- Author: Mike Hsu
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and UC Master Gardeners partner with nonprofit MORE in El Dorado County
A nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in El Dorado County, MORE has found kindred spirits in helping their clients live fuller and healthier lives – the staff and volunteers of University of California Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC.
Since 2018, these programs – both affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have helped enrich the lives of about 60 clients at MORE, which offers services ranging from independent-living skills development to job training and placement.
“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we like to make with the community,” said MORE CEO Susie Davies, who has been with the Placerville-based organization for 40 years. “This has just been incredible; our people have learned above and beyond what we could even have imagined in nutrition and gardening.”
The three-party partnership, which Davies calls a “win-win-win,” offers a course that combines gardening and nutrition lessons, as well as a new cooking and food safety-focused class developed by educator Cailin McLaughlin in collaboration with MORE staff.
During one session, MORE clients enjoyed preparing a “plant part salad,” following a botanical lesson on the edible components of plants – fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and stems. “It was fun to cut the celery and broccoli,” said Jared (first names are used to protect privacy). “I like pouring the sauce in.”
“I liked everything about creating the salad,” said Deanne, another participant.
“MORE is the dream site, the best you could ever hope to go to, with the programming and the clients always being lovely and really just being down for anything,” said McLaughlin, a CalFresh Healthy Living nutrition educator at the Central Sierra UC Cooperative Extension office. “It's just a really cool place to be.”
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC is one of the organizations in California that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). UC Davis administers the SNAP-Ed grant and UC Cooperative Extension educators deliver the lessons throughout the state.
‘Part of our MORE family'
Through the gardening and nutrition program, clients learn and apply their skills in the garden and greenhouse at the MORE facility and in the nearby Sherwood Demonstration Garden maintained by UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County.
“The participants get a chance to harvest, plant, pull weeds and learn about integrated pest management, both in the vegetable garden and in the orchard,” said Tracy Celio, the local UC Master Gardeners program manager who worked with former CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educator Miranda Capriotti to develop the program.
“It's a very good program,” said Tony, a MORE client. “I can learn things.”
While experiencing the pride in bringing fresh produce to their home or to the MORE kitchen for use in the meal service, the clients are also taking away nutritious and healthy recipes. Jordan Postlewait, director of community access programs at MORE, said participants now know how to use ingredients from the garden to create dishes such as tomato salsa and fruit salad.
“They've taken the recipes that Cailin has given them and they go home and serve their whole group home what we had made for a snack,” Postlewait said. “They are paying attention to what they're eating.”
As a result of this awareness and knowledge of nutritious foods, Davies said that MORE clients are healthier, more energized and alert, and ready to learn. She is quick to credit the expertise and enthusiasm of McLaughlin, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE program coordinator Mariana Garcia, and the UC Master Gardeners staff and volunteers.
“They have the same dedication and commitment to excellence in their preparation for every session as our staff,” Davies said. “They just became part of our MORE family.”
“I like seeing Cailin and Tracy and all the staff who are my friends,” said Kenion, a MORE client.
Cooking lessons create possibilities for kitchen time, jobs
In April, two groups, each composed of six people, began participating in a new five-session course combining nutrition, food safety and basic cooking techniques. Each two-hour session included a nutrition lesson, a physical activity and time in MORE's commercial kitchen.
“It was fun getting in the kitchen and learning how to prepare my own meals,” Jared said. “I learned how to safely use a small skillet.”
Another participant, Kyle, said he uses the recipes to cook for his roommates. “I liked learning new cooking skills and recipes,” he said.
McLaughlin adapted a youth-oriented healthy eating curriculum, approved for use by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, and tailored it for adults at MORE.
“The whole goal is to get them closer to an independent living circumstance, where either they can live in a group facility or have their own apartment – and knowing how to cook and identify healthy recipes is a huge component of that,” McLaughlin explained.
The guided kitchen experiences – and equipment like plastic safety knives – not only benefit the participants but also give their family members reassurance and confidence to include them in meal preparation.
“We've actually been asked by staff at MORE, and also by clients' parents, where we got the knives, because they would like to have their family member in the kitchen with them, if they can do it safely,” McLaughlin said. “They didn't know things like safety knives existed; they didn't know you could adapt a silicone food guard to keep them from burning themselves on a burner.”
In addition to enhancing the clients' family time, the cooking lessons could also set them up for future employment. Davies said she is in talks with a local chef about establishing a culinary training for the clients.
