dairy

We All Scream for Ice Cream

Alums Integral to Success of Operation Community Impact

Ice cream is one of life’s simple joys and something every age group enjoys. It’s also a rare treat for those relying on food pantries for their meals—and one they enjoyed in May through the efforts of our 4-H alumni and UConn Extension’s Operation Community Impact.

Meg (Eberly) Uricchio

Meg Uricchio stands in front of a case of Hood ice creamMeg Uricchio was a member and president of Hartford County’s Granby 4-H Club in her youth. “I started showing goats and transitioned to dairy. I also had photography, cooking, woodworking, and poultry projects.”

She got involved with the Merry Moo-ers 4-H Club while an undergraduate at UConn and still provides 4-H members with heifers to lease for their projects. Meg is an active volunteer for various Hartford County 4-H initiatives, including the fair and the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but the amount of responsibility that 4-H instills in you is very important for youth members,” Meg says. “4-H teaches you about putting someone other than yourself first. I loved the dedication that the volunteers have and am pleased to give back to the program.”

Meg works for HP Hood, Inc. and secured the donation of a tractor trailer load with 33 pallets of ice cream for Operation Community Impact. HP

Hood, Inc. has a long history of giving back to the communities surrounding its 11 plants nationwide.

Each donation for Operation Community Impact is a team effort— and the ice cream was no exception. “Jen Cushman, the Hartford County 4-H Educator, was instrumental in securing the donation,” Meg says. “Bill Davenport, the Litchfield County 4-H Educator, had a neighbor with the refrigerated trailer for 4-H to use. Jen took care of the logistics of where the donation would go, and I gathered the product and made sure it got loaded.”

The refrigerated trailer was donated by O & G Industries of Torrington. They provided a truck, freezer trailer, and two drivers and delivered the ice cream to all the counties in the state. Tulmeadow Farm in West Simsbury was the drop off location for Hartford County, where another 4-H and CAHNR alum stepped in to facilitate the process.

From Processor to Food Pantry: Don Tuller

Don Tuller ’77 (CAHNR), owner of Tulmeadow Farm, has been actively involved with 4-H and the agricultural community for his entire life. He was one of the volunteers staining the brand-new cabins at the Hartford County 4-H Camp in Marlborough, was later a camper and then a counselor. Don was also a member of the Hartford 4-H Fair Association and served in numerous leadership positions.

He understates his ongoing service to the community, including his role in the ice cream donation from HP Hood.

“4-H runs deep in our family,” Don says. “We were the transfer spot for the ice cream from H. P. Hood, and put it into my freezer, and then all the volunteers came and picked it up. We were willing to make our facility available and unload the ice cream with our forklift. We played a small role in the process and we’re happy to help.” Food pantries in six counties received ice cream donations.

The logistics of handling frozen products is not easy—and those 33 pallets of ice cream could have been ruined if the distribution process was not correct. “We’ve used our freezer space to support other food distribution efforts too, whenever it’s needed. We’ve had ongoing adventures with food donations to Foodshare over the years.”

Tulmeadow Farm sends sweet corn and extra vegetables to Foodshare and the Simsbury Food Bank every year too. Don’s record of service extends beyond his community, he recently retired as president of Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, where he served for 12 years in that role, and as a board member for the American Farm Bureau Federation. He currently serves as the president of the Connecticut Agricultural Education Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated communities throughout the world and caused untold damages. Throughout it all, the UConn 4-H program has embraced its commitment to civic engagement by addressing food insecurity and assisting families and food pantries across the state. Our alumni and volunteers continue giving back to the program and making the best better.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Making the Best Better

4-H Members Civic Engagement Initiative Has Statewide Impact

girl pulling wagon of millkFood insecurity spiked across Connecticut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The UConn 4-H team led and coordinated Operation Community Impact, a grassroots effort to help local families with food insecurity issues intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort also addresses surplus milk issues that negatively impact dairy farms in the state due to the pandemic.

The Litchfield County 4-H program selected Operation Community Impact focusing on food insecurity in the county as their theme for the year in January of 2020—the pandemic made that theme a necessity—and they focused their efforts on dairy products and organized the first milk distribution in March, and then the effort expanded statewide through our 4-H network in April.

The Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) team and others are also instrumental to the success by facilitating connections with food pantries and volunteers. Businesses and partner organizations statewide have donated refrigeration, trucks, and space to facilitate donations.

4-H youth and volunteers facilitated donation and delivery of over 200,000 pounds of dairy products—and counting. They worked with 96 food pantries in 57 towns, serving over 10,710 families. Thousands of hours of volunteer time and services are integral to the success of Operation Community Impact—and many of those volunteers are alumnus of our 4-H program and the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR).

