Our urban agriculture students, and Extension Educator German Cutz visited with Senator Richard Blumenthal at the Danbury Connecticut Farmers’ Market on Saturday, September 24th. Our students in the urban agriculture program complete extensive classroom hours, and hands-on learning in the field and markets.
UConn Extension and 8 statewide agricultural partners have received a grant from USDA-NIFA for their project, “Advancing the Business of Farming in Connecticut in Partnership with Agriculture Learning Centers.” The nearly $600,000 grant integrates the expertise and current training programs of UConn Extension with the Agricultural Learning Centers that provide targeted training, mentoring, and one-on-one technical assistance customized to meet the needs of beginning farmers in Connecticut.
The project is developed by and for beginning farmers across the state, and will strengthen beginning farmer training and foster a self-sustaining community of practice among beginning farmer training program leaders. Instead of duplicating the efforts of great organizations that are already building beginner farmer training programs, this project enriches and aligns beginning farmer training programs via consistent strategies and common metrics.
The Agricultural Learning Centers partnering on the grant are: Common Ground High School in New Haven, the Community Farm of Simsbury, the Green Village Initiative in Bridgeport, Killingly Agriculture Education Program, KNOX in Hartford, WRCC-GROW Windham, and UConn Extension’s Listo Para Inciar urban agriculture program in Danbury and Stamford. Other key partners in the project are the New CT Farmer Alliance (NCTFA) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of CT.
NCTFA is a statewide network of over 200 beginning farmers and growers. “With this investment supported through the USDA, the alliance will further increase accessibility between agricultural support services, and Connecticut’s budding community of agricultural entrepreneurs,” said Betsy Robson, NCTFA Coordinator.
UConn Extension has a long tradition bringing research-based guidance and training to producers. Dr. German Cutz of the Fairfield County Extension Center leads the Listo Para Inciar (or Ready-to-Start) training program, which delivers a hands-on, cohort based model of beginner farming training for Hispanics.
“It is very exciting to be part of the Advancing the Business of Farming grant because it will ensure that urban residents get an opportunity to learn and practice urban agriculture,” German says. “The Ready to Start Program will train urban adult residents in urban agriculture. The Ready to Start program is a collaborative effort involving UConn Extension, local farmers, and community-based agencies and organizations, and will counter food insecurity and food desert areas in urban cities in Connecticut. Low-income families, especially, will have access to locally produced food while at the same time newly trained urban farmers will engage in food production.”
Core trainings for beginning farmers will emphasize: business planning, financial management and record keeping; farmland access; overcoming marketing uncertainties; and small scale production of vegetables and fruit. Programs will be offered in person, with online tutorials developed for many of the modules, including farm business planning, soil health, safe and effective use of pesticides, and marketing for success.
The long term goal of the collaborative team is for every beginning farmer in Connecticut who wishes to produce food for income – regardless of scale, experience, or language barriers – to have access to fundamental training, know where to find service providers and their resources, and be able to start or continue farming profitably.
UConn Extension Educator Jiff Martin is serving as principal investigator and says,”I am thrilled to embark on this new chapter of work with Connecticut’s beginning farmers. Our newest and aspiring farmers deserve a robust and coordinated investment from all of us who work as agriculture educators. I look forward to working with our partners to meet the needs of a wide variety farmers with various background and experience in agriculture, with a shared focus on the future of agriculture in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities.”
Learning in the Field and the Classroom
Students in the Urban Agriculture and IPM Training program completed 180 hours of classroom instruction, and volunteered 1,603 hours. Volunteer time was spent working on the farm preparing the land, building raised garden beds, planting and maintaining an acre of organic vegetables, and selling produce at the Danbury Farmer’s Market.
“We have learned to work as a team, and to grow organic vegetables. We learned to cultivate vegetables the right way,” says Juan Guallpa, a student in the urban agriculture class of 2014.
From April through October of 2015, students produced more than 10 different vegetables and herbs including spinach, cilantro, dill, basil, carrots, beets, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, squash, radishes, and cabbage. Through the program, more than 4,000 pounds of locally produced, organic vegetables were distributed among 150 low-income families.
The group of students is creating a non-profit organization to continue promoting urban agriculture among Hispanics.
Dr. German Cutz is an Associate Extension Educator for Sustainable Families and Communities with a statewide appointment for UConn Extension. Dr. Cutz develops, conducts, and evaluates Extension outreach education programs. He is fully bilingual (English and Spanish) with more than 20 years experience working in community development in both developing and developed countries. In addition, he has 15 years of Extension experience in the United States. Dr. Cutz’s work focuses on marginalized and at-risk populations including low-income families in both urban and rural communities, small farmers, women, youth, and children at risk.
Dr. Cutz is currently teaching urban agriculture, technology, and small business management. Since 2013, he is teaching urban agriculture focusing on botany, entomology, vegetable production, integrated pest management, plant pathology, soils, farm risk-management, and entrepreneurship. He started teaching urban agriculture in Danbury, Connecticut and plans to expand his efforts to other urban cities throughout the state.
In 2014, Dr. Cutz started a pilot small business management program. This program includes topics like how to start a business, business planning, marketing, introduction to accounting, and human resources management. The program is under review and he plans to offer it again in Spring 2016.
Dr. Cutz holds a doctoral degree in adult and community education; two master‘s degrees; one in natural resources and environmental management and another in community education and participatory educational methods; bachelor‘s degrees in business administration/management and agronomy.
In July, Dr. Cutz was appointed as the new UConn Extension Family and Community Development’s team leader. This team involves more than 20 UConn Extension faculty and staff. The team focuses on three major areas of action: Health and Wellness, Healthy Homes, and Sustainable Families and Communities. The goals of this team are: 1) to provide access to healthy foods and support systems to help diverse individuals and families to improve their wellbeing. 2) Improve the public’s health, reduce health disparities, and to foster a healthy and safe home environment. 3) Improve leadership skills, workforce readiness and increase community involvement.
Originally published by Naturally@UConn on December 16, 2014
Written by: Kim Markesich
The Fairfield County Extension Center hosts a variety of gardening programs, and the season just past was a successful and bountiful one.
With the support of a five-year grant from USDA/NIFA’s Children, Family, and Youth at Risk Program (CYFAR), Edith Valiquette, 4-H youth development educator, coordinates an urban 4-H garden program for sixth through eighth grade students at Barnum Elementary School in Bridgeport. German Cutz, associate extension educator, serves as principal investigator for the grant.
Students attend the program four hours each week during the school year and eight hours a week during the summer. The curriculum focuses on gardening, workforce readiness and technology.
Students learn about nutrition, gardening and healthy meal preparation while working together as a group. They explore agriculture by visiting local farms and participate in community service projects. Students designed, filmed and edited videos to teach healthy eating and used these guides to mentor younger students. Students also participated in a Christmas program presented in nursing homes.
“The program allows kids to have fun while learning valuable skills such as leadership and life skills,” says Valiquette. “The program brings these 4-H opportunities to urban neighborhoods.”
The group produced 2,000 pounds of vegetables in 24 raised beds. Their carrots won Best of Show at the Fairfield County 4-H Fair. A portion of the harvested produce is used for cooking classes, while the remainder is sent home with students to supplement family meals.
Thank you to Jim Prevor for inviting UConn College of Agriculture and Natural Resources faculty and students to the New York Produce Show and Conference. The Conference was sponsored by Produce Business and the Eastern Produce Council. UConn students attended the trade show, a career session, and toured Hunts Point Produce Market and urban agriculture in Brooklyn.