- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Inside a quiet classroom, Sadie, a 4-H member in Orange County, stands in front of two judges with an insulated cooler bag in hand. From it she pulls out plates, utensils and napkins and sets them down on the table. She unzips the bottom compartment and carefully reaches for a cast iron platter with golden fluffy pancakes piled on top.
“Would you like syrup with your pancakes? I highly recommend it,” said Sadie, an eighth grader who is participating in the annual 4-H Food Fiesta for a second time.
4-H, a youth development program supported by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and administered through local UC Cooperative Extension offices, promotes hands-on experiential learning for all youth.
Rita Jakel, 4-H program coordinator for Orange County, described the Food Fiesta event – intended for ages 5 to 18 – as an opportunity to practice and showcase public speaking skills through a fun, food-related competition.
Youth present their creations before a panel of evaluators, who ask them to describe how they prepared the dish and why, and how they managed challenges throughout the process. The interaction between youth and adult leaders provides a unique opportunity for youth to practice career readiness skills such as job interviews and public speaking.
This year's theme was “Super Carbolicious” and 4-H participants were encouraged to make their favorite dishes using ingredients like pasta, potatoes and bread. Carbohydrates are often perceived as unhealthy, which is not a helpful mindset to have when teaching youth about nutrition. Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted into energy that people need to function throughout the day.
Some of the dishes that were presented during the Food Fiesta included chocolate chip banana bread, cheesy baked potatoes, cookies and Nutella-stuffed crepes. 4-H member Kaitlin had only ever attended the Food Fiesta to cheer on a friend. This year, she decided to participate and presented pumpkin macaroni and cheese as her entry.
“Pumpkin mac and cheese is better than the regular one because there's a lot more flavor and you have to use two cheeses: cheddar and parmesan,” explained Kaitlin, a seventh grader. When asked what motivated her to participate instead of a being a bystander this time around, Kaitlin said that she wanted to work on her presentation skills.
“Usually, I'm a bit shy and I don't like to share that much. The Food Fiesta helped me practice speaking up more so that I can accomplish my goals,” Kaitlin said.
Sadie, who loves public speaking, admits that it wasn't always a strength of hers. “There was a time when I hated public speaking. But when I joined 4-H's cake decorating, poultry and food fiesta events, I got more comfortable with public speaking,” she said. “Now, I like going to events and showing off. I get to show off turkeys, my cakes and, today, I presented homemade pancakes.”
Helping to keep the day's festivities running smoothly were two 4-H state ambassadors: Michaela and Laurelyn, two high school seniors. Both have been involved in 4-H for over nine years, with Laurelyn being a third-generation 4-H member. “My grandmother grew up in a 4-H club in Orange County. She still raises breeding lambs for 4-H members to this day,” said Laurelyn, whose mother was a 4-H member in San Joaquin County.
As state ambassadors, they are responsible for creating and presenting workshops during state, national and regional events. “We also engage the public via social media, specifically TikTok and Instagram (@4horangeco),” said Michaela, who is in her second year as an ambassador.
During the Food Fiesta, Michaela and Laurelyn made themselves available to answer questions from participants and their families. Both ambassadors agreed that seeing parents involved in 4-H should not come as a surprise. “Being in 4-H is a family effort. This isn't an extra-curricular where you just drop your kids off and leave,” said Michaela.
Laurelyn shared that the biggest misconception others have about 4-H is that they think it's about introducing youth to agriculture or livestock. There's a civic engagement and leadership component to it, too. “If parents knew about all the ways 4-H can benefit their kids, I think more people would want to join us,” she said. “And they're finding fun ways to help us learn life skills, like this Food Fiesta.”
The homemade dishes weren't the only thing to look forward to, however. In another building, Sandy Jacobs, volunteer event coordinator, and her team set up a kitchen quiz for members. On several tables, there were different cooking tools and participants were challenged to name as many tools as they could.
In another classroom, while some members were presenting food, others presented their themed table setting décor. Participants had to prepare a complete table setting entry including a menu card, centerpiece and table settings for two. Judges considered creativity, use of color, table setting etiquette, knowledge in talking to the judges, and appearance in their evaluation.
