Posts Tagged: UC CalFresh
School is back in session and students across the nation are busy in the classroom and cafeteria learning and eating. But what happens to students in the summer months when school is out? Research suggests a summer learning achievement gap occurs between children from low income communities and their higher income peers when school is out. Even more, summer has been called “the hungriest time of the year” for low-income children who rely on school meals to get enough food during the school year.
In response to the summer hunger problem, the USDA created the Summer Food Service Program to give schools, agencies, non-profits, etc., the funding to be able to offer free meals to children 18 years and younger at approved low-income sites. Still, as of summer 2015, the summer meal program remained underutilized when compared to the number of low-income children accessing school meals during the regular school year.
To offer excellent programming and increase participation in the summer food program, partnering agencies in Santa Maria worked to provide physical activity, nutrition education and other summer enrichment programming at local city parks in conjunction with the Summer Food Service Program. The Safe and Strong All Summer Long program was coordinated through the Santa Maria City Recreation and Parks to provide free, drop-in recreation opportunities from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. in parks throughout the city all summer. Meals were brought to the parks and served for one hour by the local food bank and Community Action Commission staff and volunteers.
SNAP-Ed funded agencies have been encouraged to partner with Summer Food Service Programs, though the logistics of working with different agencies and providing education programs in non-traditional settings isn't always easy or clear. During summer 2016, UC CalFresh Nutrition Educators in Santa Barbara County partnered with the Safe and Strong All Summer Long food program to provide staff training and support for family enrichment and physical activities. UC CalFresh staff kicked off the partnership by leading a one-day CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) Physical Activity training for over 20 Recreation & Parks staff. CATCH focuses on inclusive physical education that keeps youth engaged and active. After the training and throughout the summer, UC staff participated weekly at two park summer meal sites encouraging youth and their families to get physically active, drink water and eat healthy. UC staff continued to provide guidance and training on-site to Recreation & Parks staff on how to engage a variety of youth of all ages in fun physical activities.
Several other partner agencies also provided engaging programming to parents while the youth were eating their lunches. The local hospital and County Public Health Department conducted food demonstrations and distributed healthy recipe food samples to parents at sites throughout the city.
In a focus group conducted in June 2016 with parents from the local school district, parents commented that they would like more information and ideas about how and where to do physical activities as a family. Participants commented that they appreciated that their children were learning how to be physically active at school, but it would be helpful to have information on how to involve the whole family: parents, siblings and all of the family so they could get exercise and enjoy their time together.
By providing free drop-in programming at local parks, in conjunction with free meals for youth, the Safe and Strong All Summer Long partnership was able to provide access to safe spaces for families to come together during the summer to be physically active and reduce food insecurity.
UC CalFresh Nutrition Educator Miguel Dia, commented that the best part of the summer partnership was “engaging the youth in a variety of different games and seeing all the different age groups participating. By the end of the summer, the older youth were actually teaching the younger youth how to do the CATCH activities.”
UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside County is bringing together students, agencies, nutrition educators and gardening experts to work alongside families to grow produce in garden plots at a community facility.
“Many people don't know how to get started gardening,” said Chutima Ganthavorn, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UCCE and manager of its local UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. “Gardening takes space, water, resources like seeds and transplants, plus guidance and support. Our group is going the extra mile in Riverside County to help people grow and eat healthy food.”
This year, the local coalition received $10,000 in support from the Kaiser Permanente Heal Zone project to expand a vegetable garden at the Community Settlement Association (CSA), a center where community members gather for UC CalFresh nutrition classes, weekly food distributions and other services.
“A few years ago, the garden plots at the Community Settlement Association were neglected and weedy, while families struggled to get healthy food,” Ganthavorn said. “UC CalFresh teamed up with UCCE Master Gardeners and CSA staff to turn them into bountiful and beautiful edible gardens. Now our coalition is growing to include UCR Community Garden and Heal Zone members, including folks from City of Riverside Parks and Rec and Riverside Community Health Foundation.”
In 2014, UC Master Gardener volunteers, nutrition educators and members of the community planted vegetables in five existing garden boxes at Community Settlement Association, 4366 Bermuda Ave. in Riverside.
For planting day, neighborhood families – many who had taken part in UC CalFresh nutrition classes at the CSA – tilled the ground and planted seeds and transplants to grow tomatoes, bell peppers, summer squash, lettuce, green beans and Swiss chard.
“We're fixing up a garden for the children,” said Gonzalo Rodriguez, who joined planting day with his family. “We're planting chili and tomato transplants and seeds, food that will provide vegetables and give the children the joy of caring for the plants.”
