Meet the UConn 4-H Legends, a soccer playing 4-H club in Danbury, CT that’s been in existence for about three years. This 35-member club, composed of boys and girls, has several projects: sports, nutrition, leadership and community service. Although they do a variety of things, they are at the soccer field 3 times a week, improving their soccer skills and learning teamwork, personal responsibility, goal setting, decision making, and creative problem solving. Leader Anna Loor and her coaches, Julio Buestan and Narcisa Tenezaca lead and facilitate the club.
Until Covid 19 struck, 4-H Legends participated in soccer tournaments every month. Healthy snacks are part of the nutrition education and soccer practice. At monthly Family Nights Out, youth and their families increase their nutrition knowledge while making a group healthy meal for everyone to eat.
As a multi-disciplinary effort of the Fairfield County UConn Extension office, Heather Peracchio, Community Nutrition Educator, registered dietician organized and taught the classes at the Family Nights Out. German Cutz, our former Sustainable Community Educator organized the soccer portion, and Ede Valiquette, 4-H Educator, worked with the adult leaders to support the 4-H club.
As with any 4-H club, community service is a priority. At their monthly business meetings, the club discuses and makes decisions regarding service projects for the year. Although they have done a variety of projects, their “best” one was perhaps conducted this year, “Celebrating our Heroes”. In “Celebrating our Heroes”, Legends soccer coach and chef, Julio Buestan helped the Legends, prepare 150 meals for healthcare workers at Danbury Hospitals during the height of the Covid 19 virus outbreak.
Article by Edith Valiquette, Extension 4-H Educator
Sandi Wilson, Fairfield County Master Gardener Coordinator, spotlights three of the signature projects that volunteers have been working on:
In November the Master Gardeners were putting the garden to bed for the season. Each year, they analyze what worked and what didn’t in the garden and begin to formulate their plan for next year. The demo garden team decided that the apple and pear trees were too high maintenance and in order to be fruitful would require more inputs than what this low maintenance and organic minded team desired. They removed the trees and will be substituting native paw paws that they hope will thrive with less care and inputs. The irrigation system worked great this year, and the crew made a few additional adjustments to the system to improve its efficiency.
As you know the Master Gardeners donate all the vegetables and herbs it produces to area food banks. In 2016, 656 pounds of produce, plus bundled herbs and flowers were donated to local organizations. In 2017, despite a slow start because of cool weather, the garden ultimately yielded 755 pounds of produce! The following organizations received donations during the season: Newtown Social Services, and the Faith Food Pantry in Newtown, The Brookfield Pantry, Friends of Brookfield Seniors, and the St James Daily Bread Pantry in Brookfield, and the Salvation Army in Danbury. This garden is not only a beautiful example of a working and productive vegetable garden, it is also used as a teaching tool for the community. Every Saturday, docent led tours are given to the public, who frequent the Farmer’s Market also held on the grounds. Master Gardeners teach Integrated Pest Management practices, cultural techniques, and other sustainable practices to visitors.
The Giving Garden – Brookfield, CT
This organic vegetable garden was established in 2010. Various Master Gardeners have participated in planting, maintaining, and harvesting this teaching garden over the years. Close to 1,000 pounds of produce is harvested from the garden each year and donated to area food pantries and soup kitchens! Primary recipients of the produce include food pantries in Brookfield, Danbury, and New Milford, and the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen in Danbury. The garden is also used as a teaching garden for other Master Gardeners and the public. It is also frequented by area high school “key club” members who learn about sustainable practices, IPM methods, and the importance of volunteerism.
The Victory Garden – Newtown, CT
Master Gardeners are also involved with this 1/2 acre community garden that shares the bounty at the Fairfield Hills Campus. The garden started 8 years ago offers rows which are adopted by Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, Ability Beyond Disability, and other community groups. The vegetables, fruits and flowers grown are donated to the Faith Food Pantry, Nunnawauk Meadows, a low income senior housing facility, and to Newtown Social Services.
As processed foods loaded with fat, sugars and salt, become increasingly cheap and convenient for Americans, the fight to maintain health and nutrition becomes more and more relevant. In the spirit of spreading awareness for the importance of making good choices while purchasing food, a nutritional outreach program, one of many across Connecticut, is occurring through UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) and UConn Extension.
These outreach programs take place at Connecticut farmers’ markets in east Bridgeport and Danbury. The Farmers’ Market in Bridgeport is run in collaboration with Wholesome Wave, a national organization based in Bridgeport dedicated to increasing affordability and availability of fresh foods to Americans.
The Danbury Farmers’ Market is run by the Danbury Farmers’ Market Community Collaborative (DFMCC) “Better Health Through Better Food” initiative.
Heather Peracchio, a dietitian and UConn Masters in Allied Health Sciences ’08 alumna, has been working as an educator at farmers’ markets since 2006. At the farmers’ market, she gives out healthy recipes, answers questions and presents to the public about making the best nutritional choices.
Connecticut State Representative Dan Carter was our special guest at the Robotics and Technology recognition night. Two groups of children and youth from Danbury completed a 10-week pilot program. Participants built and programmed robots using laptops and artificial intelligence bricks. Before this program none of the participants was a 4-H member. At the end of the program nearly 30 children and youth became new UConn Extension 4-Hers.