- Author: Mike Hsu
Program with Foothill Indian Education Alliance teaches healthy eating to young people of many tribes
More than a tutoring center, the Foothill Indian Education Alliance facility in Placerville also provides cultural activities for youth in El Dorado and Amador counties affiliated with a broad diversity of Native American tribes.
In addition to traditional crafts like drum- and jewelry-making, the center began offering a food component last summer, through a partnership with CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California – one of the agencies in the state that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
“A lot of the kids, because they don't live on a reservation or their family might not be connected to a local tribe, don't know a lot of their history or their foods,” said Cailin McLaughlin, nutrition educator for CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, based at the UC Cooperative Extension office in El Dorado County. “Food is a good way to explore any heritage because food is at the central point of a lot of cultures and customs – sharing meals and sharing stories behind it.”
Last spring, McLaughlin worked with Hal Sherry, the head tutor at Foothill Indian Education Alliance, to create a new, five-week “summer camp” during which youth would learn about and prepare Native foods in the center's kitchen, primarily with ingredients from its backyard garden.
Sherry said that the experience provided the participants – 10 elementary school students and seven middle or high school students – an important perspective on the interconnectedness of all living things.
“Part of the objective of the program is for them to understand that each one of us is part of the natural order of things, and that we have to do our part to fit into that cycle,” he explained. “There's kind of an ecological lesson that's also being learned…and we don't want to put poisons in our bodies, and we don't want to put poisons in our environment.”
Program combines cultural lessons, nutrition information
For the summer program, McLaughlin selected a curriculum centered on garden-based nutrition, and infused it with elements of Indigenous food ways.
“We predominantly picked ingredients that had cultural significance to Native American communities, so things like blueberries, blackberries, pine nuts, squash, things of that nature,” she said. “So we could feed into the history of that ingredient, why it's important to the Indigenous communities – and then give (the students) the nutritional information about it.”
After the youth prepared chia seed parfaits – from a recipe that is part of a series developed by CalFresh Healthy Living, the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center, and the Center for Wellness and Nutrition – a Foothill Indian Education Alliance staff member shared that Native hunters would eat chia seeds for strength before a long hunt.
Many of the participants had never had chia seeds before, and the parfaits were an “absolute favorite,” in the words of McLaughlin.
“I wish we could have made them more often!” said Lacey, a fifth grader who participates in the center's programs year-round.
In addition to working outside in the garden, Lacey said she also liked cooking in the kitchen during the summer camp – and the fact that the young people could take the lead.
“It was all the kids doing it, but (McLaughlin) was just supervising and making sure we were doing it right – it was really nice,” said Lacey, who identifies as Miwok.
Sharing within families, across tribes
Active participation by the young people is one of the strengths of the program, according to Sherry. He expressed admiration for McLaughlin's engaging teaching style, which eschews “lectures” and instead draws the participants into lively conversations about the nutritional content of the ingredients.
“Hopefully they're going to retain some of that knowledge and information and then remember: ‘You know what, yes, I think I would like to have some corn and some beans tonight, because that's going to help my bones grow strong and my eyesight get better,'” Sherry said. “That's really a big part of what we want them to come away with.”
At the end of the summer program, participants also came away with a binder of recipes from a cookbook of Native American dishes, “Young, Indigenous and Healthy: Recipes Inspired by Today's Native Youth.” James Marquez, director of the Foothill Indian Education Alliance, said he heard from students that they were bringing many of the lessons from the program back to their homes.
“I've heard the same kind of thing from parents and grandparents, who have said how wonderful that was and that kids come back home and have an interest in cooking and trying to serve nutritious meals to their families,” Marquez said.
That crucial sharing of knowledge also happens between and among staff members and students, as the center comprises members of many tribes, from South Dakota Lakota to Navajo.
“We serve Native people, we don't care what tribe they come from – they're all welcome,” Marquez said. “What we do represents a lot of different tribes, so we share information from one tribe to another, and that way people can appreciate everybody and what we have to bring to the table.”
Talia, a sixth grader who participated in the summer program, said that she enjoys that cultural sharing.
“I like how I can learn new things…and how I learn more about the people around me,” she explained. “It's also fun to learn about other people's cultures, and what Native American they are, too.”
McLaughlin went on to partner with Foothill Indian Education Alliance on a “Cooking Academy” program during this past fall, and is planning another spring/summer program for 2023, as well. The ongoing teaching and sharing of food ways is just one part of a long process to recover and rebuild Native American cultural traditions.
“Unfortunately, there was a very concerted effort to obliterate the Native culture on this continent; it was a very intentional, very deliberate effort to just stamp that culture out like it had somehow never existed,” Sherry said. “Now there's a much greater awareness of what a terrible thing that was, and so it's like trying to regrow a new garden over an area that was severely burned…and it's being done all over the country.”/h3>/h3>/h3>
UCCE partners with a school site to promote health and wellness and develop student leaders. As a result of the program, 92% of students reported gaining skills in teaching others.