“This cooking program could be a preparation program for them to be involved in the culinary training program,” she said. “That's what we're really excited about.”
McLaughlin added that, for future sessions of the cooking and food-safety series, past participants have expressed interest in serving as kitchen aides and mentors.
Partners nurture clients' relationships with nature, community
Empowering clients with new skills and fostering a sense of ownership of the garden are both cornerstones of the partnership programs. Beginning in 2019, participants from MORE each adopted a tree in the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard to monitor and nurture.
“Almost every time they come to the garden, we check those fruit trees,” Celio said. “The trees are doing so many things throughout the year, so they're following the cycle: they watch the leaves drop; they watch the fruit come in; they see what a freeze does to their tree; they see what pests do to their tree.”
The participants experience the challenges of gardening – from managing rabbits and squirrels to coping with the loss of a pear tree due to disease – as well as its many joys.
“I liked seeing the butterflies and different plants; the butterflies drink from the bushes,” said Jen, a MORE client. “My favorite thing is the rose garden.”
At the same time, the clients have built strong relationships with the core group of UC Master Gardener volunteers and the dozen or so “vegetable garden crew” volunteers. Celio stressed that the garden programs, which were recently recognized by the statewide UC Master Gardeners program with a Search for Excellence Award, are truly collaborative.
MORE participants often bring their own ideas; one man, for example, became interested in composting and worked with MORE staff to establish a worm bin at the MORE facility garden.
“Every time I see that client, he will tell me how the worms were doing and he'll tell me how healthy the plants are that are growing next to the worm bin,” Celio said, adding that he also worked at a table during a MORE fair, teaching other clients and their family members about vermiculture.
Advocating for the greater good of the community is central to another CalFresh Healthy Living, UC collaborative project at MORE, in partnership with Stanford University's Our Voice initiative. Using an online tool and app, 12 clients have been taking photos and sharing feedback on their health and wellness experience at MORE, specifically about their walking trail. With that information, they are building a case to make the path safer and more enjoyable.
Responding to their feedback, along with the other partnership programs that are building vital skills and community, demonstrate to MORE's clients that they are appreciated and respected.
“The request from the people that we serve is that they want to be seen, they want to be heard, and they want to be valued by other community members,” Davies said. “And this is really showing them that they are valued and being seen and heard.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Amanda M Linares
- Contributor: Kaela Plank
- Contributor: Sridharshi Hewawitharana
- Contributor: Gail Woodward-Lopez
Nutrition Policy Institute partnered with local health departments to evaluate school-based CalFresh Healthy Living, finding that it improved student diet during COVID-19, contributing to improved community health and wellness.
In March 2020 schools across California halted in-person instruction in an effort to protect students and staff against COVID-19 and embarked on “distance learning.” In spring 2021, over half of California's public schools, and disproportionately those serving low-income students, remained in full-time distance learning.
Distance learning had a substantial impact on student food security and dietary intake. Many students lost access to the consistent nutrition provided by school meal programs. Additionally, students may have had increased access to less healthy foods in the home environment, and/or experienced increases in snacking behaviors and eating/drinking out of boredom. For these reasons, continuance of public health programs that operate largely in the school environment, such as the California Department of Public Health's CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) program, were essential to addressing health impacts and widening disparities from school closures. When schools shuttered, local health departments (LHDs) administering CFHL had to swiftly adjust their approach to classroom direct education and school-wide policy, system, and environmental (PSE) change strategies as they prepared to deliver and evaluate their school-based interventions from afar. Likewise, evaluators at Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) needed to devise new methods to enable and support evaluation of this valuable program.
How UC Delivers
To address the need to continue delivery of high quality CFHL programming, LHDs migrated nutrition and physical activity education from delivery in-person to delivery online. Curricula were delivered live via online platforms like Zoom or Google Classroom, or pre-recorded via websites like YouTube. Popular PSE change approaches, like improving school wellness policies or implementing a school garden had limited impact on students if not attending school. With limited or nonexistent in-person school-student interaction, LHDs opted to initiate more feasible and timely PSEs like modifying food distribution practices to ensure students had access to healthy meals.
While LHDs focused on modifying interventions, NPI evaluators were busy adapting evaluation methodology for students learning outside the classroom. A key component of this evaluation involved measuring student eating and physical activity behavior using the Eating and Activity Tool for Students (EATS). Pre-COVID-19, a hardcopy survey was administered to students before and after annual CFHL interventions. In Fall 2020, NPI launched an online version of EATS and provided technical assistance to schools to support virtual administration. Survey questions were also added to capture the unique impact of school closures on students' eating and physical activity behaviors.
