UConn Extension is seeking applicants for a full-time (11-month), non-tenure track Assistant/Associate Extension Educator, primarily based at the Fairfield County Extension Office in Bethel, CT. Extension Educators are community-based faculty who make a difference in communities by connecting community needs with university resources. Position level/rank will be commensurate with experience working with Extension. The successful candidate shall create an active 4-H youth development program with a focus on STEM, food, and agricultural literacy.
Connecting Farmers and Consumers in the Northeast Corner
Local food and agriculture took a spotlight in 2020 as residents avoided grocery stores and sought out contactless and close to home food options during the unfolding of COVID-19. Coincidentally, just months earlier, UConn Extension launched a new federally funded project to increase direct-to-consumer sales for farm businesses in Northeast Connecticut.
Working with farms across 23 towns in the region (see map), the project aims to increase direct-to-consumer farm sales by 15%, increase customers by 20%, and expand market opportunities for at least 70 producers over the course of three years. A 12-member Farmer Advisory Board is guiding project activities, which include new marketing tools, trainings, and branding.
The project tracks farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to see if there is an increase in customers and sales over time. “Everyone who lives in Northeastern Connecticut knows it is a beautiful place to live, but many miss out on supporting local farm businesses because they lack information about what farms offer and where to purchase their products,” explained Jiff Martin, Extension Educator in Sustainable Food Systems.
As part of this work, UConn’s team is developing a brand to capture the unique identity that agriculture has in the region. With over 100 farms in the 23 towns, there are a wide variety of products consumers can purchase, and the region takes great pride in its agricultural landscapes. In June 2020, UConn Extension put together a guide that showcases this strong agricultural identity, while helping consumers see the variety of what farms offer and how accessible it is for them to purchase locally. This guide has seen a fall update in September and a winter iteration in December.
Printed versions of the summer guide were quickly snatched up by the community from farmers markets, local business, and community centers. The online magazine version has seen plenty of traffic as people looked to this resource on the go, or to plan out their purchasing of weekly groceries. A postcard mailing to thousands of households in the region and strategic social media marketing around #heartctgrown helped broadcast messaging about local farm offerings in the region.
In addition to consumer education and outreach, three marketing training sessions were held in late fall to help farmers acquire new skills to reach more customers and expand their product reach. The topics included online marketing, using point of sale to increase your market, and relational marketing for farm stands and farmers markets.
Looking ahead to programming for 2021 and 2022, plans are in the works to start promotions of the area’s CSAs, including a searchable online map and a postcard mailing to targeted households. The project will continue to offer marketing trainings for farm businesses, publish shopping guides, and distribute marketing materials. When the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and public events are safe, the project will employ local food ambassadors to travel the region educating residents about the reasons to buy local food and where to find it.
Supporting Farmers, Businesses, Students and Communities
With positive vision and great ambition, Indu Upadhyaya joined UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources in June 2019 as an Assistant Extension Food Safety Educator. Indu obtained her Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (equivalent to DVM) and a Master’s degree in Veterinary Biochemistry from Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Veterinary Education and Research in Pondicherry, India.
After working as a practicing veterinarian in India for a year, she joined UConn to pursue her PhD from the Department of Animal Science focusing on poultry microbiology and safety.
After completing her PhD, Indu moved to the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, Fayetteville, Arkansas as a postdoctoral associate, working in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit.
Before returning to UConn as a faculty member, Indu worked as an Assistant Professor in the School of Agriculture at Tennessee Tech University for one year, where she led a collaborative research program in poultry and fresh produce safety. She also taught two upper-level undergraduate courses in poultry science and facilitated several outreach activities and recruitment drives in Tennessee.
“As I approach completion of two years in my current role, I feel respected and valued in my department and in the college community.” Indu says. “The majority of my work so far has focused on training Connecticut’s growers and producers to comply with the Produce Safety Rule (PSR), a part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that went into effect in 2016. I am also leading outreach efforts in several USDA, NE-SARE and CPS grants and look forward to contributing to them.”
Indu has conducted other trainings including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) training for meat and poultry producers. These provide the framework for monitoring the total food system, from harvesting to consumption, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Indu is working alongside extension educators in the Northeast to conduct successful trainings for producers and growers. Working closely with Diane Hirsch, an Emeritus Extension Educator for Food Safety, has made for a smooth transition. With 2020 throwing curveballs for many of us, it did not dampen UConn Extension training programs including Food Safety.