Finally, to wrap up the day, members competed in a cupcake decorating competition. Participants were responsible for bringing their own supplies including tools and edible decorations for Cupcake Wars. Depending on their age group, participants had 20 minutes to decorate two to four cupcakes, each of a different theme.
To learn more about 4-H in Orange County, visit https://oc4h.org/.
- Author: Pamela S Kan-Rice
Free webinars about food waste and nutrition in correctional systems will be presented by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The UC ANR Sustainable Food Systems Emerging Issues Webinar Serieswill first cover food waste on Feb. 22.
“The Sustainable Food Systems strategic initiative panel aimed to highlight innovative solutions to emerging issues within the food system from field-to-fork,” said Danielle Lee, UC Nutrition Policy Institute director of communications and research engagement.
“Over one-third of all available food in the U.S. is uneaten through food loss or waste – totaling up to over $160 billion – which has negative impacts on food security and the climate,” she said. “Households could save over $370 per person each year by reducing or preventing food waste. Additionally, when uneaten food ends up in the landfill, it generates greenhouse gases, and landfills are now the third largest producers of methane in the U.S.”
“California's adoption of SB 1383 aims to solve these problems,” Lee said. “You'll meet experts who are implementing consumer education and organic waste recycling programs aligned with SB 1383.”
The second 90-minute webinar, on Feb. 29, will focus on nutritious foods for residents of correctional facilities.
“We chose incarcerated people as our case study population for two reasons – the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is the single largest public purchaser of food in the state and studies have shown that 63% of incarcerated individuals rarely or never have fresh vegetables and 55% rarely or never have fresh fruit.”
California has two policies that can support institutional procurement of fresh produce – AB 822 and AB 778.
“The Harvest of the Month program is an innovative solution to implementing these policies while supporting improved nutrition security for incarcerated individuals,” Lee said. “Prison gardening programs can not only provide therapeutic benefits to residents, but also reduce recidivism rates and serve as workforce development opportunities to better prepare residents for returning to their communities post-incarceration.”
Part 1 - Harvesting Solutions: A Trio of Perspectives on Addressing Food Waste from Field to Fork
Thursday, Feb 22, at 10-11:30 a.m. PT
To minimize food waste, three experts explore factors influencing food loss and waste, delve into innovative recycling techniques, and explore statewide initiatives targeting household food waste. Experts in postharvest handling, food waste recycling and community education will share research findings and strategies.
- An overview of food waste in fruits and vegetables
Deirdre Holcroft, Holcroft Postharvest Consulting
- Exploring means to extract embodied energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions in food waste recycling
Michael Cohen, UC Cooperative Extension organic materials management and agri-food systems advisor for Santa Clara County
- The opportunities in statewide programs in reducing household food waste: Results from UC ANR household food practice needs assessment
Yu Meng, UC Cooperative Extension youth, family and community advisor in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties
Part 2 - Farm to Corrections: Cultivating Justice through Nutrition and Gardening Initiatives
Thursday, Feb. 29, at 10-11:30 a.m. PT
Experts share insights on groundbreaking initiatives for justice-involved individuals' access to California-grown produce and nutrition and gardening education. Innovative initiatives such as a “Harvest of the Month” program by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in collaboration with the UC Nutrition Policy Institute and Impact Justice aim to increase access to fresh, locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables and trauma-informed nutrition workshops. They also highlight the impact of UC Master Gardener projects on rehabilitation and workforce development.
- Produce during and after prison: Increasing justice-impacted individuals' access to California-grown produce and nutrition education
Carolyn Chelius, UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute; Heile Gantan, Impact Justice; Lance Eshelman, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations
- UC Master Gardeners Prison Gardens Projects
Missy Gable, director of the UC Master Gardener Program
Learn more and register at https://ucanr.edu/sites/StrategicInitiatives/Sustainable_Food_Systems/Events.
- Author: Michael Hsu
Nutrition Policy Institute researcher developed techniques that help identify effective public health programs
When Suzanne Rauzon and May Wang were in the master's of public health program at the University of California, Berkeley during the mid-1980s, Wang knew that her classmate had unique brilliance to bring to their field.
“You know how you vote for the person in high school who's most likely to succeed? That was Suzanne,” said May Wang, a professor of community health sciences in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Suzanne was always ahead of every one of us; she was so visionary and forward-thinking and I think we were all – to be honest – a little bit in awe of her.”
