The Quiet Corner celebrates agriculture
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Sep. 27, 2011
The Woodstock Fairgrounds was home to a celebration of agriculture on Sept. 24. The exhibits were intended to educate people about the diverse industries that make up the local agricultural scene.
Visitors could see logging competitions and horse demonstrations, animal exhibits and spinning demonstrations. Beekeepers and master gardeners set up booths, as did ancillary industries related to forestry, farming and animal husbandry.
The poultry barn was taken over by a craft table for kids, while the band Hickory Wind entertained. The dairy barn opened its doors to spinners turning raw wool into yarn. The sheep barn housed representatives from the University of Connecticut and feed supply stores, insurance companies and the Connecticut Audubon Society. The agricultural barn was home to a pancake-cooking demonstration put on by staff from UConn and Windham public schools. Fairvue Farms gave tours of its dairy barns, allowing visitors to see the work required to produce the dairy products that appear on store shelves.
Fairvue owner Paul Miller thinks it’s necessary to expose people to agriculture. “We're more removed from it than ever before,” he said. “I always encourage people to grow gardens, so they know how powerful weeds are.”
Miller oversees one of the largest dairy barns in the state. His concerns include preparing the soil to minimize soil erosion and avoid contamination of the watershed. The operation provides constant daily care, feeding and watering to more than 780 cows, milking them three times a day using a computerized system that keeps the milk at a constant temperature of 35 to 36 degrees. The dairy barn also raises healthy calves and feeds them nutritious food. A staff of 40 works around the clock to keep the operation going.
FEMA staff members Mariecarolle Alexandre and Napolean Williams took the opportunity to visit the event. Both were amazed to learn all that went into the making of milk. “I go to the store, but I don't know the process,” Alexandre said. “I wish they would teach kids this at school.”
Windham Public School Food Service Director Ernie Koschmieder drew a crowd as he made apple and blueberry pancakes in the agricultural building. It is a healthy way to disguise fruit and get it into children's diets, he explained. “Some kids turn their noses up at eating fruit,” he said. “This is one way you can sneak it in.”
“We're trying to educate parents,” he said. “We are trying to tell them that school meals are changing for the better.” In 2012-2013, public schools across the country will need to implement dietary changes that include wheat pasta and sweet potatoes. Koschmieder credits Michelle Obama with the push toward healthy menus.
The Department of Defense has even gotten onto the bandwagon. The State of Connecticut's Department of Agriculture teamed up with the Department of Defense to form a program called DOD Produce. “We can apply for grants to access local produce,” Koschnieder said. “You get a dollar amount, and you can order cases of beautiful lettuce when it's in season, or strawberries, asparagus, cantaloupes, watermelons, or honeydews. It's all seasonal, local produce.”
UConn's Dining Services Production Chef Amy Gronus is responsible for feeding thousands of students a day. “Colleges are always keeping up with trends,” she said. “The great new trend is eating healthy and eating local. Not only is it great for local farmers, [but also] we're supporting America. We're getting back to the basics. We've gotten so far away from it. It's good to be putting your money into your neighbor's pocket and supporting your farmer. We've come full circle.”
Students studying to be dieticians at UConn partner with public school systems to provide scientific assistance to menu creation. Koschmieder has nothing but praise for the program. “We have a great collaboration with UConn,” he said. He has seven dieticians working in his district conducting taste tests.
“I'm not qualified to talk about sodium content,” he said. “My job is to bring in the local fresh produce, get it implemented in the schools, and utilize it as best we can. They need the experience and the credit. I need their knowledge.”
Courtney Lawrence brought her daughter, Taylor, to the celebration. “It's nice to come where it's just agriculture,” Lawrence said. They had eaten pancakes and seen a bee exhibit. Their next stop was a tour of the dairy barn. “It's accessible, free and very family-oriented,” she said.