Connecticut has faced challenges related to sustainable landscapes, food and agriculture, health, and the climate for generations. As problems are solved, new issues arise. UConn Extension educators work in all 169 cities and towns of Connecticut to help solve the problems that our residents, communities, and state face. Connecting people with agriculture, the natural environment, and healthy lifestyles are critical components to a sustainable future. Extension works collaboratively with our partners and stakeholders to find solutions that improve our communities for the next generation.
Rich Mutts ’06 (CLAS) graduated from UConn with a bachelor of arts in human development and family sciences. The New Haven school system quickly hired him. As his career progressed, he knew that he wanted to do more to make positive changes in the community. In 2016, Rich had the opportunity to join the Meriden Children First Initiative (CFI) as a program director.
One of his early responsibilities at CFI was recruiting parents to participate in the UConn People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program. CFI regularly hosts a 12-week PEP program for parents and community members. There are 12 to 18 participants in each cohort, and the groups also complete a community project. Over 75 participants have graduated from the UConn PEP programs sponsored by CFI.
UConn PEP is an Extension program in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. It is an innovative personal and family development program with a strong community focus. UConn PEP builds on the unique strengths and life experiences of the participants. The program emphasizes the connection between individuals and community action.
“I looked at the parents I was recruiting as unpolished diamonds,” Rich says. “The 12-week course changes their lives. They’re back in school and have the opportunity to feel that self-growth again, and it increases their self-worth. I wanted to empower them to use their voices. Watching the parents grow is the most fulfilling part of the PEP program for me.”
Community projects are an important component of the UConn PEP program. They provide participants with an avenue to create a positive change in their community and work collaboratively with their UConn PEP cohort.
“Connectivity is the one word I would use to describe UConn PEP,” Rich says. “The overall theme of the UConn PEP programming is taking people and letting them know they are already leaders. We are pulling a dormant fire and determination out of them. They often feel overlooked as just parents, but they are great leaders.” The community projects that the groups select prove what great leaders they are and empower the participants to continue making a difference in their communities.
Meriden saw an influx of displaced families after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September of 2017. The PEP class at CFI that fall quickly pivoted their project to create a directory of everything the displaced families would need.
Another cohort from CFI sponsored a book drive. Meriden has a Summer Discovery Program that is free for youth, and 80 children were participating during this cohort year. The summer program lasts for three weeks, and the PEP parents’ goal was for each child to leave with a new book every day of the program. The group set up drop-off points around the city and collected over 2,700 books, then they sorted and distributed them.
“Our participants are so empowered when they finish their UConn PEP projects,” Rich says. “We are there to make connections for them. We encourage our PEP graduates to sit on boards or on the CFI advisory council after they finish classes. CFI also provides an opportunity for them to receive training to become a PEP facilitator.”
Rich is also a musician and video producer. A few years ago, he created the Born Rich documentary about the disconnect between police and the community. The documentary focused on emotions and he wrote and performed the songs for it.
“I’m from Hamden,” he says. “I knew I could do more and make a bigger impact. I wanted to expand who I help.” Rich transitioned to a part-time director of programs role with CFI in January of 2020 when he created the Born Rich Foundation.
The Born Rich Foundation focuses on youth and connecting communities to their municipal leaders. “Rich can mean many things, including our family and health,” he says. “True wealth is our happiness. The documentary and our foundation are all about healing.”
That healing can come in many forms and one is through the personal empowerment that Rich saw with UConn PEP. The Born Rich Foundation offered a 10-week virtual learning series in August and September. Experiences were offered every day from 8 AM until 5 PM. Participants could join whenever they were available to receive multiple levels of learning. These included a health and fitness series on Wednesdays, meditation hours, and seminars on substance abuse led by health clinicians.
The newest project for the Born Rich Foundation is a public service announcement video series on the importance of connecting the community and police officers. Rich is working with Hamden, New Haven, and East Haven on the project. It includes the mayors and municipal leaders from each city and has the support of Senator Chris Murphy. The series is being released in February 2021.
The Future is Bright
PEP will evolve and grow in the future, and Rich expects it will be a hybrid course as we continue recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He stresses that connecting over words and the internet is still a transformative educational experience.