“Over my seven years in 4-H I have been given many cool community service opportunities, but the dairy outreach community project is by far the most influential,” says Madeline Hall, a Litchfield County 4-H member. “It is a huge operation that really helps the community. It is a beautiful sight to see how utterly grateful the pantries and families receiving the milk are. I never knew how many families in Connecticut were in need. I’m so proud to be part of UConn 4-H.”

Madeline, her sister Olivia, and their mom Margaret have volunteered at all 12 donations to date. The Hall family has donated over 1,000 hours of their time to the effort. Margaret Hall has been a 4-H volunteer leader for eight years and leads the Diggity Dogs 4-H Club. She is also a co-leader and helped start the Grow Getters 4-H Horticulture Club this past year.

All eight counties received donations and had 4-H youth participate in the initiative. Litchfield and New London counties continued serving their food pantries through community initiatives that raised funds to purchase milk—and fruit in New London county—to support the local food pantries.

“It reassures me that we have a bright future ahead of us because we have these motivated, hard-working, intelligent, outgoing individuals that come up through the 4-H program,”

says Bill Davenport, the Litchfield County 4-H Educator. “We are excited to get surplus dairy products—in storage because of the pandemic—into the hands of families who are food insecure. Our actions increase awareness of the issue and encourage others to help do the same across Connecticut and the region so that we can help move more milk and dairy products out of the surplus and into the refrigerators of people who desperately need it.”

Article by Stacey Stearns

4-H Members Share Project at National Agriscience Summit

UConn 4-H Litchfield County was one of seven 4-H groups in the country to be selected to create and submit a five to seven minute video to be made available to participants at the 2021 National 4-H Agriscience Summit held earlier this month. The video highlights the county’s Community Action Plan entitled Operation Community Impact, which helped address food insecurity in the county by securing donations of milk that were distributed to local food pantries and over 1,400 different food insecure families through 14 different deliveries over the past 10 months. Thank you to all our 4-H members, volunteers, Extension educators, and others for moving this to a statewide initiative.

Jack and Mavis Collins: 90-Years of Combined Service to the UConn 4-H Program

Jack and Mavis CollinsA volunteer is defined as someone that donates their time to participate in a cause or program. UConn 4-H is the Extension youth development program and has thousands of volunteers across Connecticut that help us provide programming to over 18,000 youth, annually. Jack and Mavis Collins of Enfield have been volunteering with the UConn 4-H program for a combined 90-years.

The Hartford County 4-H program recognized Jack for his 55 years of service and Mavis for 35 years of service on Sunday, November 8th with a socially distanced presentation at the Collins’ Powder Hill Dairy Farm followed by a county-wide virtual ceremony.

Jack was a member of the Merry Moo-ers 4-H club as a youth and started volunteering while he was an animal science student in the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. Mavis grew up on a dairy farm in England and came to the United States with the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) Program. Both volunteered while their four children were 4-H members and have continued serving the program.

The true impact of the 90-years of volunteerism that Jack and Mavis have given to 4-H is in the youth that have benefitted from their dedicated service. All are welcomed into the Collins family and 4-H is part of their lives. They have served as teachers, role models, and mentors. Jack and Mavis share their love of animals and help youth grow into the best versions of themselves.

“The volunteer resumes of Jack and Mavis Collins go far beyond their service as club leaders to the Merry Moo-ers 4-H Club and the Powder Hill 4-H Equestrian Club,” says Jennifer Cushman, the UConn Extension 4-H Educator in Hartford County. “They have volunteered with the Fair Association, at the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm, 4-H Camp, and the International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE). Their contributions to the dairy cattle program area have made the best better for thousands of 4-H youth dairy project members.”

“You’ve been an inspiration to both 4-Hers and leaders alike, and an inspiration to generations of 4-Hers,” says Jennifer Syme, a 4-H alumna, parent, and volunteer. “We’re so grateful for you and your service.”

“Jack and Mavis, on behalf of the past and present Hartford County 4-H member, their parents, your fellow volunteers across the county, the state, and across New England, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your 4-H volunteer careers, and thank you,” Cushman says.

UConn 4-H is the youth development program of UConn CAHNR Extension. 4-H is a community of over six million young people across America who are learning Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), leadership, citizenship, and life skills through their 4-H project work. 4-H provides youth with the opportunity to develop lifelong skills including civic engagement and healthy living. Learn more about becoming a volunteer or enrolling your child in the UConn 4-H program at http://4-H.uconn.edu/.

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.

