Connecticut agriculture

Students’ IDEA Grant Will Showcase Innovative Agriculture

collage showing photos of three students, Jon Russo, Ally Schneider and Zach Duda
Jonathan Russo, Alyson Schneider, and Zachary Duda

A group of students from the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) received an IDEA grant from the UConn Office of Undergraduate Research. Their project will help bridge the communication gap between agriculture and consumers. Approximately two percent of the population is involved in agriculture, but we all need to eat every day. There is a growing disconnect between agriculture and consumers because they are not involved in agriculture. Misinformation about food and agriculture is also increasing. Connecting consumers to farms expands their access to relevant information.

Zachary Duda, Jonathan Russo, and Alyson Schneider are producing a documentary film, Completely Connecticut Agriculture: Agricultural Innovation. Their goal is to show consumers examples of innovative agriculture in our state. All three students are Agriculture and Natural Resources majors in CAHNR, graduating in 2021. Jon has a double major in Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems. Stacey Stearns of UConn Extension is serving as their mentor, and other faculty and staff from UConn Extension are serving in advisory roles on the project.

“Around the world there has been a large disconnect with consumers and producers regarding basic knowledge about agriculture,” Zach says. “We want to highlight some farms and programs in Connecticut that target that disconnect and better educate the public while helping them connect to agriculture.”

The idea for this project formed several years ago, when Zach, Jon and Ally were all serving as state FFA officers. Their experiences have shown them many aspects of Connecticut agriculture. The students understand how innovative and resourceful agriculture in the state is and wanted to bridge the disconnect between consumers and agricultural operations. They have also witnessed how Connecticut agriculture helps support a sustainable food supply for residents, and how uncommon commodities diversify and enhance farm profitability.

The three students will visit various farms across the state, meet with agricultural leaders, and film day to day operations as well as thoughts from farmers and leaders on the future of agriculture in Connecticut. The video will showcase innovation in Connecticut that breaks barriers through diversity, education, and disproves misconceptions about agricultural operations. The students will lead viewers through the film and connect with the consumer as they learn about each of the innovative agricultural operations along with the audience.

Filming will take place later this summer and into the fall. Social distancing guidelines for COVID-19 revised some plans. The students selected fifteen farms to include in their documentary – and each of the farms showcases one or more of the three theme areas:

  • Sustainable Food Supply,
  • Consumer Disconnect, and
  • Uncommon Commodities.

Local food is a buzzword that has gained popularity in recent years. Many consumers associate fruits and vegetables with local food. “We want to highlight how producers are using innovative techniques to yield more local food so we can show that there is so many more products for Connecticut residents to purchase when they are looking to buy local,” Ally says. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the importance of local food for many residents, and agricultural producers throughout the state have risen to the challenge by pivoting their business and finding new ways to deliver products to consumers.

A sustainable food supply is also environmentally balanced. It ensures that future generations can continue producing food and enjoying their lifestyle. “Through various practices such as no-till, renewable energy, fishing quotas, soil amendments, and crop selection we want to show consumers that Connecticut agriculture is becoming more environmentally friendly even as production is on the rise,” Jon says.

Some audiences view agriculture from a traditional mindset. The video will dispel traditional agricultural myths by showing uncommon commodities that farms are producing and selling. Examples of unique products on Connecticut agricultural operations include popcorn, chocolate, and flowerpots made from cow manure.

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. Our Extension educators are working with the various agricultural operations featured in the documentary to help them adopt innovative practices and create a sustainable food supply.

Our students are helping bridge the communication gap between farmers and consumers with their documentary that will showcase the innovative agriculture practices happening right here on farms in Connecticut. Farming has many positive aspects that will be the focus of the film. The students plan to address agriculture’s challenges as well and share Connecticut agriculture’s story with consumer audiences. Film screening will be in the spring of 2021.

Price Study of CSAs in CT

2014 Price Study of Community Supported Agriculture Operations in CT

By Molly Deegan and Jiff Martin, UConn Extension

extension.uconn.edu
*For more information about this study, contact jiff.martin@uconn.edu

tomatoes
Photo: Jude Boucher

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): an arrangement whereby customers pay growers in advance of the growing season for a guaranteed share of the season’s harvest.

Background: In summer 2014 we investigated CSA prices that farm operations advertised on websites and producer association listings. Our goal was to have a better understanding of prices that farmers were charging for a standard summer vegetable share. This is the third year we have collected CSA pricing data, so we are able to track how pricing has changed, and also make county comparisons. Below is a SUMMARY of our findings, as well as a FULL LIST (pages 2-5) of the 92 CSAs and their prices that were included in the study.

SUMMARY

We found CSA pricing data for 92 farm operations. Standard summer vegetable shares were typically listed as July to October, and featuring vegetables, herbs, and sometimes flowers or small fruit. We did not attempt to compare the contents of CSA shares, nor did we evaluate pricing for add-on items such as flower shares, fruit shares, meat shares, egg shares, etc. When a range of weeks was promised for a given CSA share price (i.e. 16-18 weeks), the average number was used (i.e. 17 weeks). page1image15120 page1image15544 page1image15704

Average weekly price of 2014 Summer Vegetable CSA = $31 Maximum price = $50
Minimum price = $15 page1image17680 page1image17840  page1image18424

Standard Summer Vegetable CSA Pricing in CT: $31/share

Fairfield County- $31

Hartford County- $30

Litchfield- $28

Middlesex- $29

New Haven – $32

New London- $33

Tolland- $27

Windham- $34

 

To download the full summary and a listing of CSAs in Connecticut, please click here.

