UConn Extension collaborated with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) Departments of Agriculture and Parks and Recreation to facilitate a youth photography scavenger hunt at Meechooôk Farm in July 2023. This activity is part of a larger shared commitment to youth development and improvements in agricultural literacy in the MPTN community.
MPTN youth were provided with cameras and a scavenger hunt sheet that encouraged them to explore the farm with the help of two older MPTN teens who are employed at the farm. While touring the high tunnel greenhouses, the youth asked if they could harvest some of the cucumbers and tomatoes for an afternoon snack. After visiting the three sisters’ garden, the Hereford cows, the swine pen, and the vegetable production fields, the youth enjoyed the fruits of their labor as they reflected on the day. They chose to talk with friends and eat the vegetables they had picked themselves over the bags of processed snacks and their phones.
The photos that the youth had captured at the farm were then developed and entered into the New London County 4-H Fair on August 11-13th, 2023. Their efforts were rewarded with many blue, red, and white Danish ribbons. Youth projects are evaluated on their individual merits at the 4-H Fair. This fall, UConn 4-H is working with MPTN to develop a 4-H club where youth can continue to engage with 4-H programming and curriculum in topics that interest them.
A partnership between UConn and local tribes led to the development of Meechooôk Farm and other programs that strengthen the tribal community, their land-base, and self-sufficiency. Learn more about the project by reading this article.
Financial support for this work was provided by the USDA NIFA Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP Awards 2017-41580-26950 and 2022-41580-37944).
Indigenous People’s Day celebrates the cultures, histories, and contributions of Native and Indigenous peoples in the United States and across the world. It honors America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal nations that continue to thrive here today, recognizing their contributions and acknowledging their resilience and strength in the face of a centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native and Indigenous communities in the United States and beyond.
UConn Extension recognizes Native and Indigenous resilience and strength every day of the year.
This photo from September shows the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Department of Agriculture, UConn Extension, and Flowerhill Institute. We met at the Meechooôk Farm and discussed the expansion of their livestock enterprises. Learn more about our collaboration with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at https://s.uconn.edu/mptn.
As a part of the symbiotic partnership between the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) and UConn Extension and supported by USDA NIFA’s Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP), tribal youth engage in outreach opportunities designed to educate students about the origin of food and fiber. Programming during summer 2022 included a series of STEM activity kits and field-trip experiences that promoted engagement with agricultural sciences in production settings.
A total of 250 ‘Adventures in Agriculture’ activity kits were distributed to the MPTN Department of Education & Recreation to be completed within
the Parks and Recreation camp program or to be taken home to assemble with household members. Five unique kit sets focused on entomology and Integrated Pest Management (IPM), wool production, aquaculture, animal identification and record keeping, and plant development. In addition to the materials and instructional videos necessary to complete the activities, kits were accompanied with Farming Connection Cards that discussed real-life applications and agricultural principles.
In early August, 29 MTPN youth gathered at Meechooôk Farm to engage in a UConn 4-H ruminant digestion simulation activity that involved the use of spaghetti, pop rocks, and soda. Students learned about the diet and eating behavior of cattle as well as the inner workings of their compartmented stomach. MPTN Department of Agriculture Director Jeremy Whipple and Meechooôk Farm Manager Cassius Spears, Sr. led an educational tour around the farm that involved a visit with the pigs and cattle and a peek inside the hydroponic high tunnels, where food is grown to support the tribal community.
Joined by UConn Extension faculty and staff persons, 15 youth and five chaperones from MPTN visited the UConn Storrs campus to learn about opportunities in higher education. The group participated in a tour led by Lodewick Visitors Center student staff that featured a trip to UConn’s Native American Cultural Center. The group also visited the horses and heifers, ate lunch at a dining hall, and were able to partake in tours of the floriculture greenhouses and the Kellogg Dairy Center. Before heading back to the MPTN Community Center, the group enjoyed ice cream from the UConn Dairy Bar.
Exposing youth to food and fiber systems with Extension outreach has the potential to spark a lifelong interest in learning and in agriculture while encouraging youth to contribute to their community. This programming aims to inspire future agriculturalists and informed decision makers as we work together towards a more sustainable future.
Financial support for this work was provided by the USDA NIFA Federally-Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP Award 2017-41580-26950). Learn more about the program at https://s.uconn.edu/mptn.
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
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion through anti-racist approaches
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.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and UConn Extension have been collaborating thanks to a U.S.D.A. Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program to enhance agricultural production, food security, and health of tribal community members.
“The mission statement of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation (MPTN) states they will ‘…establish a social, cultural and economic foundation that can never be undermined or destroyed…,’” says Tribal Councilor Daniel Menihan, Jr. MPTN was facing challenges growing their fruits and vegetables at a scale to meet the tribe’s needs on their land in Ledyard, and some members were struggling with diabetes.
