county through their professional and community contributions. In a typical year, the nomination pool exceeds 250 submissions making the 40 Under 40 Awards one of the premier recognition opportunities in the region. Following a rigorous review and selection process, all Honorees are chosen by a judging panel of past 40 Under 40 winners, community leaders, and program hosts and sponsors, based on professional and community achievements.

What is often forgotten by those who have healthy nutrition and access to foods that make them feel energized and satiated, is how hard it is to go about daily tasks, especially work responsibilities, while feeling hungry. Nutrition plays a vital role as it provides the energy needed for life. However, when individuals lack the knowledge of its significance or the means to access nutritious food, their focus shifts from thriving in various aspects of life, including work, to merely surviving. Peracchio is giving people a chance to fuel their bodies in a way that will allow them the energy and fulfillment to go above and beyond. When participants are supported by a nutritious diet, companies will flourish with new and bright ideas.

With Extension, Peracchio is the supervisor of the county Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the UConn Extension Center Coordinator for Fairfield County. Her accomplishments are many, improving the quality of life for those who reside in Fairfield County. She has designed and delivered educational programs that provide nutrition education to low-income families. Peracchio also works as the SNAP-Ed Food Security – Program Educator, and has since April 2012, engaging local and state partners such as schools, community centers, farms, senior centers, and food banks by providing nutrition presentations and series using science-based curriculum. These include Families Eating Smart and Moving More; Choosing Health: Food, Fun and Fitness; Teen Cuisine; Eat Smart Live Strong; Seniors Eating Well.

Peracchio works collaboratively with community partners to seek funding and create timely and relevant programming. Examples include a partnership with the Danbury Farmers Market Community Collaborative where she secured $13,000 in Covid-19 resiliency funding to provide local produce boxes and nutrition education to urban families who had limited access to the farmers’ market. Another partnership with the Walnut Hill Church yielded $16,000 for her efforts through Share Our Strength Food Insecurity grant reaching families with children aged 0-5 to provide food and cooking skills.

As the EFNEP supervisor, Peracchio supervises and works with the program assistant and EFNEP program aide. Together they plan, organize and implement series of nutrition education classes for diverse youth and adult audiences throughout Fairfield County. Her collaborative projects including incorporating EFNEP education within the Growing Gardens Growing Health project in Norwalk, 4-H Teen Urban Gardening Project in Bridgeport and the 4-H Soccer and Nutrition program in Danbury. With the assistance of the interns, she supervises from UConn Extension and Nuvance Hospital Dietetic Internship (Norwalk and Danbury hospitals), an impact has been made on the health and nutrition in Fairfield County communities.

“Heather is one of those leaders who leads by example, she does not just tell people what to do, she is right there with them. She creates a highly collaborative environment where all get to contribute. She inspires those on the team to always look for more ways provide the education a training that helps grow people. Like the food she helps to get into the hands of the needy, she also brings a spirit to those she works with that encourages them to grow themselves,” said Scott Farrell, a community partner and assistant director of admissions at Naugatuck Valley Community College.

Peracchio creates shared goals that help inspire and motivate those in need to live their best life. She always creates a positive and inclusive work environment where all get to contribute and grow as individuals. Through her leadership she established partnerships with 60 preschool centers, 30 public schools and 25 food pantries. Peracchio knows how to bring the proverbial village, in this case Fairfield County, together to support its residents while feeding both their body and mind.

“I believe that what sets Heather apart from others is her compassion and willingness to help,” Farrell continued. “She is always supporting those around her, be it her work family, to those moms in her mom group or others in the community, to her own family where she is a living example to her three kids of what it means to care and make a difference. She just does not say things are important, she gets involved with the organization that can impact the people she serves.”

Her service to the community includes the Connecticut Food Policy Council, Danbury Farmers’ Market Community Collaborative, Norwalk Food Providers, Danbury Food Collaborative, Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics board of directors, and many others.

As they say, actions speak louder than words and Peracchio is always on the go and ready to make things happen. Learn more about the UConn EFNEP program and the resources available statewide at

Author: Combined Reports