“We have successfully completed multiple farmer trainings using remote learning,” Indu says. “This includes the Produce Safety Alliance Grower training (three courses with 52 trainees) and a, three-day, Meat and Poultry HACCP training (17 participants). I have also continued farm visits during the pandemic following CDC guidelines. Various online platforms have helped me to serve the Connecticut community by remote consultation on various food safety and handling practices.”
Indu has been awarded a Hatch-Multistate Hatch grant as lead PI for mitigating the food safety risks associated with fresh produce production and is a co-PI on several USDA-NIFA, and Northeast Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education grants.
However, the biggest highlight for her in collaboration with UConn CAHNR colleagues, is a $10 million federal grant to improve sustainable poultry production globally. The USDA-NIFA funded project is developing an integrated and sustainable program for enhancing the viability of antibiotic-restricted broiler production in the poultry industry. The project launched in September of 2020 and focuses on a systems approach integrating bird health, human health, and environmental remediations to improve the sustainability of antibiotic restricted poultry production.
As a critical element in this grant, Indu is focusing on poultry outreach for both consumers and stakeholders to educate them on interventions and sustainable methods of production. She will conduct workshops, train-the-trainer programs and on-farm demonstrations to disseminate the results of the research objectives, so the stakeholders can implement more sustainable production practices.
“While our communities face ever evolving and serious challenges due to the ongoing pandemic, associated financial difficulties and health risks, I will continue to support farmers, small business owners, students and other members of the community through research, trainings and consultation in the state, region and nationally.”
Connecticut has faced challenges related to sustainable landscapes, food and agriculture, health, and the climate for generations. As problems are solved, new issues arise. Our educators faced the unprecedented challenges of 2020 and pivoted programs to offer life transformative education despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Programming moved to virtual environments through online certificate programs, virtual field days, WebEx meetings, and YouTube videos. Our educators created and released 318 new videos on YouTube. These videos reached 305,200 people and had 39,501 viewers that watched 1,200 hours of Extension instruction.
One of every nine Connecticut residents struggled with food insecurity before COVID-19. For many individuals and families, challenges surrounding food insecurity increased when the pandemic arrived and continued throughout 2020. The stress associated with food insecurity challenges one of the most basic human needs and deepens income and health disparities.
UConn Extension programs addressed the food insecurity challenges that our community members are facing due to COVID-19. Educators coordinated dairy foods donations to help address food insecurity challenges—facilitating the donation of over 160,000 pounds of dairy products statewide.
Extension works collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to find solutions that improve our communities. We serve thousands of people every year. Our work is in every town and city of the state and the broader impacts make Connecticut a better place to live for all of us.
The human, environmental, and agricultural issues that we face change. The needs of our residents’ change. Our commitment to providing life transformative education remains steadfast.
UConn Extension connects thousands of people across Connecticut and beyond each year, with the research and resources of the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. We are comprised of more than 100 educators and a vast network of volunteers. UConn Extension works collaboratively to build more resilient communities through educational initiatives aimed to cultivate a sustainable future and develop tomorrow’s leaders. The work of UConn Extension connects communities and individuals to help make Connecticut a better place to live, and a better place for future generations.
Why Build a Website for your Agricultural Business
Websites are an important tool to have for your agricultural business. A website provides an online presence and establishes your credibility as a business. Building a website might seem to be a daunting task but this document is here to provide best management practices for building, designing, and updating a website.
Website Domain and Hosting
The first step to building a website starts with picking a domain name and a place to host your website. Your website’s domain name is specific to you and is your internet “address”. Your website’s domain name is specific to you and is your internet “address”. For example, UConn Extensions’ domain name is www.cahnr.uconn.edu/extension and the Walmart retail company’s domain name is www.walmart.com. When picking a domain name, you want it to be unique to your business and close to your farm name. To see what name options are available a domain name search should be conducted.
A domain name can be registered in one of two ways. First, companies like GoDaddy or Namecheap can be used to register a domain name. This step does cost money but is essential to having a website online. The price of purchasing is usually a yearly fee and is less than $20.00/year (depending on the company you select). Wherever your domain name is registered it must be published to WHO.IS and Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP) for it to be official. These programs are a database for all registered domain names on the internet. Another option to consider is that a domain name can also be purchased through a website builder (companies like Squarespace, Wix, etc.). The price for a domain name and hosting fees are combined. There is an option to have a free domain name through a website builder. Your domain name would look like this, yourname.sitebuildername.com. This option doesn’t look very professional.
Choosing a web hosting/builder platform is the next and most important step when starting a website. Website hosting and the building of a website will take time, effort, and money. Look around at the different options available. Popular web hosting sites to consider include Wix, Weebly, Square Space, and WordPress. These are only a few of the more popular sites and each one offers different options.