Decades later, as Rauzon prepares to retire in January 2024 as director of community health at the Nutrition Policy Institute, she has fulfilled that exceptional promise. Her many contributions are helping communities identify the most effective programs to benefit public health.
Lorrene Ritchie, director of NPI (an institute under UC Agriculture and Natural Resources), said that Rauzon has played a pivotal role in translating research findings into community action and policy change. She added that Rauzon has brought an extraordinary combination of strategic vision for the overall direction of nutrition studies and tactical savvy to anticipate the needs of project funders and communities.
“Few people can bring both of those skills – efficiently complete the day-to-day tasks as well as be a big-picture thinker,” Ritchie said. “She has been so instrumental in contributing to NPI's impacts.”
A unique skill set to tackle complex challenges
Part of what makes Rauzon unique in her field is her extensive experience in the private sector. After attaining her master's degree, Rauzon developed a comprehensive employee worksite wellness initiative at a telecommunications company – a new set of programs that led the field in the 1990s.
“Suzanne was, is and has always been very visionary,” Wang said.
After years in the corporate space, however, Rauzon leaped at the chance to return to academia (and reunite with Wang) in 2001 at UC Berkeley's Center for Weight and Health, a precursor to NPI. Working with center co-director Patricia Crawford, Rauzon said the project to investigate the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages was a “perfect fit” for her.
Concerned with rising childhood obesity, the researchers studied the significant differences in health outcomes for students in high schools that limited access to beverages such as soft drinks, versus schools that did not.
“That field in general – looking to limit sugar-sweetened beverages – started with a focus in schools, and expanded into other environments (such as college campuses) over the years, and has continued to be a focus in public health,” Rauzon said, “all the way up to work now on limiting sugar-sweetened beverages access in other public institutions.”
Rauzon's change-management and communication skills also were crucial in studying the revolutionary School Lunch Initiative in the Berkeley Unified School District – a collaboration with chef Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy to engage young people in the growing and preparation of food. Brought in to evaluate the efficacy of the program, Wang and Rauzon found they had to alter their mindset and methods when working with partners who were responding to oft-changing circumstances.
Rauzon's cross-sector perspective, practical know-how and people skills in cultivating positive relationships with district staff and educators were instrumental in successfully completing studies with as much rigor as possible in real-world settings such as schools.
The researchers created new analytical tools to evaluate health interventions developed by communities themselves – as opposed to programs engineered by academics and applied to community members with the expectation that they would accept it.
“Most researchers, to be honest, are still striving to do that with communities,” Wang said. “It is an incredibly challenging task because communities will do what they want to do – and what they need to do – to respond to the needs of people.”
Wang, who now trains academics in community-based participatory research, said that the ground-up paradigm has been shaped by Rauzon's thinking. “A lot of the ideas I have today really came about from our work together on the School Lunch Initiative,” Wang said.
A legacy of new methods, mentoring early-career professionals
One of Rauzon's longest-running – and most complex – projects has been the evaluation of community health interventions across the country, including a variety of Kaiser Permanente initiatives to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
“What was interesting about that work was we really were trying to understand the combined effects of doing a lot of different things that are related – and to see the overall effect that can have on the community,” said Rauzon, noting that interventions ranged from nutrition classes to policy changes to park and bike-safety improvements.
Wang said some of their findings, particularly from one study in Los Angeles County, suggest that effective programs are early childhood interventions (including an emphasis on breastfeeding), home visitations by nurses and social workers to vulnerable households, and partnerships with retailers to make healthy food choices more accessible.
In the process, the researchers helped pioneer new research tools – including interdisciplinary “systems mapping” approaches in which computer scientists discern linkages among various programs and their effects, and the highly influential “community intervention dose index” concept that can be used to evaluate multiple intervention strategies within a community.
In addition to Rauzon's contributions in research and evaluation, Ritchie also highlighted her role in supervising and mentoring students and NPI staff and researchers during her 20-plus years with the UC – the role in which Rauzon takes the most pride.
“While I made a contribution to community health in effective interventions and how to measure them,” Rauzon said, “I would say personally the most rewarding part of the work I've done over the last couple of decades is seeing the growth and development and advancement of people who have worked for me and who have really taken off in their own careers – that to me has been immensely satisfying.”