In 2015, UC CalFresh arranged a $500 grant from Wood Streets Green Team, a local group that promotes sustainable living, to purchase fruit trees. Master Gardeners led volunteers to plant blackberry bushes, and peach, pluot, nectarine, plum, fuji apple and mini mandarin trees. They also planted quince, pomegranate, lemon and lime trees donated by a Master Gardener.
With the Heal Zone funds and support from UC Riverside student Claudia Villegas, the recipient of a Global Food Initiative Fellowship from the UC Office of the President, an extended garden began to take shape.
Villegas recruited students from Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Phi Chi Theta fraternities to transform a lawn at the community center with cinderblock raised beds. She is coordinating training sessions and encouraging local families to visit.
“I want the community to feel comfortable coming to the garden,” said Villegas, a senior psychology major. “I want them to just come in and hang out and interact and talk about gardening problems.”
The raised-bed plots have been assigned to families in the community.
“They feel ownership and maintain the gardens,” Ganthavorn said. “They can keep the produce they grow, and any extra produce goes to the weekly food distribution program at CSA.”
A gardening club now meets from 9 to 10 a.m. the first Thursday of each month at the community garden. UC Cooperative Extension coordinates gardening workshops with UC Master Gardener volunteers and nutrition and cooking sessions with UC CalFresh educators.
A 4-H club for children in the community is also being developed at the CSA site by Claudia Diaz Carrasco, UCCE 4-H Youth Development advisor. The purpose of 4-H clubs is to help diverse young people discover and develop their potential and grow into competent, contributing, and caring citizens.
“We believe that CSA children will benefit a lot by participating in 4-H learn-by-doing activities within the club,” Diaz said. 4-H clubs usually meet in the evenings or on weekends and offer self-chosen multiple learning experiences.
Most kitchens were stocked with ample fruit and vegetables, legumes and whole wheat bread. Researchers inventoried the food in the five homes before and after the training, and were able to document significant improvements attributable to UC ANR's signature nutrition education curriculum, Plan, Shop, Save & Cook.
“The classes helped families make small changes that made a difference – leading to modest, but very important savings at the end of the month. If your cupboards are bare, an extra $5 in your wallet is significant,” said Susan Algert, the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UC ANR in Santa Clara County. “The families typically turned around and spent those savings on something healthy, which is what we asked them to do.”
A report on the pilot study was published this month in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. The families involved were all eligible for the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which in California is called CalFresh. The educational component, administered by UC ANR Cooperative Extension, is called UC CalFresh.
“Digging through pantries is labor intensive, but revealing,” said Algert, the study's lead author. “This gives us a good idea what changes people make at home after they participate in our training.”
Typically the effectiveness of nutrition education programs are judged by asking participants to answer surveys before and after they attend classes, but errors due to attention, comprehension, memory and recording can lead to inaccurate conclusions.
“Direct observation is the gold standard and is conducted by trained researchers who travel to a subject's home and record all foods present in the home – in the refrigerator, freezer, pantry and elsewhere,” Algert said.
In the pilot evaluation, all the participants were Mexican or Mexican-American women 27 to 50 years old. A Spanish-speaking UC CalFresh educator presented three two-hour classes designed to help families stretch food dollars and increase consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The class sessions included information on the USDA's MyPlate nutrition guide, portion sizes, comparison shopping, label reading, menu planning, healthful fats, limiting sugars, cooking, and saving leftovers.
When the before-and-after food inventories were tabulated, the researchers were able to draw conclusions about the training.
“Having worked with Latinos for many years, this made sense to me,” Algert said. “They wanted fruit that was part of the family culture from Mexico.”
Four of the five families switched to whole wheat bread.
“Whole wheat bread has come down in price to $2.50 or $3 a loaf, so that is a behavior that families could change very readily,” Algert said. “One family didn't change to whole wheat because the mother said the family preferred the taste of white bread.”
Four of the five families were able to shop less often using skills they learning in the UC CalFresh training, including planning menus, making healthier recipes from scratch and making shopping lists.
One participant said, “I used to spend $100 to $150 a week on food. Now I spend the same amount but every two weeks. I'm saving a lot.”
Another participant said sticking to a shopping list helps the family stay within a budget. “Now I avoid taking my kids to 7/11 or convenience stores because the food is not healthy and it just contributes to spending more money,” the participant said. “This way, I am saving the money I can spend on healthier food.”
An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.
Author: Jeannette Warnert
“This is a perfect example of what can happen when multiple levels of government and community organizations work together,” said Luis Chavez, a member of the Fresno County School Board. “This is a model that we hope to expand across the city.”