Wix offers very easy and helpful designs that make designing your website simple even for those that are technology challenged. There are helpful widgets and ready to use templates available. A storefront can be set up on your website and event bookings can also be taken. Wix offers “farm & garden” templates that can easily be made to fit your agricultural business. The cost to have your website hosted using Wix starts at $18/month or $23/month for an e-commerce option.
Square Space is small business focused and has options for e-commerce. Templates are available to build on, but I had a hard time navigating and editing their templates is challenging. The cost per month starts at $12 or $26 for an e-commerce option. Square Space offers a very professional front for your business, but it takes time to learn and navigate their website building tools.
WordPress comes highly recommended for business and is widely used by Connecticut agricultural businesses. Templates are picked by the pages and it is easy to navigate. Your website is built and maintained through a dashboard and that may be unfamiliar at first. There are support options if you need help. A recommended price option for this company is $25/month. WordPress offers Google Analytics. This allows you to monitor your online presence and the traffic brought to your website. Google Analytics is a service that allows you to track website activity and gives useful information.
If you are looking to spend little or no money on your website there are a few options; however, it doesn’t look as professional to a customer. To save money don’t buy a domain and use free web design companies. These include Bluehost (has options as low as $4/month), Wix (free for a year), WordPress (free), and Weebly (free). When you go for a cheaper or free option the user experience is slower since you are sharing internet space with other websites.
Once you pick a web hosting/building platform company it is hard to change to a different one. When picking a company consider the cost, knowledge, time required to build and maintain the site, how easy or complex the builder is, and available space you are allowed for your site. Before choosing a web hosting/building platform look at the websites they are currently hosting and look around before making a decision. Your online experience should be just as easy for you as it is for your customers. Maintaining a website requires dedicated time, effort, and money. A business should budget about $250-$400 a year for a website if they want to provide a professional online appearance.
It is one thing to have a website, it is another thing to have a well-designed and informative website for visitors. In general, items that are at the top of the page are large, have a strong contrast of color, and are surrounded by white space that creates high visual prominence. This means that a reader’s eyes are drawn to this spot and are more likely to be seen. Important information you want to be seen should follow those guidelines.
The homepage is the most important page because this is the page everyone sees when coming to your website and you want to make an impression. A logo, your motto/tag line, location, and basics of what you offer should be included on the home page. A clear navigation menu should be available to guide a viewer to more of your content. Social media and a quick way for people to contact you should also be available on the homepage. With all this information to include you don’t want the homepage to be too crowded because you want the viewer to explore the rest of the website. Less is more when it comes to information on a home page.
Pictures are very important to include on your website. Photos are an easy way to display your products and attract the attention of the viewer. Ideally, they should be your own high-quality photos. If you decide to not use your own photos keep in mind there are copyright infringement laws and if not followed can cost a lot of money. Make sure when using other’s photos, they are labeled for reuse and are royalty free photos. You can find photos labeled for reuse on Google or another website like unsplash.com. It is easier to use your photos that are unique to you!
Once photos are uploaded to your website make sure that you fill in “alt text” or alternate text. This means labeling your photo with a description. For example, if a photo of an apple orchard is uploaded the alt text could be “row of apple trees with red apples hanging against a blue sky”. Alt text also helps if a photo won’t load properly on a website and with page views. A properly labeled photo can help garner more page views due to the search algorithm. Another benefit of using alt text is for the visually impaired. Color blindness affects a person’s viewing experience by making your website impossible to read. Color blindness can affect 1 in every 20 visitors to your site. Contrasting colors on different ends of the color spectrum work the best for people with color blindness. White and black are the best example of this. Elements should have more than one indication. For example, a link should be underlined as well as bold or a different color. Making your website accessible for different groups of people shows you care and helps with page views in the algorithms.
An “about” page is a very good idea to include on your website. This tells the visitor who is behind the business. This builds a connection with the viewer and is known to be one of the most visited pages on the website. A summary of the people involved in the company and history should be included. Achievements and what makes you stand out from your competition should also be included. This summary doesn’t have to be lengthy. The goal of this page is to put a face with the name and business.
A products page should be included on the website. This page allows you to put details about the products your business offers. Although you mentioned briefly the products available on your home page this is where you can dive into the details. If you offer products for different groups of people (ex. retail or wholesale) consider making two different pages for the different groups. Product pages can also be split by seasonal products (spring, summer, fall, or winter sales). If one product is really important to you and has a good deal of information, it can have its own page (e.g., CSA).Information to have includes short descriptions of products and what to expect when purchasing.