UConn has enjoyed a long history of engagement with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal community. Many members have graduated from UConn and served on the UConn Foundation Board, among others. Despite the fact that there is an Extension office only 10 miles from the reservation, MPTN has rarely participated in any educational outreach or training offered by UConn Extension.
UConn Extension received the four-year Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) grant from USDA-NIFA with the goal of having the tribe share their ideas for growing food and health, and help them learn about the Extension resources that are available. As a result of the grant, the relationship between MPTN and UConn is strengthening, and there is growth in agricultural production, food security, and health for the tribal people.
“MPTN is still learning, but they are now able to grow their own food, in what looks like a commercial setting,” states Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, Vegetable Crops Extension educator and principal investigator on the grant. “They have high tunnels, a rototiller, a plastic mulch layer, and cold storage, which are common tools for a commercial farm.”
Extension provides expertise through one-on-one consultation, and classroom and hands-on training on-site in a collaborative setting. Educational outreach addresses the following critical areas identified by the MPTN Council:
Improve food security
Improve economic viability
Improve youth engagement and communications
Improve nutrition and diabetes awareness through collaborative education
An Extension program involving several specialists in fruit and vegetable production, farm business management, marketing, 4-H youth development, health and nutrition, communications, evaluation and assessment is working with the MPTN on their goals. Tribal members are participating in other Extension programs, beyond the scope of the grant. A 4-H club is being established at MPTN to increase opportunities for youth.
“Once this grant came, we started working with UConn Extension Educators. There has been a substantial gain in the knowledge and skills regarding growing food, writing a business plan, nutrition, and health,” says Jeremy Whipple, a MPTN member.
Growing with MPTN
Extension provides education for MPTN in state-of-the-art sustainable vegetable and fruit production techniques, and
through collaboration with MPTN, is melded with traditional and historical tribal farming methods. This provides MPTN with a means to continue the richness of their history while moving into modern sustainable farming economically.
Tribal youth are included in all aspects of the agricultural venture with the tribe’s expectation that several youth will develop major roles in the business venture. Two tribal youth are being paid by the grant to work in vegetable production at MPTN.
“Learning how to grow tomatoes, including pest management, is one of the many things I enjoy working with on this grant” Ernest Pompey, one of the tribal youths working on this grant says. “I am excited to share what I learned about growing and eating healthy food to other youth in my community.”
“The tribe also established a community garden where they bring other youth from the community to teach them about growing. The knowledge is expanding within their own community, and they are teaching each other now,” Shuresh says.
UConn Extension’s nutrition team is working with the tribal community health providers to deliver educational programming in healthy eating and diabetes prevention using classroom education, and hands-on learning in the selection and preparing of healthy food, and exercise through gardening. The goal is to reduce the risk and incidence of diabetes in the tribal community.
“The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) utilizes a hands-on approach to nutrition education, combining nutrition knowledge with enhancement of skills to apply this knowledge to prepare healthy foods that are convenient, affordable and culturally appropriate,” says Mike Puglisi PhD, RD, state EFNEP director. “Erica Benvenuti, New London County nutrition educator, taught children in the MPTN High 5 Program the importance of food safety and increasing vegetable intake, and enhanced learning through getting the children involved in preparation of a traditional recipe prepared by the MPTN, the Three Sisters Rice recipe.”
The grant is starting its third year, and another Extension educator is working with tribal youth and adults in developing a business plan for the agricultural venture to increase their success rate. Youth and adults are also learning about their agricultural history and how it can successfully be integrated into today’s modern sustainable agriculture by combining classes with in-field learning experience.
“Ultimately, after the grant ends, MPTN’s farm will operate as a commercial vegetable farm would in terms of production and reaching out to Extension when they do need help. They will be independent, and continue growing their operation to support the goals of the tribal nation,” Shuresh states.
Under the USDA FRTEP grant we have with Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, on the morning August 15th, Erica Benvenuti, Mike Puglisi, and Alyssa Siegel-Miles of the UConn Extension EFNEP program conducted a food preparation workshop for the tribal youth. There were 13 teens and seven adults at the event. Erica and team did an excellent job engaging and teaching the youth to prepare three sisters meal – corn, squash and bean (tribe’s traditional meal) and salsa. The objective of the workshop was to teach the tribal youth the importance of healthy food and give hands-on training on food preparation (from washing hands to following recipe to serving food). This falls under our goal of improving the overall health of the tribal members. I personally very much enjoyed the workshop.
Submitted by Shuresh Ghimire, PhD, and PI on the grant