UC CalFresh, part of UC ANR Cooperative Extension, provides regular produce sampling and education in classrooms to encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables. UC ANR's Shelby MacNab, UC CalFresh program manager in Fresno, said the program is also committed to increasing access to fresh produce in the communities it serves. UC CalFresh staff will stand alongside the farm stand each Thursday to reinforce the nutrition lessons and offer nutrition class sign-ups to families.
"We are absolutely delighted to support the farm stand by providing nutrition education. Pairing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables with nutrition education is an essential combination for transforming the health of our community," MacNab said.
On May 14, the school launched the program for 2015 with fresh cherries, oranges, jujubes, squash, green onions and baby bok choy. The produce came straight from the 10-acre Reedley farm of May Vu. The low-cost fruit and vegetables can be purchased with cash or CalFresh benefits (formerly called food stamps).
The farmer connection was facilitated by John Thao, project manager with the National Hmong American Farmers Association, another partner in the food stand effort.
“We're working to sustain the economic development of small-scale farmers,” he said.
For the community around the school, the farm stand addresses the woefully inadequate grocery shopping options. Liquor stores and fast food restaurants abound. A supermarket that stood at a nearby intersection for decades is now closed.
“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Genoveva Islas, executive director of Cultiva la Salud, one of the community organizations involved in the partnership.
Theresa Calderon, principal of Vang Pao Elementary School, said the after school farm stand is popular with the students.
“The students bring a dollar and buy cherries, strawberries, whatever is in season, rather than going to the corner store and buying a slurpee and bag of cheetoes,” she said “It's what's best for the students.”
“Simply offering healthy options is not enough to motivate children to make healthy choices,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.
“Moreover, imposing restrictions rather than providing children with options to make healthy choices can have long-term negative effects,” said Rachel Scherr, assistant project scientist, also in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.
In 2012, more than one-third of children in the U.S. were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, increasing their risk for health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis. To target the complex issue of eating habits, Zidenberg-Cherr and her UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis colleagues designed a school-based program and tested it in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties through the leadership of UCCE nutrition, family and consumer science advisors Terri Spezzano and Yvonne Nicholson.
“Parents shared with me that their children are voicing input on meals and asking if they can add fruit to their salads,” a participating teacher told the researchers.
During the first year that the Shaping Healthy Choices Program was implemented in Sacramento County schools, the number of children classified as overweight or obese dropped from 56 percent to 38 percent. The participating students also improved their nutrition knowledge, ability to identify different kinds of vegetables and amounts of vegetables that they reported eating.
“I tried zucchini and yellow squash when I was little and didn't like it, but now I tried it and I love it!” said a 9-year-old student.
The Shaping Healthy Choices Program takes a multifaceted approach, combining nutrition education with family and community partnerships, regional agriculture, foods available on school campus and school wellness policies.
The garden-enhanced, inquiry-based nutrition curriculum was developed by Jessica Linnell, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology; Carol Hillhouse, the School Garden Program director at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute; and Martin Smith, a UCCE specialist in the Departments of Human Ecology and Population Health and Reproduction. The family and community partnerships featuring family newsletters were developed by Carolyn Sutter, a graduate student in the Graduate Group of Human Development, and Lenna Ontai, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Human Ecology. Lori Nguyen, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology, Sheridan Miyamoto, postdoctoral scholar in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, and Heather Young, dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, organized community-sponsored health fairs.
The UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis team worked with classrooms to use Discovering Healthy Choices, a standards-based curriculum that incorporates interactive classroom nutrition, garden and physical activity education for upper elementary school students. Teachers partnered with UCCE to incorporate cooking demonstrations to show the connections between agriculture, food preparation and nutrition. To reinforce the lessons at home, Team Up for Families – monthly newsletters containing nutrition tips for the parents – were sent home with the students. School Nutrition Services purchased fruits and vegetables from regional growers and distributors to set up salad bars and prepare dishes made with fresh produce. The Shaping Healthy Choices Program activities were integrated into the school wellness initiatives.
“My students shared things they learned about safe food handling and safety in cooking,” said a teacher who participated in the study. “Parents said their children want to help in preparing meals at home.”
“My daughter is more interested in trying new foods and eating more fruits and vegetables,” reported one parent. “She often surprises the family by making a surprise salad snack for everyone.”
Preliminary analysis shows that nine months after the classroom education ended, the decrease in the students' body mass index percentiles, or BMI percentiles, was sustained. “This is a big deal,” said Zidenberg-Cherr, while cautiously encouraged by the program's success. “We are in the process of analyzing several aspects of the program — the data set is so complex and I have to feel 100 percent confident in our statements.”
Through a partnership with UC CalFresh, the researchers have expanded the comprehensive program to schools in Placer, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties. Determining feasibility for expansion of the program for broader dissemination is planned for the 2015-2016 school year.
This project was funded by grants from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.