If you know you want to start selling products online, an e-commerce package should be purchased when picking a web hosting site. E-commerce requires a website builder to have more capabilities which is why it costs a bit more. This page should be user-friendly for both you and a customer. High quality photos of products and a description are required and help a sale go through. An integral part of e-commerce is how payments will be accepted. Using online payment services like Paypal or Square allow a customer to securely purchase your products online. One of the pitfalls to e-commerce for small business is transaction fees. For example, Square and Paypal charge 2.9% plus $0.30 per payment.
A contact page is essential for allowing communication between your business and visitors. An address, phone number, email, and hours should be included on this page. It is important to note that whatever contact information is put on the website is out for the masses to see. If you don’t want people getting your cell phone number don’t put it on your website. A contact form should also be included on this page for an easy way for visitors can get in touch with you. Most website builders have template forms already built-in; you just need to enable it. To ensure your contact form is used for its intended audience install a tool such as reCaptcha. Internet bots, which are automated programs, could fill out your form and mess with your data. To use this free tool all you have to do is register on the reCaptcha website or use the built-in tool on the website builder.
Besides the navigation bar at the top of the page, a footer is an important tool that is critical to your page. A footer can be found at the bottom of pages and is the same throughout the website. A list of all your pages should be here and quick contact information should also be available at the bottom of the page. Another suggestion is your address and hours of your business. This should act as a site map. A site map is a list of the pages that are on your website. Footers allow your website visitors to easily navigate important information about your business and website.
Website maintenance should be done regularly to ensure your website is relevant and to address any issues such as outdated products or broken links to other websites. Put aside an hour every month or at the least every season to look over your website. If your website doesn’t work properly or is hard to navigate, potential customers will leave your page, and this could mean lost revenue. It doesn’t look professional to have out of date information on your page. Making sure your website is secure is also important to maintain. Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certification is a free program that provides a layer of security for your website. It protects information from hackers. You can notice if a website uses SSL by looking for a lock near the web address.
A well designed and maintained website is helpful to your agriculture business in this digital age. It is important to establish an online presence and your credibility as a business. Take your time building a website and most of all have fun taking your business online.
Connecticut has faced challenges related to sustainable landscapes, food and agriculture, health, and the climate for generations. As problems are solved, new issues arise. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns of Connecticut to help solve the problems that our residents, communities, and state face. Connecting people with agriculture, the natural environment, and healthy lifestyles are critical components to a sustainable future. Extension works collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to find solutions that improve our communities for the next generation.
Are you confused or do you have questions about GMOs?
Do you feel inadequate when discussing GMOs?
Are you given opposing information of GMOs and not sure what is right?
Do you wonder how the misinformation about GMOs spreads like a wildfire?
UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources is offering a new online course, Let’s Talk GMOs: Creating Consistent Communication Messages. This course introduces participants to the basics of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They will learn how to create consistent communication messages and manage dialogue processes about GMOs with various audiences. The synchronous course is launching in January 2021; it has six online modules and three optional virtual sessions with instructors. The introductory cost is $150.
Most people have an emotional reaction to GMOs. They either love them or hate them. The majority already have an opinion about GMOs when the topic comes up. Extension educators, land-grant communicators, and agricultural producers will be comfortable sharing science-based information with their audiences after completing this course. Our role is to provide unbiased information that helps our audience form their own opinion and share their information in a non-confrontational manner.
Participants in the course will learn more about the science of GMOs and how to talk about GMOs in small group sessions where those in the dialogue have differing opinions of GMOs. The course instructors and their modules are:
Robert Bird, a professor of business law in the Department of Marketing, presents the module on how misinformation spreads.
Bonnie Burr, the department head of Extension, presents the modules on public policy and GMOs, and difficult conversations.
Stacey Stearns, a program specialist with UConn Extension presents, the module on communication messages you can use and is the course facilitator.
Cindy Tian, a biotechnology professor in the Department of Animal Science, presents modules on the history of GMOs and dialogue management.
There are brief introductory and course wrap-up modules in addition to the six core modules. The first three modules take approximately one hour each. Participants should expect to spend two hours on the last three modules.
Let’s Talk GMOs: Creating Consistent Communication Messages is an initiative of the GMO Working Group in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. The group has a multi-faceted outreach campaign to educate the public on the science of GMOs, offering background on the diverse application of GMOs with research-based consideration of the risks and benefits. Visit https://gmo.uconn.edu/ for additional resources from the team.
Beginning farmers in Connecticut are changing the face of agriculture. With their values driven, sustainable-minded farming practices, they are filling the direct-to-consumer marketplace with high quality food grown intensively on small parcels. Since 2012, UConn Extension, part of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and its partners have responded to the growing number of beginning farmers with core training in production and business management. In recent years, it was clear that advanced-level beginning farmers (with 6-10 years of experience) were facing more complex challenges as they grappled with decisions about scale, diversification, infrastructure, and risk.
