We all can do our part for the planet

Nutrition Education Outreach in Fairfield County

Nutrition Education Outreach November 2017
Submitted by Heather Peracchio
EFNEP graduates at Morris Street School in Danbury
 
SNAP-Ed programs:
Nutrition outreach at the Danbury mobile pantry reached 265 families on November 8th and the mobile pantry in Bethel on November 29th reached 183 families. 
 
EFNEP:
The Soccer and Nutrition program reached 22 children and adults on Friday November 3.  Adults and children participated in the program which follows the Cornell University Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula.  There was a hands-on demonstration of a stir-fry recipe where parents and children participated in cooking and everyone taste tested.  The classes have been scheduled and advertised to parents for the first Friday of the month each month through October 2018.
The EFNEP adult program at Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff began on October 16, 2017 with 24 new moms enrolled. In November, participants attended class on November 6 and November 13th, with their graduation ceremony on Monday November 27th. Below is a photo of the graduation ceremony, 16 EFNEP participants completed the program Monday evening with 6 more anticipated to graduate in December.

[Read More …]

Nutrition Education Outreach in Fairfield County

Nutrition Education Outreach November 2017
Submitted by Heather Peracchio
EFNEP graduates at Morris Street School in Danbury
 
SNAP-Ed programs:
Nutrition outreach at the Danbury mobile pantry reached 265 families on November 8th and the mobile pantry in Bethel on November 29th reached 183 families. 
 
EFNEP:
The Soccer and Nutrition program reached 22 children and adults on Friday November 3.  Adults and children participated in the program which follows the Cornell University Choose Health: Fun, Food and Fitness curricula.  There was a hands-on demonstration of a stir-fry recipe where parents and children participated in cooking and everyone taste tested.  The classes have been scheduled and advertised to parents for the first Friday of the month each month through October 2018.
The EFNEP adult program at Danbury’s Morris Street School Family Resource Staff began on October 16, 2017 with 24 new moms enrolled. In November, participants attended class on November 6 and November 13th, with their graduation ceremony on Monday November 27th. Below is a photo of the graduation ceremony, 16 EFNEP participants completed the program Monday evening with 6 more anticipated to graduate in December.

[Read More …]

The tyranny of toilets

Students heads to a female only toilets in Maskoke Primely and Secondly School
in Gode Town in Ethiopia. Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia

In the lead-in to World Toilet Day, we hear a great deal about the role of toilets in sanitation and in better health and human development outcomes.  Toilets are good development. Period.
 
We hear less about the fact that toilets are often sites and instruments of social exclusion.
 
Let me explain.
 
Segregated toilets for males and females were intended to give women privacy and to respect the “intrinsic” physical differences between the sexes.  In fact, in most developing countries, segregated toilets are a sine qua non for female participation in public spaces, in education and in employment. 
 
But the story is more complex.

While working on The Rising Tide, our “thinking device” on water and gender, I came upon this fascinating piece by Terry Kogan in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.  He argues that the origins of sex segregated public toilets were deeply gendered to start with. Yet segregated toilets are good in general, unless, in Kogan’s words,
 

  • “you happen to be a wheelchair-user who needs the assistance of your opposite-sex partner in a public restroom facility.
  • you happen to be a transsexual person dressed in accord with your gender identity who is prohibited from using the workplace restroom designated for the sex with which you identify.
  • you happen to be a woman at a rock concert standing in a long line outside the restroom marked ‘Women,’ while no line exists outside the door marked ‘Men’.
  • you happen to be a parent tending an opposite-sex, five year-old child when you or your child suddenly needs a public restroom.
  • you happen to be an intersexed child, born with ambiguous genitals and/or reproductive organs, whose parents have decided (despite social pressure and pressure from the medical community) not to subject their child to surgery until the child can participate in that decision.

 
Restricted access to toilets for some aside, they are also spaces that can keep historically excluded groups “in their place”, often rationalized by elaborate notions of purity and pollution. These notions are best known in South Asia, but are widely prevalent in many other parts of the world as well.  For instance, J.J. Lawrence and colleagues document the taboo against using same toilets as in-laws, members of the opposite sex, or different generations within a family in some Zambian communities.  Indeed, one of the most egregious ways in which toilets are used to assert an oppressive status quo is when only certain Dalit castes are assigned the task of cleaning them, thereby rendering both the cleaners and the toilets “impure”.