Studies show that school gardens support student health through increased physical activity, increased consumption of healthy foods, and decreased body mass index. School gardens are also associated with positive emotions and social interactions. Additionally, school gardens have the potential to improve students' leadership skills and teamwork abilities. CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE (CFHL,UCCE) in Santa Barbara County partners with schools to gather stakeholders, create plans, fundraise, and build, maintain and teach in school gardens. One partnering school, Hapgood Elementary, has a flourishing garden that has been expanded and maintained over several years.
How UC Delivers
As COVID-19 restrictions at schools began to ease, UCCE garden nutrition educator Abbi Marrs reached out to the student leadership class to see if there was interest in developing leadership skills related to nutrition and food production in their school garden. Over 30 student leaders expressed interest in learning more about the garden. With the support of the school administration, UCCE staff met with the students to provide support and training related to growing food, composting, garden maintenance, and teaching in the garden. Throughout these trainings, UCCE staff worked with the youth to make decisions related to what they wanted to do with their new skills to support the garden. One group decided to focus on building more awareness of their garden by providing school garden tours. Another group decided to focus on supporting school and family health by providing garden enhanced nutrition education lessons in the garden.
UCCE staff supported youth by facilitating school garden training, helping write scripts for the garden tours, training in Teams With Intergenerational Support (TWIGS) curriculum, and practicing presentations. On April 15th, 2022, 26 youth delivered a garden tour to other youth, teachers, families, and community members. The mayor and city staff were invited to attend, and youth had the opportunity to share their garden and how it impacts their learning and health. In addition, 10 lessons were taught to 211 students in grades TK-6th.
Additionally, eight student leaders shared their garden experience while presenting at the 2022 California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in September. Student leaders worked with UCCE staff to develop a presentation focused on the responsibilities of a garden student leader. The topics included: how the garden youth leader program started, garden jobs, composting, working with hydroponic towers, working with food service staff, safe harvesting practices, and how to teach garden-based and nutrition education lessons. During the presentation, student leaders shared their favorite parts of working in the garden. Some answers included teaching younger students about the garden, learning healthy recipes, and learning more about gardening in general. Student leaders then delivered a condensed version of the “Pest or Pal” lesson from the TWIGS garden-based curriculum to over fifty attendees. The presentation concluded with question-and-answers and students answered questions such as the biggest challenge they faced working in the garden, their favorite foods to grow, and how working in the garden has helped develop them as leaders.
Youth leaders completed the Youth Leader Retrospective survey at the end of the school year (n=26). This survey asks participants to reflect on changes they see in themselves due to their participation in programming. Questions ask about behavior changes related to safely preparing and cooking healthy foods, leadership skills gained, and support received from adult facilitators.
For healthy behaviors, students agreed or strongly agreed, due to their participation in the UCCE Student Leaders Garden Committee: I wash my hands frequently (100%), my family has purchased healthier foods (92%), my family has prepared healthier foods (88%).
For leadership skills, youth retrospectively rated their ability before and after the program using a 4-point scale from No Ability to Excellent Ability. Improvement was observed in all leadership skills assessed, including the ability to work as a team member, speak before a group, teach others, and plan programs. The biggest change was observed in their ability to teach others. Prior to the program, only 1 (4%) youth reported an Excellent Ability, and 11 (42%) reported Good Ability. After the program, 11 (42%) rated themselves as having Excellent Ability and 13 (50%) rated themselves Good Ability. In addition, 0 youth rated themselves as No Ability after participating in the program, compared to 5 (19%) before the program.
For program support, youth agreed or strongly agreed with the following statements: There were dedicated adults who supported me as a youth leader (100%), I received ongoing training and support throughout the program (88%), The program made sure I had everything I needed to be successful as a youth leader (100%).
As a result of the garden tours, the Lompoc City Council adopted a school garden resolution that states the importance of school gardens to student health and the commitment of the city to support school gardens. Youth attended the council meeting and their school was gifted an apricot tree and the principal hosted a tree planting ceremony with students and family members. UCCE plans to work with student leaders next school year with 6th grade student leaders taking on the responsibility of training 5th grade student leaders. This peer to peer model will create a solid foundation for garden program sustainability for years to come. Lastly, when asked about the student youth leader the city mayor stated:
“I am so impressed with the students and the garden at Hapgood! Their passion for growing food was evident as the young scholars taught us about composting and what each part of the plant contributes to in its growth. I want to thank the UC CalFresh Education Program, all the parents and volunteers as well as the staff at Hapgood for supporting such an awesome learning experience in how our food grows.”- Lompoc City Mayor
Through this partnership, CFHL, UCCE in Santa Barbara contributes to improved health for the local community, and guides students to become effective public leaders.
- Author: Mike Hsu
After harvesting and cooking their produce, students ask for seconds of kale
How do you get notoriously finicky sixth graders to eat their leafy greens? Have them grow the vegetables themselves.
Students in Riverside have that unique opportunity through a hands-on gardening and nutrition class at Ysmael Villegas Middle School, with help from CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension Riverside County (a part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources).
“We have middle schoolers asking for seconds and thirds of kale – that's not something that's typical!” said Claudia Carlos, program supervisor for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside, which implements SNAP-Ed locally (the educational arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps).
Growing and tending kale, mint and snap peas in two wheelbarrow gardens on the Villegas campus, the second cohort of students capped their 12-week class with a cooking lesson. A simple recipe combining their kale with tomatoes, onions and coconut milk was a big hit.
“It's one thing to tell youth they should eat healthy, but not until they actually grow the food do they actually take a lot of pride in that food they've grown and harvested,” Carlos explained.
By the end of this school year, about 75 students (in three cohorts) will have taken the class, during which they explore career pathways in gardening, agriculture and nutrition – while cultivating new skills and healthy habits such as choosing nutritious snacks and incorporating exercise into their day. Techniques developed by the UC help encourage effective behavior change.
“In this exploratory class, I've learned how to plant, and take care of plants,” wrote one student, in evaluating the class. “I can use these skills later on in life most likely, and I also learned how to be more healthy.”
Teachers observed that other students also have taken steps to apply their new skills and knowledge.
“They become more confident in themselves and their abilities to make healthy choices for themselves and their families – and to advocate for their parents to buy that kale and actually eat it,” said Daisy Valdez, community education specialist for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside, who is helping teach the class.
Valdez also has been training Villegas teacher Kim Weiss, so that Weiss – a first-year full-time teacher – is empowered to teach future cohorts. Both Valdez and Weiss noticed that nearly all of the youth have been enthusiastic about getting their hands in the soil, watering and weeding regularly – even taking care of the “worm hotel.”
“Students are very invested in the plants, how they are doing and their well-being,” Weiss said. “They ask if they can come back to the class and help care for the plants and worms; students worry about who will take care of the plants and worms after they leave.”
In addition to basic gardening and cooking skills, the class also incorporates lessons about herbs and spices, beneficial insects and pollinators, and cultural dimensions of food. The kale cooking lesson, which recently took place during Black History Month, presented a chance to teach about African food and culinary traditions.
“It allows them to not just connect to the garden but also to connect to their peers and to connect to the world around them,” said Valdez, who added that the garden, planted in a pair of cheerful red wheelbarrows, also beautifies the campus and sparks conversations among their schoolmates about food systems.
The Villegas partnership with CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside also benefits the entire school in other ways, with programs reaching hundreds of students and community members. In spring 2021, under Valdez's supervision, students created a “food access board” that shows how to obtain healthy and affordable food through CalFresh EBT, farmers markets, WIC and other resources.
The board, which has been set up in the library, cafeteria and lobby, is seen and used by students and family members. Valdez also engaged parents and the broader community by hosting gardening and nutrition workshops.
This year, Villegas students will have the opportunity to further deepen their cultural connections through a new Youth Participatory Action Research project, in which they explore their personal and family histories through the lens of a meaningful and healthy food item, practice or tradition. Youth will then share their findings with school peers and administrators.
As Carlos noted, these young people will not forget such engaging and immersive experiences with food any time soon. In their evaluations, many students wrote that they learned valuable lessons about compost, care for plants and insects, and healthy eating.
And, as one sixth grader said: “I also learned that kale and coconut milk is amazing!”
Partnering to support nutrition incentive programs at farmers markets provides increased access to healthy food for CalFresh recipients and generated over $380,000 in revenue for local farms.
For low-income community members, CalFresh/SNAP incentive programs can increase their purchasing power, help reduce hunger, and improve nutrition. Farmers market nutrition incentives provide economic benefits to local farmers and communities, reduce food miles traveled, and can increase access to healthy food in low-income communities. In San Luis Obispo County eight year-round farmers markets accept CalFresh and offer the market incentive Market Match. However, these programs are underutilized, and many low-income shoppers are unaware or uncertain about where and how to use their CalFresh card.
How UC Delivers
To increase access to farmers market incentive programs and address barriers, UC staff convened partners through the EBT at Farmers Markets working group of the San Luis Obispo Food System Coalition. The work group includes partners from multiple sectors, including agriculture, government, private industry, and community-based organizations. The purpose of the work group is to increase the use of CalFresh at farmers markets to 1) create equitable access to healthy food and 2) support for local farmers. Through this work group, partners have collaborated to increase the visibility of farmers market incentives through social media, text messaging, materials distribution to local client-serving organizations, press releases, paid advertisements, and promotion at local food bank distributions and farmers markets.
Key work group partner representatives (n=6) were surveyed in September 2021 using the Wilder Collaboration Factors Survey. This survey includes 44 evidence-based items for collaboratives. Strengths are indicated by an average score of 4.0 to 5.0, while areas needing attention are 3.9 or lower. Strengths reported by respondents included: skilled leadership (4.3), unique purpose (4.3), mutual respect and trust (4.4). Weaknesses and areas of growth included: adequate funds (2.7) and time (2.7), and having all the organizations that we need as members of the group (3.2).
To address some of the issues related to time and resources, the work group applied for and received $30,000 in funding from the Danone Foundation to pilot a Farmers Market Navigator program to increase access to farmers market incentives among Hispanic and Latino customers who use CalFresh.
Since 2017, when UC started convening the EBT at Farmers Markets work group, we have seen a 171% increase in CalFresh and Market Match redemption. Research has shown that access to fruits and vegetables supports healthy eating behaviors and improved health outcomes. Additionally, these purchases have generated a total of $386,000 in direct income to local farmers and farmers markets.
In addition, the work group has supported two additional markets in launching their Market Match program and has advocated for and achieved a regional standard incentive amount of $15 from Paso Robles in northern San Luis Obispo County to Lompoc in northern Santa Barbara County. This regional standard simplifies communication to low-income clientele and ensures a meaningful and standardized food budget when clients shop at local farmers markets.
Increasing access to local fruits and vegetables supports UC ANR's public values of safeguarding abundant and healthy food for all Californians and promoting healthy people and communities.
Our favorite quote:
“This work group really helped our market to be accepted into the Market Match program. I think without the visibility and partnership that this work group provided, we would not have been considered for Market Match. So you all should really feel good about that and thank you.”
– Farmers market manager and work group partner/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Kelly Hong
- Author: Emily Dimond
- Author: Melissa LaFreniere
- Author: Rosa Vargas
UCCE Santa Barbara County educators partnered with P.E. teachers to boost enrolled classes by 53% during COVID-19 distance learning. About half of the students surveyed indicated intentions to drink more water and increase activity, contributing to improved youth health.
The CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) program serving Santa Barbara County has partnered with elementary schools in the Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) for several years to provide evidence-based curriculum and trainings in nutrition and physical activity. SMBSD serves over 16,900 students with 87.2% of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, many families, especially those with young children, experienced an increase in food insecurity, making them more vulnerable to negative health outcomes. Unfortunately, during the same time UCCE educators in Santa Barbara County experienced a decrease in K-6th grade classroom teachers being able to partner to provide nutrition and physical activity support, limiting access to important resources and information on diet and exercise habits that promote healthy living.[3-4]
How UC Delivers
Working closely with school partners, UCCE educators pivoted programming to meet the needs of school communities to promote health and increased the total number of enrolled classes by 53% compared to the start of the 2020-21 school year.
All three P.E Specialists expressed interest in continuing the partnership as extenders and felt the lessons were beneficial to their students. Two of the extenders reported the virtual UCCE lessons were easy to integrate into their class schedule and observed that students were actively engaged in the material and activities. Several additionalSMBSD P.E. Specialists expressed further interest in professional development around teaching nutrition curricula and have been provided access to a library of online resources and support from UCCE Educators.
Overall, this partnership resulted in reaching more than 1,000 students across two school sites with quality nutrition education using the Serving UpMyPlate and Up4It! curricula tailored to their grade level. As a result, 59% of 4th-6th grade youth surveyed (n=73) reported that when given a choice they will drink water and 45% reported that when given a choice they will try to engage in more physical activity.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2018), regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces the risk of many chronic diseases among children and adults. These outcomes support UCANR's public value of promoting healthy people and communities.
“I have learned that in sports drinks, sodas, teas, and coffee that there is a lot of sugar and added sugar into the drinks. I have also learned that it is good to have some type of protein or dairy or anything that is on my plate when you eat.” – Rice Elementary Student (SMBSD)
1. Ed-Data: Education Data Partnership, Santa Maria-Bonita School District; Accessed on 15 June 2021, http://www.ed-data.org/district/Santa-Barbara/Santa-Maria--Bonita
2. Wolfson JA, Leung CW. Food Insecurity and COVID-19: Disparities in Early Effects for US Adults. Nutrients. 2020; 12(6):1648. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12061648
3. Pérez-Rodrigo, C., & Aranceta, J. (2001). School-based nutrition education: Lessons learned and new perspectives. Public Health Nutrition, 4(1a), 131-139. doi:10.1079/PHN2000108
4. Rivera, R. L., Maulding, M. K., & Eicher-Miller, H. A. Effect of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program–Education (SNAP-Ed) on food security and dietary outcomes, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 77, Issue 12, December 2019, Pages 903–921, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz013/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>