Valley View Farm is Connecticut Dairy Farm of the Year

New England Green Pastures Connecticut Dairy Farm of the Year 2020

Learned family gathers for a photo on their farm in North Stonington
Left to right: Timothy Learned, nephew Bradley Tefft, niece Annalise Tefft, sister Marcia tefft, mother Belinda Learned, father Edward learned, Benjamin Learned, Catherine Learned and Liz Lewis.

It is indeed a pleasure to announce that Ben and Tim Learned, owners of Valley View Farm, in North Stonington are the 2020 Outstanding Connecticut Dairy Farmers of the Year for the New England Green Pastures Award Program. Ben and Tim have accomplished the unique achievement of establishing a very successful new dairy farm in only 10 years. The brothers both worked for area dairy farms as they were growing up. Their passion for farming and dairy cattle became even clearer as they attended college and they easily decided that dairy farming would be their vocation rather than pursue other ventures. The brothers, together with their parents, Edward and Belinda, purchased a 130 acre unoccupied dairy farm 10 years ago in the beautiful rolling hills of North Stonington, Connecticut.

Ben and Tim started the farm with eight purchased cows and developed the herd through internal growth and strategic purchases to the current 120 cow herd. The herd is fed 100% BMR corn silage and round bale haylage produced on the farm and rented land and their rations are completed with purchased concentrates. They milk the herd in a flat parlor that they designed and built for cow comfort, cow flow as well as labor efficiency. They have recently completed a barn renovation to convert a tie stall part of the facility to a sand-bedded freestall that the cows fully utilize. The primarily Holstein herd is a high producing herd with high levels of protein. In addition, they have received awards from their dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmer’s of America, for achieving and maintaining high quality milk, which truly demonstrates their commitment to dairy farming.

Tim and Ben enjoy working together in all aspects of the dairy farm and they genuinely believe that having fun should be a component of dairy farming. It is truly a family farm with help from family members. Ben’s wife, Catherine, who helps out on weekends and before her full time job as a physical therapist and Catherine’s sister, Liz, as well as Ben and Tim’s sister, Marcia. In addition, they open their farm to students from the University of Rhode Island so that students can gain hands-on education on dairy farming. Tim and Ben, along with their mother, also have a grass-fed beef operation that yields 24 steers per year.

Together, Ben and Tim have built a dairy farm that is an excellent representation of the viability and sustainability of the New England dairy industry and gives us confidence for the future. Again, congratulations to Tim and Ben Learned for being named the Connecticut Outstanding Dairy Farmers for the 2020 New England Green Pastures Program.

The New England Green Pastures Program has a rich history starting in 1947 with a challenge from the New Hampshire governor as to which New England state dairy farmer produced the best pastures. It has continued with the additional focus on total management and viability of the farm as well as contribution to the agricultural community. This tradition lives on with recognition of the Learned brothers in North Stonington, Connecticut. We also thank the selection committee that consists of former winners and agri-business members.

Article by: Sheila M. Andrew, Ph.D., Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Connecticut, New England Green Pastures Connecticut Coordinator

Educator Spotlight: Bill Davenport

Bill Davenport with a dairy heifer at his home farm
Photo: Litchfield Hills Photography LLC

After thirty-three years as an agriscience teacher at Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, William Davenport has found his way back to his early grounding in 4-H. He began work as assistant extension educator in charge of 4-H programming in Litchfield County in July 2019. Davenport is a graduate of the college, having earned bachelor of science and master of science degrees in animal science, then sixth year in administration and supervision at Southern ConnecticutState University.

“We are pleased to have Bill join the Extension team as an accomplished agriscience educator who brings a wealth of experience in STEM, agricultural literacy and leadership development,” says Bonnie Burr, assistant director of UConn Extension. “Bill will be carrying out programs with the county’s 929 youth ages 5-19 and eighty-nine enrolled/ trained volunteers. He will also be developing and implementing statewide 4-H livestock-related programs.”

Growing up in Litchfield County, Davenport loved being a member of 4-H. He attended UConn with the idea of becoming a 4-H agent. But when the position in his county was filled by a new young agent, it was suggested he consider ag education. He changed his focus and set a new goal.

“Now I’m back to my original plan and I’m very excited to have this second career in my life,” he says. Davenport plans to build the 4-H program and expand the clubs. “I love teaching and have enjoyed working with high school students. As an agriscience teacher, I was heavily involved with FFA, and now I have the opportunity to bring agriculture to younger kids.” One of his goals is to increase after school 4-H programming as a way of introducing additional students to 4-H.

“The program has unlimited potential,” he says. “Particularly for families with young children looking for an activity that is wholesome and educational, while being open and welcoming to all students of any background.”