With the growing power of the erstwhile subaltern peoples, toilets are emerging as arenas for political assertion.  Take the case of the United States, where the movement against segregated toilets is symbolic of the assertion of sexual minorities.  This assertion is premised upon the fact that gender identity, not sex at birth, should determine individual choice.  The backlash is equally vehement and has played out in the legal and social realms, with laws passed for and against segregated toilets.  A more muted movement for the rights of domestic workers in many parts of the world advocates for their right to use toilets within the homes where they work – something that has historically been anathema. Take also the Dalit assertion in India that has rallied against the gruesome practice of manual scavenging, leading to its ultimate ban.
 
In sum, toilets are undoubtedly good for sanitation, health and women’s empowerment, but they can also be potent instruments for equality and inclusion. This can happen when policy is sensitive to the role of toilets as contested spaces and responds to the clamor of historically excluded groups against their potential tyranny.

[Read More …]

The tyranny of toilets

Students heads to a female only toilets in Maskoke Primely and Secondly School
in Gode Town in Ethiopia. Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia

In the lead-in to World Toilet Day, we hear a great deal about the role of toilets in sanitation and in better health and human development outcomes.  Toilets are good development. Period.
 
We hear less about the fact that toilets are often sites and instruments of social exclusion.
 
Let me explain.
 
Segregated toilets for males and females were intended to give women privacy and to respect the “intrinsic” physical differences between the sexes.  In fact, in most developing countries, segregated toilets are a sine qua non for female participation in public spaces, in education and in employment. 
 
But the story is more complex.

While working on The Rising Tide, our “thinking device” on water and gender, I came upon this fascinating piece by Terry Kogan in the Michigan Journal of Gender and Law.  He argues that the origins of sex segregated public toilets were deeply gendered to start with. Yet segregated toilets are good in general, unless, in Kogan’s words,
 

  • “you happen to be a wheelchair-user who needs the assistance of your opposite-sex partner in a public restroom facility.
  • you happen to be a transsexual person dressed in accord with your gender identity who is prohibited from using the workplace restroom designated for the sex with which you identify.
  • you happen to be a woman at a rock concert standing in a long line outside the restroom marked ‘Women,’ while no line exists outside the door marked ‘Men’.
  • you happen to be a parent tending an opposite-sex, five year-old child when you or your child suddenly needs a public restroom.
  • you happen to be an intersexed child, born with ambiguous genitals and/or reproductive organs, whose parents have decided (despite social pressure and pressure from the medical community) not to subject their child to surgery until the child can participate in that decision.

 
Restricted access to toilets for some aside, they are also spaces that can keep historically excluded groups “in their place”, often rationalized by elaborate notions of purity and pollution. These notions are best known in South Asia, but are widely prevalent in many other parts of the world as well.  For instance, J.J. Lawrence and colleagues document the taboo against using same toilets as in-laws, members of the opposite sex, or different generations within a family in some Zambian communities.  Indeed, one of the most egregious ways in which toilets are used to assert an oppressive status quo is when only certain Dalit castes are assigned the task of cleaning them, thereby rendering both the cleaners and the toilets “impure”.

With the growing power of the erstwhile subaltern peoples, toilets are emerging as arenas for political assertion.  Take the case of the United States, where the movement against segregated toilets is symbolic of the assertion of sexual minorities.  This assertion is premised upon the fact that gender identity, not sex at birth, should determine individual choice.  The backlash is equally vehement and has played out in the legal and social realms, with laws passed for and against segregated toilets.  A more muted movement for the rights of domestic workers in many parts of the world advocates for their right to use toilets within the homes where they work – something that has historically been anathema. Take also the Dalit assertion in India that has rallied against the gruesome practice of manual scavenging, leading to its ultimate ban.
 