Starting this winter, UConn Extension and partners will respond to this emerging need with a new grant funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant is Solid Ground 2: Weaving Together Expert Trainings and Peer Networks for Sustained Beginner and Advanced-Beginner Farmer Success in Connecticut. It is a three-year project funded at $525,000 that builds upon the accomplishments of the existing Solid Ground Training Program to deliver increasingly relevant, high quality trainings that respond to beginning farmer skill gaps at the appropriate level.
“The new grant leverages the capacity, talent, and integrity of partner organizations to meet the needs of beginning farmers that were unmet through our Solid Ground trainings in previous years,” says Jiff Martin, the Extension Educator leading the project. “We also intend to help address the very real barrier of finding farmland for new and beginning farmers, including the unique challenges created by structural racism when farmers of color seek farmland.”
While there are many excellent opportunities in agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training, and technical assistance. For those within their first 10 years of operation, it’s vital they have access to capital, land, and knowledge and information to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability.
“Beginning farmers can be divided into two groups – early-stage and advanced-level beginning farmers,” says Charlotte Ross, one of the project co-coordinators. “Slightly more than half (52%) of beginning farmer operators have been operating a farm for six to 10 years, and the remainder (48%) have been farming for five years or less.”
Beginning farmers comprise 28% of the principal operators on Connecticut farms, and there are 2,132 beginning farmers in total. The Solid Ground program is targeting 700 farms that earn between $2,500 and $50,000 individually. The average age of Connecticut’s beginning farmers is 47.9, only slightly higher than the national average of 46.3.
“While beginning farmer owned farm businesses are generating $97 million in product sales, only 32% can farm as a primary occupation, and most (79%) depend on off farm-income at varying levels. This is the reality of small farming enterprises in Connecticut—they are often part-time, seasonal businesses that generate tremendous value to our communities in terms of land stewardship and local food markets but are typically not at a scale to support multiple employees with fair wages and benefits.” Martin states. The next three years of the Solid Ground Program will help beginning farmers build critical peer networks with each other, gain insight on entrepreneurial models, discover cost-saving DIY infrastructure projects for the farm, and improve their skills in agroecology, agriculture mechanics, urban agriculture, and soil health.
UConn Extension and its partners will work together to deliver exceptional training and networking opportunities that are practical, convenient, and accessible. UConn Extension will serve as the administrative and communications foundation on the project. Two school-based agricultural education organizations will host Agriculture Mechanic trainings for beginning farmers. Front-line community-based organizations led by people of color will plan and deliver urban farming training in the cities of Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven. Two statewide non-government organizations with a strong base of beginning farmer members will work together to implement peer networking. A regional non-government organization will coordinate matchmaking events for farmland seekers. The structure of decision-making embedded throughout this project ensures that voices of color are empowered to steer training priorities.
Project leaders will strive to deliver services in a manner that ensures equitable access to learning opportunities. The project’s overall approach recognizes the integrity and new knowledge that the beginning farmer community, and the organizations they belong to, can offer to the broader agriculture sector in our state.
UConn Extension team members include Nancy Barrett, Matt DeBacco, Kip Kolesinskas, Charlotte Ross, Rebecca Toms, and MacKenzie White. Partner organizations on the project are Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, Land For Good, Love Fed Initiative, the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, Connecticut Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Green Village Initiative, the Keney Park Sustainability Project, Park City Harvest, the Nonnewaug High School Agri-Science program, the Rockville High School Agri-Science program, and the Connecticut Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee.
UConn CAHNR Extension has more than 100 years’ experience strengthening communities in Connecticut and beyond. Extension programs address the full range of issues set forth in CAHNR’s strategic initiatives:
Ensuring a vibrant and sustainable agricultural industry and food supply
Enhancing health and well-being locally, nationally, and globally
Designing sustainable landscapes across urban-rural interfaces
Advancing adaptation and resilience in a changing climate.
Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities.
We are seeking a part-time (20 hours/week) Agriculture Program Coordinator-in-Training to work on our Mashantucket Pequot Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP). The incumbent will work collaboratively with a team of Extension professionals, tribal members, and leaders to empower members of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) and communities through nutrition education and youth engagement. This includes a mix of responsibilities related to youth engagement, nutrition education and agriculture programming. The position is based in the MPTN reservation, which is located in Mashantucket, CT though the individual hired will be an employee of the University of Connecticut.