In 2020-21, pre/post EATS data were collected from 1,087 students from 47 CFHL intervention schools and 846 students from 17 comparison schools- schools where no programming occurred. During this time, intervention students reported a greater increase in frequency of consumption of fruit (by 0.16 times/day; p-value=0.032) and vegetables (by 0.45 times/day; p-value<0.001) than comparison students. Research suggests that higher fruit and vegetable intake protects against the development of cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.
Our findings suggest that LHD-led CFHL programs played a role in protecting student fruit and vegetable consumption during COVID-19 school closures and exemplifies how school-based CFHL may safeguard students' access to and consumption of nutritious food. California's health departments and their school partners proved that even with program adaptations, this important work continued to positively impact student health and wellbeing. Nutrition Policy Institute contributes to UC ANR's public value of Healthy People and Communities through their leadership and support of CFHL evaluation. Efforts by NPI help California communities understand the importance of CFHL programming for their children and families.
This study was conducted as part of a contract with the California Department of Public Health with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-- SNAP. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers./h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Chutima Ganthavorn
- Contributor: Jackie Barahona
Science Night is an evening of hands-on science activities for students and their families to do together. Science Night is an opportunity for parents to visit their children's schools to celebrate student learning. Since the coronavirus pandemic has prevented this type of school gathering this year, some elementary schools in Coachella Valley Unified organized virtual Science Night events using the Zoom platform to keep families engaged. Being a community partner that promotes student health and wellness, the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Cooperative Extension (CFHL, UCCE) was invited to participate. Our CFHL, UCCE Educators: Jackie Barahona, Daisy Valdez, Itzel Palacios-Sanchez and Esmeralda Nunez presented ‘Plant Anatomy' which is adapted from the Eat Your Plants lesson from the TWIGS nutrition and gardening curriculum. Students and families had fun on Zoom learning about edible plant parts and the benefits of eating vegetables and fruits. When asked what they took away from this session, one student commented in the chat "I learned that some vegetables are considered fruits" and another said "I learned more about plants and that we can eat them." The event was held on December 3, 2020, jointly for the Cesar Chavez and Valle Del Sol Elementary Schools, and on December 9, 2020 for Saul Martinez Elementary.
Our CFHL, UCCE team is thankful for the opportunity to be a partner in the virtual Science Night events and is pleased with the positive feedback from the Principal at Saul Martinez:
“I want to take a moment to thank the entire team that made our very first Saul Martinez Virtual Family Science Fair a huge success! Our Saul Martinez students and parents were engaged in critical thinking on the scientific process and I have received much positive feedback from our families! At the end of the event, one student sent me a private message in the zoom chat, “This is fun, when are we doing science night again?” That question right there equals success!! I hope we can do this again in the near future!”
- Author: Claudia Carlos
- Author: Chutima Ganthavorn
- Editor: Michele Tabor
With technology, the traditional brain break in the classroom has gone digital! Over 650 teachers participated in the Brain Breaks in the Virtual World session at the Alvord Unified Distance Learning Virtual Summit on August 3, 2020. CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL), UCCE Riverside County teamed up with Bethany Rivera, Wellness Lead at Loma Vista Middle School, to provide this training for TK through 12th grade teachers. The Virtual Summit hosted on Google Meets featured teachers teaching their peers - about live online learning strategies and socioemotional distance learning. The CFHL, UCCE team's presentation included four virtual physical activity breaks (brain breaks) demonstrations for lower elementary, upper elementary, middle and high school. The team created a teacher resource list with links to virtual PA videos for the four grade levels.
For any student (and adult), sitting in front of a device to do distance learning is a lot of mental work and students may need a break in the middle of their virtual classes. CFHL, UCCE team showed real life examples of brain break activities appropriate for different age groups. Out of the 230 teachers who responded to the Mentimeter poll, 88% said they are very likely or likely to schedule a physical activity break during their virtual lessons. The Riverside CFHL, UCCE team is grateful for the strong partnership with Alvord Unified (AUSD) which led to this training opportunity and the support of Patti Suppe, CAHPERD President and past AUSD District Wellness Lead. We are hopeful that Alvord students will greatly benefit from the resources shared at this session.
Aldrich Tan, Special Education Teacher at McAuliffe Elementary School shared feedback after the training: “You were amazing! Teachers in the stands loved it and they loved the opportunities to stand up. One teacher said it was the best session of the day.”