“Getting parents to understand that their voice matters and that it is needed is a challenge,” Rich says. “UConn PEP can continue expanding and growing; there are so many people that need this program. As facilitators we get to see the smiles and tears; and hear the stories. We need to expand UConn PEP to children, city leaders, and teachers.”
“The future is bright,” Rich says. “We’re in uncertain times right now, but it is bright. Everything the Born Rich Foundation is doing is grounded in what I learned in UConn PEP. It’s all based on equity and I’m incorporating that into all of our programming.”
For more information about the Born Rich Foundation you can watch part one of the documentary. Watch the music video HOME and listen to his song ALRIGHT. Learn more about the UConn PEP program at https://pep.extension.uconn.edu/.
Article by Stacey Stearns
Beginning farmers in Connecticut are changing the face of agriculture. With their values driven, sustainable-minded farming practices, they are filling the direct-to-consumer marketplace with high quality food grown intensively on small parcels. Since 2012, UConn Extension, part of the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and its partners have responded to the growing number of beginning farmers with core training in production and business management. In recent years, it was clear that advanced-level beginning farmers (with 6-10 years of experience) were facing more complex challenges as they grappled with decisions about scale, diversification, infrastructure, and risk.
Starting this winter, UConn Extension and partners will respond to this emerging need with a new grant funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant is Solid Ground 2: Weaving Together Expert Trainings and Peer Networks for Sustained Beginner and Advanced-Beginner Farmer Success in Connecticut. It is a three-year project funded at $525,000 that builds upon the accomplishments of the existing Solid Ground Training Program to deliver increasingly relevant, high quality trainings that respond to beginning farmer skill gaps at the appropriate level.
“The new grant leverages the capacity, talent, and integrity of partner organizations to meet the needs of beginning farmers that were unmet through our Solid Ground trainings in previous years,” says Jiff Martin, the Extension Educator leading the project. “We also intend to help address the very real barrier of finding farmland for new and beginning farmers, including the unique challenges created by structural racism when farmers of color seek farmland.”
While there are many excellent opportunities in agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training, and technical assistance. For those within their first 10 years of operation, it’s vital they have access to capital, land, and knowledge and information to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability.
“Beginning farmers can be divided into two groups – early-stage and advanced-level beginning farmers,” says Charlotte Ross, one of the project co-coordinators. “Slightly more than half (52%) of beginning farmer operators have been operating a farm for six to 10 years, and the remainder (48%) have been farming for five years or less.”
Beginning farmers comprise 28% of the principal operators on Connecticut farms, and there are 2,132 beginning farmers in total. The Solid Ground program is targeting 700 farms that earn between $2,500 and $50,000 individually. The average age of Connecticut’s beginning farmers is 47.9, only slightly higher than the national average of 46.3.
“While beginning farmer owned farm businesses are generating $97 million in product sales, only 32% can farm as a primary occupation, and most (79%) depend on off farm-income at varying levels. This is the reality of small farming enterprises in Connecticut—they are often part-time, seasonal businesses that generate tremendous value to our communities in terms of land stewardship and local food markets but are typically not at a scale to support multiple employees with fair wages and benefits.” Martin states. The next three years of the Solid Ground Program will help beginning farmers build critical peer networks with each other, gain insight on entrepreneurial models, discover cost-saving DIY infrastructure projects for the farm, and improve their skills in agroecology, agriculture mechanics, urban agriculture, and soil health.
UConn Extension and its partners will work together to deliver exceptional training and networking opportunities that are practical, convenient, and accessible. UConn Extension will serve as the administrative and communications foundation on the project. Two school-based agricultural education organizations will host Agriculture Mechanic trainings for beginning farmers. Front-line community-based organizations led by people of color will plan and deliver urban farming training in the cities of Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven. Two statewide non-government organizations with a strong base of beginning farmer members will work together to implement peer networking. A regional non-government organization will coordinate matchmaking events for farmland seekers. The structure of decision-making embedded throughout this project ensures that voices of color are empowered to steer training priorities.
Project leaders will strive to deliver services in a manner that ensures equitable access to learning opportunities. The project’s overall approach recognizes the integrity and new knowledge that the beginning farmer community, and the organizations they belong to, can offer to the broader agriculture sector in our state.