In sum, toilets are undoubtedly good for sanitation, health and women’s empowerment, but they can also be potent instruments for equality and inclusion. This can happen when policy is sensitive to the role of toilets as contested spaces and responds to the clamor of historically excluded groups against their potential tyranny.

[Read More …]

Chris Collins: Making a Difference

Chris Collins and classmates at a UConn People Empowering People training in Meriden.

Chris Collins, seated in the center wearing the red sweater. Photo: Cathleen Love.

Chris Collins moved to Meriden, Connecticut four years ago with his girlfriend and her two children. In his professional capacity he serves as a substance abuse counselor at Rushford at Meriden, an organization that offers a variety of outpatient programs and services, including counseling young adults about substance use disorders. A longtime friend of Chris’ invited him to participate in the University of Connecticut People Empowering People (UConn PEP) program. Because Chris wanted to learn ways to engage with the Meriden community, understand the school system, and make a positive difference he agreed to attend.

The UConn PEP program in Meriden was funded through the Nellie Mae Foundation. Other UConn PEP communities apply for funding through the Connecticut Parent Trust Fund or local resources like the Liberty Bank Foundation. UConn Extension provides training and support for community agencies, school districts, hospitals, family resource centers, and correctional institutions across the state offering the UConn PEP curriculum and course.

Participants such as Chris come together for two hours a week for ten weeks to discuss topics including communication, problem-solving, values, parenting and other life skills which enhances parent leadership skills and community engagement.

For Chris, the content and format of UConn PEP fit his lifestyle and addressed his interests. Because dinner and day care was provided, participation did not

Chris Collins participating in a UConn PEP training in Meriden.

Chris Collins, seated on the left, at a UConn PEP training. Photo: Cathleen Love

require additional juggling of work and family time. Chris was seeking an opportunity to be more involved with his family, the schools, and the community. UConn PEP was a vehicle to make that happen.

In discussing the impact of the UConn PEP program on him personally, Chris recalled when his facilitator mentioned that the loudest voice is heard on most issues he realized that unless he spoke up about his concerns than no one would know what they are. He said the resources and networking that are part of the 10-week program gave him perspective on power, and empowered him to become more involved. Learning about active listening also impacted Chris in that he realizes that listening first allows him to reflect on the issues before considering solutions.

Parent leadership skills are central to the UConn PEP curriculum. Before participating in the program, Chris thought using the “hammer,” or authoritative style, to discipline children was the only approach. UConn PEP classes discussed other tools for caring about his children while still providing a safe home with healthy boundaries and using alternative disciplinary techniques. Chris said having more “tools” for parenting is helpful in working with his children. These tools also impacted how Chris became more involved in the schools. Resources and networks in the UConn PEP program gave Chris ideas of techniques to use in working with teachers and parents in schools.

Participants in every UConn PEP program commit to finding and carrying out a community project. Chris shared that the impact of helping others makes you feel better than he could have imagined. His group collected books for children and they far exceeded the number of books they had put in their stated goal. When he assisted with the distribution of the books he said the smiles and joy he felt from the kids matched the smiles and joy of those giving them out.

Chris is currently serving on a Local Advisory Committee and he uses skills learned in UConn PEP to engage members of his community. According to Chris, the community seeks him out when they have questions or concerns. The community knows he will listen and that he cares about their issues. With parent leadership and community engagement Chris believes the UConn PEP program impacted how he makes a difference in his family, in the schools, and in the community.

UConn PEP is an example of how a research grant can turn into over twenty years of service to the state. UConn Extension received a USDA State Strengthening grant in 1996 to create, deliver and evaluate a parent leadership program in Connecticut. Since receiving that grant over 3000 state residents in have participated in UConn PEP, the parent leadership program created by the grant. Over 25 community agencies, school districts, family resource centers, and faith-based communities across the state have partnered with the Extension to offer the program. The research on the program suggests that the UConn PEP program was effective in influencing positive changes in participants’ life skills, personal relationships, and community engagement among an ethnically diverse sample.

For more information on the UConn PEP program visit pep.extension.uconn.edu or email Cathleen.Love@uconn.edu.