“The basis of 4-H is teaching the importance of farming and the natural world, but it also includes so many life skills such as public speaking, leadership, communication, self-confidence and community service, as well as STEM programs and many other activities.”

Those life skills will go a long way toward helping students in their careers. To highlight this point, Davenport asked one of his students to speak at a regional FFA advisory meeting.

He says, “These meetings are attended by people in the agricultural industry.  An industry expert stood up after this student’s presentation and said that she interviews for hundreds of positions a year and would hire the presenter immediately as she had not observed such poise and confidence in many applicants with advanced degrees. That’s what we teach in 4-H and FFA.”

Davenport would like to see state 4-H and FFA work together. “Think of what we could do collectively to help agricultural literacy and the agricultural industry,” he says.

Davenport grew up on a dairy farm and found 4-H dairy and livestock judging to be a rewarding experience. He plans to revitalize interest in 4-H livestock judging. “I’d like to develop 4-H teams that compete nationally. I’d also be interested in mentoring UConn judging teams.”

As an educator, Davenport has received numerous honors, including 2004 Connecticut State Teacher of the Year, USA Today’s 2005 All-USA Teacher Team, 2004-2005 NAAE Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher for Region VI and 2005 NAAE Syngenta Advocate for Agricultural Education Teacher Award. He is a member of the Connecticut State Board of Education and the National FFA Alumni and Supporters Council and served on the National FFA board of directors from 2013 to 2016.

Davenport houses twenty registered Ayrshire and Holstein dairy cows at his brother’s dairy farm, near the Connecticut border in Ancram, New York, and five heifers at his family homestead, Toll Gate Farm, in Litchfield. He lives with his wife Jill (Perham), also a UConn animal science graduate, and two daughters, Megan, a junior majoring in animal science and agricultural education at UConn and Allison will be at UConn in fall 2020.

Article by Jason M. Sheldon

Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Ice Cream

Industrywide Food Safety Initiative Focuses on Small/Artisanal Ice Cream Companies

making ice cream at UConn, purple gloves hold container of ice cream
Chemical engineering majors make a test batch of reduced sugar ice cream at the UConn Creamery on April 8, 2015. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy announced that food safety resources for small and artisanal ice cream manufacturers, including an online class and technical support, are now available. Dennis D’Amico, one of our Extension educators was on the team that developed these initiatives.

These initiatives, which are similar to tools created in 2017 for the artisan/farmstead cheese community, are designed to help companies mitigate their food safety risks.

This initiative was led by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, an organization founded by dairy farmers in 2008 to convene the entire industry on common goals and opportunities. Innovation Center experts formed the Artisan Ice Cream Food Safety Advisory Team that includes the National Ice Cream Retailers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, academics, company owners and food safety experts from across the dairy industry.

“We created these tools with input from the owners of small ice cream companies and learned what can most effectively work for them,” said Tim Stubbs, Vice President of Product Research and Food Safety for the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “As a result, we think these resources have been designed in a way that these companies can help assure consumer confidence in their products.”

The resources include an online course offered through North Carolina State University titledFood Safety Basics for Artisan Ice Cream Makers.” The course includes 10 interactive modules on the importance of food safety, identifying hazards, preventive controls, design, plant practices, sanitation and environmental monitoring. The course is available free through July 31, 2020 (discount code INTRO-FREE). Visit https://foodsafety.ncsu.edu/food-safety-basics-for-ice-cream-makers or www.usdairy.com/artisan for information.

A new website — www.safeicecream.org – is hosted by IDFA and offers self-study resources, guides, templates and tools designed to quickly help manufacturers.

Also available are workshops that provide direct coaching and technical support for small businesses as they write their food safety plans.

Information on the workshops or one-on-one food safety support is available by calling (607) 255-3459 or emailing dairyfoodsafetycoach@cornell.edu. More information can be found at www.usdairy.com/artisan

Environmental Monitoring for Food Safety

worker in a dairy processing facility with a swab and computer taking a sample for food safety
Photo: NCSU Extension

Dairy Processors: Are you interested in designing and implementing an environmental monitoring program (EMP) to improve your food safety program? This course may be for you.

In this eight-hour online course, you will learn alongside virtual dairy processors and apply concepts in the context of a dairy facility. This online course is available on-demand and adapts to your understanding of the materials. These features provide you with the flexibility to progress at your own pace with the confidence you will understand the content.

Dennis D’Amico, our Extension educator in the Department of Animal Science at UConn was one of the educators who developed this course. For more information, or to register, please visit NCSU Food Safety.

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at www.safecheesemaking.org. Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns