CYFAR Summer Experience at Auerfarm

By Sherry Gray

student in gardenThe Auerfarm is a 4-H Education Center with 120 acres located in the northwest section of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The Farm was deeded to the non-profit Connecticut 4–H Development Fund in 1976; however; has a rich history dating back to the early years of the 20th Century. The farm served as a model farm to other farmers in the 1950’s and hence, grew into a place that values education, outreach and engagement. The farm currently houses livestock including cows, goats, alpaca, donkeys, sheep, rabbits and chickens. It also has several large vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, and a blueberry patch. Extension supported the building of a greenhouse on the property that is heavily used by school groups and master gardeners. Each year 14,000 children and 5,000 adults visit and access educational programs at the farm.

CYFAR’s Tools for Healthy Living grant partnered with Auerfarm this summer to provide multiple weeklong day programs for low-income youth from Hartford. Each week twelve to fifteen 8-12 year old low-income youth from Hartford participated in a program designed to enrich their understanding of food, health, and agriculture through hands on learning. During this time, University of Connecticut (UConn) staff presented two lessons about issues related to food safety; these lessons are part of the Tools for Healthy Living curriculum that was developed as part of this grant project. The first lesson was a lesson on hand washing and the second was on how to avoid food related illness. Students also spent time in the gardens, visiting animals and preparing the food they had picked.

The summer program was a highly positive experience for students, many who had not attended a summer farm program before. Students were very excited to go to the gardens and the blueberry patch.  Several students made statements including “we get to pick berries!” The students also indicated that “this is a new experience” for (most) of them and upon the announcement from the teacher that berry picking time was over several made comments that they “wanted to do it again.”

The children were very excited to be in the garden. One day, the UConn Master Gardener trapped a groundhog that she then showed to the students. The animal intrigued them all, but some had differing opinions about it. Some thought that it “looks mean” while others thought it “cute.” Educators explained why they caught the groundhog noting that they “eat eleven pounds of vegetables a day.” The children were assigned tasks to pick vegetables, weeds or get grass for the animals to eat later. The children really seemed to enjoy the garden experience stating “I want to have my own garden” and “this is the best day of my life.” This garden supports the Foodshare organization by producing 2 tons of produce annually for hungry families in Hartford. Extension Master Gardeners are active with the Foodshare garden ensuring we give back to the community. One student notes that, “she doesn’t even like carrots, but she is happy that she gets to help pick them so that people who are hungry can eat them.” The students were enthusiastic about taking the vegetables from the garden into the kitchen to prepare their lunches, including, salads, roasted beets, pizza, and tacos.

All of the youth attending this summer program loved the experience, particularly being in the gardens, blueberry patch and in the kitchen. They interacted during the food safety lessons and showed increased awareness for the need to do thorough handwashing and minimize food safety risks. The animals and gardens throughout the property served as platforms for interactive learning. One student exclaimed “I can’t wait to come back to camp next year.” Another stated, “I just really like the fresh air and mountains.” As a result of this project, our grant team strengthened our partnership with Auerfarm and provided many youth with a farm experience that they would not have otherwise had the opportunity to attend.


Sherry Gray, PI Tools for Healthy Living

Mary Margaret Gaudio, co-PI Tools for Healthy Living

Jen Cushman, 4-H Extension Educator, Hartford County Extension

Miriah Kelly, Project Evaluator

Christine Smith, CYFAR Program Assistant

Angela Caldera, Hartford EFNEP

Marilyn Diaz, Hartford Administrative Assistant


Making Healthier Homes

4-H youthWhat do we mean by a healthy home? According to housing and public health experts, it is a home that is designed and maintained to support the health and safety of its residents. In his 2009 Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that by improving housing conditions—for example, by reducing hazards from lead poisoning, poor indoor air quality, environmental tobacco smoke, improperly stored household chemicals, and pesticide exposure—we can improve health outcomes for residents.

Healthy homes are particularly important for Connecticut families at risk. The state’s housing stock is considerably older than the national average. Children living in older homes—especially children in low-income families, who face greater challenges of finding affordable, safe, and healthy homes—are most vulnerable to such housing-related health problems as lead poisoning and asthma. In 2013, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), more than 2,000 Connecticut children under the age of six years were lead poisoned. Black children were twice as likely to be lead poisoned as white children; Hispanic children were 1.5 times as likely to be poisoned as non-Hispanic children. During the same year, an estimated 30,000 Connecticut children in grades 6 through 12 were reported as having an asthma episode or attack. Asthma rates, too, are disproportionately higher for Hispanics and blacks. Yet both lead poisoning and asthma attacks can be prevented or reduced, often by relatively simple methods.

In 2011, DPH issued its Healthy Homes Strategic Plan, which identified public education on such issues as a major goal. UConn Extension, often in partnership with DPH, has been active for decades in helping adults and children learn how to make their homes healthier and safer—by educating people about lead poisoning, radon, clean water, pesticides, and asthma, for example. Starting in 2011, a grant from the Children, Youth, and Families at Risk (CYFAR) program gave a multidisciplinary Extension team an opportunity to reach out to a previously untapped but important audience: urban youths, who not only are disproportionately affected by such problems as lead poisoning and asthma but also are capable—given appropriate guidance—of improving their own home environments in important but not necessarily difficult ways. This is a five-year, half million dollar grant supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR).

While a great deal of material is available for adults and children (including materials previously developed by Extension staff and faculty), no comprehensive curriculum on healthy homes topics existed for school-age youths, particularly underserved urban youths. The Extension team designed and implemented an age-appropriate and culturally sensitive curriculum called Tools for Healthy Living. Since 2012 this curriculum has been taught at 12 4-H afterschool programs in Hartford and New Britain reaching approximately 350 youth.

Through this program, youths learn the principles of a healthy home: it is clean, dry, safe, free of pests and dangerous chemicals, in good repair, and with fresh air. A series of lessons helps them to understand the effects of problems such as lead poisoning, asthma, mold and moisture, pests, environmental tobacco smoke, and clutter, as well as to develop strategies they and their families can use to reduce or eliminate these problems. Youths also explore the four key rules of food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill. A final component of the curriculum is a lesson on self-advocacy skills, helping youths to become agents for positive change in their homes, schools, and larger communities. A long-term project to be completed by youths further encourages them to share what they have learned.

Site instructors, who are carefully trained to work with urban youth, deliver the program. The site instructors are given extensive background information, resources, and detailed lesson plans. The lessons use the 4-H experiential learning model to teach youths through hands-on learning, emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills. It incorporates the principles of positive youth development promoted by 4-H. Moreover, in addition to the lessons for youths, the curriculum includes take-home newsletters on each topic (in English and Spanish) so that youths can communicate important information to their families. Thus, urban youths, their families, and the larger communities can all learn how to make their homes as healthy and safe as possible. In 2015 Tools for Healthy Living was accepted as a national 4-H curriculum.

CPR-AED Course at Hartford County Extension

Diane LaBonia providing rescue breaths.

Would you know what to do if someone in your office, meeting, class, program, or even your home became unconscious and had no pulse? Five more members of UConn Hartford Extension Center would. Weston Forbes, Diane LaBonia, Marilyn Diaz, Mary-Margaret Gaudio, and Christine Smith, participated in a training course on December 14th and are now certified by the American Heart Association (AHA) in the HeartSaver® program in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator).

CPR is a lifesaving technique useful in many emergencies, including heart attack or near drowning, in which someone’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped. The AHA recommends that everyone — lay people and medical personnel alike — begin CPR with chest compressions and to be trained in effective CPR. Knowledge and effective use of an AED increases good outcomes in the chain of survival of a victim in cardiac or respiratory arrest.

The five hour class was conducted by Cindy Tuttle, RN, a nurse educator at Concord Hospital in New Hampshire,

Weston Forbes practices rescue breaths.

and a certified AHA instructor, and assisted by Bob Ricard, Senior Extension Educator, and an AHA instructor-in-training. The course was part of required training for staff from the CYFAR Tools for Healthy Living after school program.

Conducting this course for other Extension staff is also a goal of the UConn EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network) to increase workplace disaster and emergency preparedness.

For further information and details, contact Bob. (

4-H Attends Wellness Fair

UConn Extension’s LaShawn Christie-Francis the Eversource Wellness Fair with Aqueelah Virgo, our CYFAR afterschool instructor.  They attended both fairs one was located on Prospect Street in Hartford and the other was at Windsor, Connecticut, both were in October. Over 200 people attended their wellness fair and it gave Urban 4-H/CYFAR afterschool programs a lot of exposure.

LaShawn picAqueelah Virgo at booth LaShawn booth