Article by: Cathleen Love

[Read More …]

Leaving no one behind: the pioneering work on disability inclusion in Indonesia’s rural water sector

Dwifina Sandra, Class 9, SLB Bhakti Pertiwi School, Yogyakarta


Dwifina loves art. Every day she looks forward to making her thread canvasses. Her only wish is that she had more time to spend on them. Being paralyzed, she spends a significant amount of time on mundane activities like getting ready for school and sorting out school supplies and books. She needs to ask friends to assist her in using the bathroom in school, as it lacks the design features for her to use it independently. Between homework and these extended activities of daily living, Dwifina finds little time for her true passion.

There are about a billion people with physical, cognitive, or psychological disabilities in the world, who struggle to access basic services required to perform daily functions. Unfortunately, most of these barriers to access are socially constructed. Because the infrastructure and social rules that surround us are designed for average male height, weight, needs, and capabilities, the rest of the population outside this distribution—pregnant women, the elderly, those with mobility, hearing, cognitive, or psychological impairments—end up feeling inept and left out.

Thankfully, we have started heightening awareness towards this bias, and are seeking solutions to make our programs and projects free from it. In the water sector, for instance, the World Bank has developed a guidance note on including persons with disabilities in its operations. In Indonesia, the PAMSIMAS III Rural Water and Sanitation Project is pioneering the work of easing the struggle that children with disabilities face in using school sanitation and public facilities. Through the introduction of disability inclusive development (DID), PAMSIMAS is helping around 200 villages to gain disabled inclusive infrastructure, removing barriers for people with disabilities by constructing spacious school toilets with wider doors and higher water closets, handrails, non-slippery floors, tactile paving, signs, and ramps. With these facilities, children will be able to use facilities with less effort, freeing up time and energy for more productive learning activities.

A school toilet being completed

 

Besides changing physical structures, PAMSIMAS III is also raising awareness on how to carry out DID in projects, through national and local level training courses and workshops. The target group for these have so far been community facilitators, district consultants, and local government officials as gatekeepers of resources and influence in the communities. Around 4,200 participants were trained in December 2016. Thus, guidelines are being created for disability inclusive infrastructure design in school sanitation facilities, hand-washing facilities, and public facilities.

PAMSIMAS III is also helping to scale up and institutionalize DID in the project cycle from planning and implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. To monitor DID mainstreaming, a review is being carried out on the technical design of facilities in a new set of proposed villages in a pilot program. Results will be discussed in consultations with the local Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPOs) in a workshop and shared with community facilitators and other project stakeholders.

Public taps with ramp and hand-rails

PAMSIMAS III will further improve its disability intervention by seeking the active participation of people with disabilities in the decision-making process and encouraging local DPOs to be involved in facilitating this. It will also develop training material for communities, encourage local financing to support DID in community action plans, and add disability as part of the process and output monitoring in projects.

PAMSIMAS III hopes to pave the way for future projects in Indonesia and elsewhere to follow suit. The idea of “leaving no one behind” and empowering all to be active contributors of society, also this year’s theme of the 2017 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, requires breaking out of established mindsets and finding new ways of supporting service delivery. We have learned from PAMSIMAS that it is possible to eliminate exclusion due to disability, as long as the process of nudging people towards progressive social change continues.

[Read More …]

Leaving no one behind: The pioneering work on disability inclusion in Indonesia’s rural water sector

Dwifina Sandra, Class 9, SLB Bhakti Pertiwi School, Yogyakarta


Dwifina loves art. Every day she looks forward to making her thread canvasses. Her only wish is that she had more time to spend on them. Being paralyzed, she spends a significant amount of time on mundane activities like getting ready for school and sorting out school supplies and books. She needs to ask friends to assist her in using the bathroom in school, as it lacks the design features for her to use it independently. Between homework and these extended activities of daily living, Dwifina finds little time for her true passion.

There are about a billion people with physical, cognitive, or psychological disabilities in the world, who struggle to access basic services required to perform daily functions. Unfortunately, most of these barriers to access are socially constructed. Because the infrastructure and social rules that surround us are designed for average male height, weight, needs, and capabilities, the rest of the population outside this distribution—pregnant women, the elderly, those with mobility, hearing, cognitive, or psychological impairments—end up feeling inept and left out.

Thankfully, we have started heightening awareness towards this bias, and are seeking solutions to make our programs and projects free from it. In the water sector, for instance, the World Bank has developed a guidance note on including persons with disabilities in its operations. In Indonesia, the PAMSIMAS III Rural Water and Sanitation Project is pioneering the work of easing the struggle that children with disabilities face in using school sanitation and public facilities. Through the introduction of disability inclusive development (DID), PAMSIMAS is helping around 200 villages to gain disabled inclusive infrastructure, removing barriers for people with disabilities by constructing spacious school toilets with wider doors and higher water closets, handrails, non-slippery floors, tactile paving, signs, and ramps. With these facilities, children will be able to use facilities with less effort, freeing up time and energy for more productive learning activities.

A school toilet being completed

 

Besides changing physical structures, PAMSIMAS III is also raising awareness on how to carry out DID in projects, through national and local level training courses and workshops. The target group for these have so far been community facilitators, district consultants, and local government officials as gatekeepers of resources and influence in the communities. Around 4,200 participants were trained in December 2016. Thus, guidelines are being created for disability inclusive infrastructure design in school sanitation facilities, hand-washing facilities, and public facilities.

PAMSIMAS III is also helping to scale up and institutionalize DID in the project cycle from planning and implementation, to monitoring and evaluation. To monitor DID mainstreaming, a review is being carried out on the technical design of facilities in a new set of proposed villages in a pilot program. Results will be discussed in consultations with the local Disabled Persons’ Organizations (DPOs) in a workshop and shared with community facilitators and other project stakeholders.

Public taps with ramp and hand-rails

PAMSIMAS III will further improve its disability intervention by seeking the active participation of people with disabilities in the decision-making process and encouraging local DPOs to be involved in facilitating this. It will also develop training material for communities, encourage local financing to support DID in community action plans, and add disability as part of the process and output monitoring in projects.

PAMSIMAS III hopes to pave the way for future projects in Indonesia and elsewhere to follow suit. The idea of “leaving no one behind” and empowering all to be active contributors of society, also this year’s theme of the 2017 International Day of Persons with Disabilities, requires breaking out of established mindsets and finding new ways of supporting service delivery. We have learned from PAMSIMAS that it is possible to eliminate exclusion due to disability, as long as the process of nudging people towards progressive social change continues.

[Read More …]

Cold Storage: A Sustainable Way to Preserve the Harvest

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

cold storage procedure at home for fruits and vegetables

Photo Credit: NAL/USDA

A young couple I know if looking to buy their first house. She prefers older homes with character, he wants space for a big garden. They came upon an older home with a dirt basement floor….I immediately thought that it might be a good candidate for a root cellar. In earlier times, when many people grew their own food, lived miles from the nearest grocery store, and did not have the benefit of electricity or refrigeration, they often stored some fruits and vegetables for the winter in root cellars or outdoor cold storage areas or pits.

Today it can be difficult to use the basement for storage as many of us now use our basements as living spaces. We may have furnaces, boilers or woodstoves in our cellars—instead of dirt floors and cold storage shelves. We do everything we can to keep out the dampness. And houses are built to retain heat in order to save energy. And, of course, in general, Connecticut temperatures seem to be warmer longer into late fall and early winter, than they used to be. All of this means that we just have to be a bit more creative if we want to store our late summer/fall crops into mid-winter.

You should recognize that “ideal” storage conditions for many vegetables are not attainable around the average home. Commercial cold storage options often involve a modified or controlled atmosphere, reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide level, while high humidity is maintained in an air−tight, refrigerated storage room. It is important to understand that these conditions cannot be achieved at home…your home-stored apples will not be equal to the quality of a store-bought apple in January or February.

That said, there are many lower-tech options for storing apples and other foods at home. You just have to remember to follow the rules!

  • Pay attention to and monitor temperature, humidity and air flow;
  • Keep fruits away from vegetables (fruits release ethylene which speeds the ripening process of vegetables);
  • Minimize the effects of strong smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage or rutabagas.

Outdoor Storage

Some vegetables can be stored outdoors—or even remain in your garden, if well protected. Root crops including carrots, parsnips and turnips can remain in the garden, if rodents are not an issue. A well-drained location is essential as a muddy puddle does not do much for your stored carrots. Once the ground is cold, or begins to freeze, protect the vegetables from frost and fluctuating temperatures with insulating materials such as clean straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil.

Mounds or pits are a good way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celery root, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. Use a well-drained location, and cover the ground with insulating mulch. Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most: use it up quickly or cook and freeze for longer storage. If rodents are a problem, try burying a 20-gallon trash can in the ground. Several small holes should be made in the bottom to allow for drainage (keeping in mind that rodents may be able to get through a dime sized hole).

Indoor Storage

A Connecticut home—especially an older one—offers several options for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. You could use a breezeway, a shed, a Bilco-type basement door area or a garage that is not used for storing your automobile, lawn equipment or chemicals that may affect the flavor of your stored produce. You may be lucky enough to live in a house with an old root cellar or a cellar that does not warm up too much when the furnace gets turned on. Check the room temperature to make sure that the area is cool enough (32˚F–60˚F) and be sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much. The relative humidity (moisture in the air) of these locations will also affect what type of produce can be stored. Some produce (garlic, onions) store better in dry conditions, while others (apples, root crops) prefer conditions to be more humid.

A pantry, attic, or unheated room is useful for short-term storage of potatoes and onions as long as there is no danger of freezing. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of dried foods, such as dried beans, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables. A warm storage area, such as an attic, can be a good environment in the fall for drying herbs, beans, walnuts, or hickory nuts.

A well-ventilated basement with central heating is generally dry and has a temperature range of 50˚F to 60˚F. It may be used for ripening tomatoes and for short-term storage of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Managing your storage area

Once everything is stored away, you will need to monitor your storage areas, paying attention to temperature (can be made cooler or warmer with ventilating windows that can be opened and shut); humidity (a relative humidity of 90%–95% is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. A relative humidity of 60%–75% is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and other squash). Check the storage area at least weekly. Look for evidence of rodents. Check to see that produce is still dry. Remove and discard anything that is rotten or moldy.

Food safety and cold storage

Exploding pressure canners and botulism scares can keep folks away from canning, but cold storage is pretty much risk free. If it doesn’t work, you will see, feel or smell that your food has spoiled—and you will not eat it! Cold storage temperatures also slow the growth of spoilage organisms and enzymatic action (causes over-ripening and rotting). However, there are a few food safety hazards you should pay attention to.

First, be sure to use storage containers that are food-grade. Never use drums, garbage cans or containers that might have held garbage, pesticides or other chemicals. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not contaminated with pesticides or manure. These should be new materials and should be used only once as they will become contaminated with mold and bacteria.

An important risk to consider is that when using cold storage, particularly outdoor storage options, you need to be wary of the presence of rodents or the pesky neighborhood raccoon. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the root cellar. Look for gaps (even very small ones) between the ceiling and walls, walls and floors and around any air vents or windows. Search areas around vents, joints between the walls and roof and the area under the cellar. Patch any cracks or gaps around pipes or plug openings with steel wool. Use storage containers that animals cannot chew through, such as metal, plastic or tightly woven mesh with openings smaller than ¼ inch. Secure the top of the containers in the cellar or the lids of buried containers so that they cannot be opened by animals.

When you are ready to use your fruits and vegetables during the winter months, inspect everything you take out. While small amounts of mold can be removed from hard fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, generally, if there is mold, we recommend tossing it out. Mold toxins have been associated with allergic reactions and some are cancer causing agents. Wash everything thoroughly with water and a scrub brush before eating.

Finally, at the end of the season, be sure to clean all containers and the room itself in order to reduce the presence of molds and bacteria.

For more information about managing a cold storage area and a storage chart for specific fruits and vegetables, search for the following article, which was used as a source: Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, from Washington State University Extension, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

[Read More …]

Cold Storage: A Sustainable Way to Preserve the Harvest

By Diane Wright Hirsch, MPH

Senior Extension Educator/Food Safety

cold storage procedure at home for fruits and vegetables

Photo Credit: NAL/USDA

A young couple I know if looking to buy their first house. She prefers older homes with character, he wants space for a big garden. They came upon an older home with a dirt basement floor….I immediately thought that it might be a good candidate for a root cellar. In earlier times, when many people grew their own food, lived miles from the nearest grocery store, and did not have the benefit of electricity or refrigeration, they often stored some fruits and vegetables for the winter in root cellars or outdoor cold storage areas or pits.

Today it can be difficult to use the basement for storage as many of us now use our basements as living spaces. We may have furnaces, boilers or woodstoves in our cellars—instead of dirt floors and cold storage shelves. We do everything we can to keep out the dampness. And houses are built to retain heat in order to save energy. And, of course, in general, Connecticut temperatures seem to be warmer longer into late fall and early winter, than they used to be. All of this means that we just have to be a bit more creative if we want to store our late summer/fall crops into mid-winter.

You should recognize that “ideal” storage conditions for many vegetables are not attainable around the average home. Commercial cold storage options often involve a modified or controlled atmosphere, reducing the oxygen and increasing the carbon dioxide level, while high humidity is maintained in an air−tight, refrigerated storage room. It is important to understand that these conditions cannot be achieved at home…your home-stored apples will not be equal to the quality of a store-bought apple in January or February.

That said, there are many lower-tech options for storing apples and other foods at home. You just have to remember to follow the rules!

  • Pay attention to and monitor temperature, humidity and air flow;
  • Keep fruits away from vegetables (fruits release ethylene which speeds the ripening process of vegetables);
  • Minimize the effects of strong smelling vegetables such as onions, cabbage or rutabagas.

Outdoor Storage

Some vegetables can be stored outdoors—or even remain in your garden, if well protected. Root crops including carrots, parsnips and turnips can remain in the garden, if rodents are not an issue. A well-drained location is essential as a muddy puddle does not do much for your stored carrots. Once the ground is cold, or begins to freeze, protect the vegetables from frost and fluctuating temperatures with insulating materials such as clean straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil.

Mounds or pits are a good way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celery root, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. Use a well-drained location, and cover the ground with insulating mulch. Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most: use it up quickly or cook and freeze for longer storage. If rodents are a problem, try burying a 20-gallon trash can in the ground. Several small holes should be made in the bottom to allow for drainage (keeping in mind that rodents may be able to get through a dime sized hole).

Indoor Storage

A Connecticut home—especially an older one—offers several options for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. You could use a breezeway, a shed, a Bilco-type basement door area or a garage that is not used for storing your automobile, lawn equipment or chemicals that may affect the flavor of your stored produce. You may be lucky enough to live in a house with an old root cellar or a cellar that does not warm up too much when the furnace gets turned on. Check the room temperature to make sure that the area is cool enough (32˚F–60˚F) and be sure that the temperature does not fluctuate too much. The relative humidity (moisture in the air) of these locations will also affect what type of produce can be stored. Some produce (garlic, onions) store better in dry conditions, while others (apples, root crops) prefer conditions to be more humid.

A pantry, attic, or unheated room is useful for short-term storage of potatoes and onions as long as there is no danger of freezing. Low storage temperatures extend the shelf life of dried foods, such as dried beans, herbs, dried fruits and vegetables. A warm storage area, such as an attic, can be a good environment in the fall for drying herbs, beans, walnuts, or hickory nuts.

A well-ventilated basement with central heating is generally dry and has a temperature range of 50˚F to 60˚F. It may be used for ripening tomatoes and for short-term storage of pumpkins, winter squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Managing your storage area

Once everything is stored away, you will need to monitor your storage areas, paying attention to temperature (can be made cooler or warmer with ventilating windows that can be opened and shut); humidity (a relative humidity of 90%–95% is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. A relative humidity of 60%–75% is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and other squash). Check the storage area at least weekly. Look for evidence of rodents. Check to see that produce is still dry. Remove and discard anything that is rotten or moldy.