UConn Extension team members include Nancy Barrett, Matt DeBacco, Kip Kolesinskas, Charlotte Ross, Rebecca Toms, and MacKenzie White. Partner organizations on the project are Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association, Land For Good, Love Fed Initiative, the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance, Connecticut Farmland Trust, American Farmland Trust, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Green Village Initiative, the Keney Park Sustainability Project, Park City Harvest, the Nonnewaug High School Agri-Science program, the Rockville High School Agri-Science program, and the Connecticut Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee.
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.
Kim Bradley recently joined UConn Extension as the project coordinator for the Connecticut Trail Census. Welcome, Kim!
Kimberly Bradley is dedicated and passionate about engaging individuals and communities in outdoor activities and connecting them to our public lands and educating others to maintain resilient ecological systems. Her involvement in the conservation and trails communities includes serving on the Board of Directors as President and Stewardship Chair for Avalonia Land Conservancy; as a member of the Eightmile River Wild and Scenic Watershed Coordination Committee, supporting the Outreach and Education and Goodwin Trail Coordination Subcommittees; serving as president of the SECT Chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association, and on Regional Board of Directors; serving on the Town of Salem Inland Wetland and Conservation Commission; and supporting the Connecticut Envirothon Program, as the previous Aquatics Chairperson and Steering Committee Member.
Kim holds a M.Sc. in Biological Oceanography, and a B.Sc. in Environmental Science with a focus on Ecological and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut. She worked as a Research Assistant for the National Undersea Research Center at UConn Avery Point while earning her graduate degree, and upon completion of her M. Sc., worked as a senior environmental and ecological consultant for close to ten years building a strong network of engineering and natural resource colleagues and municipal representatives across Connecticut. Kim then moved into the role of Project Specialist for UConn’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) supporting the grant funded planning, development, design, implementation and evaluation of workshops, webinars, and outreach materials on living shorelines, green infrastructure. Kim loves exploring the trails and open spaces with her family, especially her two young daughters and lab Huckleberry, by foot or on their mountain bikes.
Garden harvests are underway, and it’s a great time to plan ahead for next year. Apply now for the 2021 UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Classes will be held in Bethel, Brooklyn, Farmington, Haddam and Stamford. The deadline for applications is Friday, October 16, 2020.
UConn Extension Master Gardeners have an interest in plants, gardening, people and the environment. Specifically, they are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.
“The Master Gardener Program opened my eyes to the wonderful world of horticulture, gardening, and the fragile ecosystem we share with animals and insects,” says Pat Sabosik of Hamden, who completed the program in 2017.
The 2021 class, that runs January through April, will be entirely online. Each topic consists of online educational material to be reviewed before the class date and a weekly interactive online session providing more depth and application of information to real-life situations. The classroom portion runs from 9 AM – 1 PM. There are five class cohorts available; each affiliated with one or more Master Gardener offices. This year’s Haddam class will be held on Saturdays.
“The combination of in-depth classroom learning with subject matter experts, extensive reading materials, and hands-on projects and outreach experiences is a good balance of learning experiences”, says Anne Farnum who also took the class in 2017.
Classes begin the week of January 9, 2021. Subject matter includes basic botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology and other aspects of gardening such as plant categories, native plants, and pest management. After the classroom portion, students complete 60 hours of outreach experience during the summer, along with a plant identification project.
The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.
For more information, visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at www.mastergardener.uconn.edu , where both the on-line and paper application are located.
Join us for a tour of the silvopasture work at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center in Amherst, MA. With Nikki Burton of UMass Extension, we will have an online tour of their silvopasture, which includes sheep within a chestnut grove, and follow that with questions and discussion.
The workshop will be Tuesday, August 18th from 9 – 11AM
To register and receive the link for the webinar visit:
If you have questions that you would like to send in advance that Nikki can address, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also submit your questions at our registration page.