A Better Way of Farming

Vegetable Farmers Switch to Reduced Tillage/Deep Zone Tillage

By Jude Boucher, UConn Extension Educator

 

DZT at Cecarelli Farm

In 2006, after several 4 to 6-inch rainstorms, and having to contend with 4-foot deep erosion gullies in his sweet corn fields, Nelson Cecarelli of Cecarelli Farm decided he needed a better way to farm the rolling hills of Northford and Wallingford. After speaking with several growers and an equipment dealer from upstate New York about a form of reduced tillage, known as deep zone tillage (DZT), he contacted UConn Extension Educator Jude Boucher, for advice and for help transitioning to this new type of field preparation system. Together they researched reduced-till options and practices, including different deep zone tillage machines.

The DZT machine allows a grower to just prepare a narrow seed bed, only inches wide, rather than exposing the surface of the whole field to wind and rain. It also allows farmers to till deeply, right under the crop row, with a 24-inch shank, to loosen any hardpan that has formed after years of using a plow and harrow. This allows the soil to absorb and retain more water and allows the plants to extend their roots deeper into the soil. The system also improves soil quality over time.

UConn Extension and Nelson co-wrote and participated in a pair of grants aimed at documenting the benefits and problems encountered while using DZT compared with conventional ways of field preparation. With the success of the new system, a second goal was convincing other growers to adopt DZT. Jude and Nelson also recruited a second farmer, Tom Scott of Scott’s Yankee Farmers in East Lyme, who bought a machine and joined them on their mission in 2008. UConn Extension helped conduct Soil Health Tests on most fields on the two farms to quantify compaction, organic matter content, and several other important physical, biological and chemical characteristics of a healthy soil so improvements could be monitored over time.

Nelson and Tom participated in the introductory conference on DZT conducted by UConn Extension in 2008 and a final grant-funded workshop in 2013, have hosted twilight meetings about DZT on their farms, and made about a dozen presentations over the years at various workshops and at state and regional grower conferences. They have also been featured in DZT case studies published in UConn Extension’s Crop Talk Newsletter and on the UConn IPM Web Site (www.ipm.uconn.edu/). They both served as mentor-growers for the grants and entertained questions and visits from other growers interested in adopting DZT.

A field of sweetcorn at Cecarelli Farm

As a result of his move to reduced tillage, Nelson evolved from a farmer just looking to solve an erosion problem on his farm, to one obsessed with improving soil quality. He started to find additional ways of reducing tillage and soil compaction, and improve and expand his use of cover crops. First, he planted summer cover or smother crops, such as buckwheat, after harvesting early sweet corn or other spring crops, so that he wouldn’t have to repeatedly harrow- down weeds to prevent them from going to seed in late summer. He bought a grain drill to both improve his cover crop stands due to precision planting, and to reduce additional passes with the harrow associated with tilling down crop residue and planting cover crop seed. He moved from using just winter rye, to using mixes of tillage radishes and rye or oats, and then to sun hemp and mixes or blends of multiple cover crops to protect the soil and add more organic matter. He also adopted the use of permanent driveways in some fields and switched from side-dressing corn, which involves cultivation, to banding all his nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer at planting by placing it both under and on the sides of the seed row.

Tom was not bashful about trying DZT on all the crops on his farm: both annuals and perennials. He figured that if it made sense to loosen the compacted soil under his annual vegetable crops, then it made twice as much sense to loosen it when replanting apples or blueberries where you only get one chance in many years. He also immediately started to make adjustments to his DZT machine by reducing the spring tension so that the deep shank would trip easier in his rocky ground, and by adding hydraulic lifts on the wheels so he could roll it to fields across town, instead of lifting it with the tractor. He also designed and built a fifth-wheel style hitch for his planter so that he could prepare and seed the field all in one pass. Lately, with the aid of a USDA grant, he added a roller-crimper to the front of his tractor, to kill the winter cover crop (rye) without herbicides, and continue his pursuit of a single-pass farming system.

Tom also calculated exactly how much time and fuel it took to prepare one acre for planting using DZT versus a plow and harrow. He determined that DZT produced a 67% savings in time and a 72% savings in fuel. These savings increased even more when he started planting at the same time he prepared the seedbed. Nelson’s fuel deliveryman actually complained that the farm wasn’t using near as much fuel as it had in the past. Both growers have succeeded in dramatically reducing soil compaction and erosion on their farms, while improving crop yields and quality. Through their efforts, and UConn Extension’s, to help spread the word, there are now Extension programs in all six New England states advocating the use of DZT, and over 40 growers in the region have switched to DZT and a better way of farming.

 

Growing Sustainable Food Systems in Connecticut

Join Windham County Extension Council for an evening of food and friends as they discuss Growing Sustainable Food Systems in Connecticut with UConn Extension Educator Jiff Martin and others.

You will learn how UConn Extension helps improve school food, assists beginning farmers and promotes community food safety. For more information please see check in with Windham County Extension Center.

kids with greens