Food safety and cold storage

Exploding pressure canners and botulism scares can keep folks away from canning, but cold storage is pretty much risk free. If it doesn’t work, you will see, feel or smell that your food has spoiled—and you will not eat it! Cold storage temperatures also slow the growth of spoilage organisms and enzymatic action (causes over-ripening and rotting). However, there are a few food safety hazards you should pay attention to.

First, be sure to use storage containers that are food-grade. Never use drums, garbage cans or containers that might have held garbage, pesticides or other chemicals. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not contaminated with pesticides or manure. These should be new materials and should be used only once as they will become contaminated with mold and bacteria.

An important risk to consider is that when using cold storage, particularly outdoor storage options, you need to be wary of the presence of rodents or the pesky neighborhood raccoon. Be sure to inspect the inside and outside of the root cellar. Look for gaps (even very small ones) between the ceiling and walls, walls and floors and around any air vents or windows. Search areas around vents, joints between the walls and roof and the area under the cellar. Patch any cracks or gaps around pipes or plug openings with steel wool. Use storage containers that animals cannot chew through, such as metal, plastic or tightly woven mesh with openings smaller than ¼ inch. Secure the top of the containers in the cellar or the lids of buried containers so that they cannot be opened by animals.

When you are ready to use your fruits and vegetables during the winter months, inspect everything you take out. While small amounts of mold can be removed from hard fruits and vegetables such as potatoes, generally, if there is mold, we recommend tossing it out. Mold toxins have been associated with allergic reactions and some are cancer causing agents. Wash everything thoroughly with water and a scrub brush before eating.

Finally, at the end of the season, be sure to clean all containers and the room itself in order to reduce the presence of molds and bacteria.

For more information about managing a cold storage area and a storage chart for specific fruits and vegetables, search for the following article, which was used as a source: Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home, from Washington State University Extension, or contact the Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu or 1-877-486-6271.

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Fish Farm Gets Water from the Waste of a Sustainable Brewery

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Sustainable recycling practices represent not only a trend but also a necessity nowadays. Many companies today are rethinking how to dispose of their waste in the most positive, sustainable manner. Different organizations collaborate in this sense and come up with solutions that are helping make waste easier to dispose of in an effort to lower costs and create a more sustainable business practice.

Collaboration between a New York-based brewery, Five & 20 Craft Spirits and Brewing and a startup fish farm, TimberFish Technologies began to help develop a more sustainable way of disposing of brewery waste. The idea is that the fish farm gets the food and water for the fish from the brewery, in the form of used grains and wastewater. It all started when TimberFish built a tank system for the fish and other aquatic creatures to have a suitable habitat. Then, Five and 20 brewery had to build a system that would help them filter the brewing water properly. It is important to note that the grains from the brewing do not go directly in, but first, they get finely chopped and mixed with sustainably harvested wooden chips. 

The wooden chips being mixed in will release Phosphorus and Nitrogen in the water. These chemical elements help create a favorable environment for the microbes to feed properly. The microbes will eventually settle at the bottom and clean the water. As the microbes grow, they become food for the snails and worms in the water. As a result, the fish have food from a completely sustainable and clean process. The fish will also produce the excrements which will go back to the bottom of the tank, and the microbes can re-start producing food for the nails and worms. Everything works just like a chain-solution, a most ecologically friendly one.  This system offers the fish a beneficial ecosystem where they can thrive. 

The fish farm provides an innovative solution for the brewery to recycle their water, but that’s not all. The fish farm steps up on a financial level too in the befit of the brewery. In the past, the brewery had to pay separately for a service to clean up their water and take away the grain residue. Another company would take the grain waste away and then re-use it for compost. 
However, the brewery paid out almost $30,000 for these services alone. Today, this successful collaboration eliminates any costs, yet these two companies have created a truly sustainable and clean recycling concept. In fact, the companies have high hopes they will be able to build even more farms based on this sustainable procedure. The first harvest will take place next spring/summer, and the fish will go to local restaurants and markets. 

Interested in learning more about innovative alternatives to traditional wastewater treatment technologies? Contact us today. 

 

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