Other Learning Opportunities
- UMASS Webinar Series on grazing and forage season extension. Connect at Grazing and Forage Season Extension Webinar Series MASS.pdf
- NOFAMass is offering several online programs with information related to our learning experiences. Connect here to those opportunities: https://www.nofamass.org/events?inf_contact_key=65014a46cd89fcd0583604d766cdbefd
We are delighted to share that UConn Extension has received three national awards from the Association of Communication Excellence:
Wrack Lines Magazine: Connecticut Sea Grant
The Spring-Summer 2019 issue of Wrack Lines magazine has received a Grand Award in the APEX 2020 Awards for Publication Excellence. The magazine focuses on climate change issues faced by residents along the coast, highlighting how “People and Nature Intertwine in New Ways”.
Congratulations to all the writers, photographers, editors and graphic designers!
Read more about this award: Wrack Lines issue receives APEX 2020 Gran Award
Hello everyone, my name is Meg Sanders, and I am a UConn Extension Environmental Education intern with the Natural Resources Conservation Academy for summer 2020.
A little bit about myself, I am a sophomore at UConn studying environmental science with a minor in communication. I was an intern with UConn Extension during the summer of 2019 and I worked with other extension educators and 4-H educators. My experience with UConn Extension has allowed me to gain valuable field experiences at Auer Farm, the 4-H Hartford County Fair, and other 4-H sites in CT. I’ve been really lucky to have had opportunities working with many diverse groups of youth and adults in order to both teach others and learn about their experiences with the environment. I especially loved working with CT youth at Auer Farm, and being able to teach students who didn’t have much experience with rural ecosystems about the animals on a farm.
During the academic school year of 2019-2020, I was a grant recipient for the UConn Co-op Legacy Fellowship Change Grant. With this grant, I worked with two fellow UConn undergraduate students to create environmental education curriculum kits that we hoped to distribute to middle school educators all over Connecticut. We prepared an online and in-class curriculum using existing 4-H educational materials on climate change education, and planned to distribute these and kits to CT middle schools before schools were closed down this spring. This effort was done in paralleled with Connecticut Environmental Action Day. From this experience, I was able to learn more about what goes into creating environmental educational content, and was able to further my experience working with extension educators.
My interests in the environment are still growing and changing daily. A fun fact about myself is that I had the opportunity to attend a short UConn study abroad experience before I began interning for UConn Extension. Unfortunately, it did not happen due to the pandemic, but we would have traveled to South Africa to study African field ecology. With this, I’d hoped to be able to see ecosystems that I normally wouldn’t be exposed to, and learn about what conservation means to different people around the world. This trip will not be happening this year but will be next year, and I hope to be able to still gain these unique experiences. Next year, I would love to be able to use some of the knowledge about conservation that I will have learned this summer and apply it to what I will be learning abroad.
This summer, I am very excited to learn how to provide environmental education in many ways, including online. Learning how to utilize resources online to deliver similar content that would have been used in hands-on field experiences will be interesting and thought-provoking. I look forward to improving my skills with mapping technologies, such as GPS and GIS. Overall, I look forward to being able to apply all of the natural resources knowledge that I can to other aspects of my life in order to promote conservation and sustainability.
Hi! My name is Neva Taylor and I am one of the summer interns with the CT Trail Census and UConn CAHNR Extension. At UConn, I am a double major in Urban and Community Studies (UCS) and Sociology, and in the Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) fast track program. At UConn I am on the women’s rugby team and the triathlon team; because of COVID I have switched to mainly running, running my first virtual half marathon back in May. Other than sports, I also am involved with the Big Brother Big Sister mentoring program where I have a “little sister” at a local elementary school. I also had my own radio show last semester called Woman of the Week (WOW) where I highlighted different amazing women out there doing amazing things each week.
Thanks to my broadcasting experience, I am starting a new podcast for the CT Trail Census called “On the Trail”. On the podcast we will cover a broad array of topics both on and off the beaten path about all things having to do with nature, trails, and the outdoors. Last week’s episode was all about finding the right trail for you and what resources (apps and websites) can help you along the way. In the coming weeks we will be discussing issues like youth engagement, trail maintenance, representation and inclusivity in the outdoors community, and much more. My hopes for this podcast are that people can get in tune with nature in their backyards and communities and learn new things that they may have never thought to question. Each episode launches every Friday at 12pm so I hope you’ll join us “On the Trail!”