As an emeritus researcher, Rauzon will continue to support NPI professionals and their research, and she added that she's excited to embark on a new partnership – with her husband, a geographer – to mitigate impacts of climate change on human and environmental health across the globe.
People interested in supporting Rauzon's legacy and the ongoing work in health and nutrition can donate to NPI's Student Fellowship, which provides students from underrepresented groups the opportunity to work on NPI research and be mentored by NPI researchers./h3>/h3>/h3>
CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL), University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Contra Costa County promotes healthy communities with a nutrition education curriculum designed to improve teens' eating and fitness choices. Of the 117 middle school youth who participated in EatFit, 30% increased the number of times they ate vegetables.
Food and beverage companies invest over $1 billion in marketing each year to advertise their food products to Black and Hispanic consumers, specifically the youth. Students at Hillview Jr. High School (HJHS)–which is located in a low-income neighborhood of Pittsburg and has a 60% Hispanic and 19% African American student population– are not exempt from these widespread and targeted food marketing campaigns. Fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations line the main street avenue near the school, attracting hungry teens.The easy availability and promotion of these foods, which are linked to negative life-long consequences, influence the food choices made by youth every day. When hunger strikes, healthy eating and active living are out of sight and out of mind to many teens.
How UC Delivers
CFHL, UCCE in Contra Costa County partnered with HJHS to deliver EatFit during the 2022-2023 school year. EatFit is a nutrition education goal-setting curriculum designed to challenge middle school students to improve their eating and fitness choices. The program reached 149 students who participated in activities focused on goal setting, nutrition facts label, energy, breakfast, exercise, fast food, and the media's influence on food choices.
In one of the EatFit lessons, students learned about food marketing. They were asked to name a commercial or ad on the Internet about water or healthy food. None could. However, when asked for examples of fast food or soda ads and commercials, all hands went up. Some students even sang the jingle or acted out the commercial. Students realized that food companies target young people and hardly promote healthy foods. Instead, TV commercials and advertisements on the Internet and social media try to persuade teens to eat and drink unhealthy foods and sugary beverages that harm their health. In the same lesson, students also learned about food marketing techniques and were encouraged to create fruit and vegetable posters to promote healthy choices at school.
With support from the principal, the school's busiest hallways were decorated with students' colorful fruit and vegetable posters. Not one poster was vandalized or torn off.
One hundred and seventeen students in grades 6-8 completed the Eating and Activity Tool for Students (EATS) pre-post survey at Hillview Jr. High to assess changes in their behaviors after participating in the FY 2023 EatFit lesson series. Respondents were ten to thirteen years old, and identified as Latino or Hispanic (48%), Black or African American (18%), or more than one race (27%). After taking part in EatFit, the student survey results included the following:
- 34% increased the number of time they ate fruit yesterday.
- 30% increased the number of time they ate vegetables yesterday.
- 50% reduced the number of times they drank sweetened beverages yesterday - with the largest decreases seen in fruit drinks, soda, and sweetened coffees and teas.
- 40% increased the number of days they were physically active for 60 minutes or more last week.
“One change I made to eat healthier/be more physically active is to exercise/stretch when I wake up and lower how much unhealthy food I eat (high fat food, high calories etc) and start eating more fruits and veggies.” — EatFit Participant
This work is vital in adolescents as they begin to become more independent in the way they think, learn, and interact with food. Likewise, nutrition education intervention efforts in majority Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities are of particular importance because these groups have been expressly targeted as potential consumers of nutrient-poor food while also facing barriers to accessing affordable and convenient healthy food. By supporting students to reflect critically on how unhealthy food and beverages are advertised to them and then develop their counter-messages to promote healthy choices, inclusive SNAP-Ed-approved programs like EatFit and others can help improve nutrition behaviors among low-income adolescent Californians and prevent the chances of developing chronic disease later in life.
CFHL, UCCE staff will continue to partner with Hillview Jr. High to deliver quality nutrition education during the 2023-2024 school year. The fruit and vegetable posters made by students serve as a friendly reminder to all that food marketing does not steal your independence; you can still make a healthy, tasty choice.
“Before, I use to just get snacks to eat them but a lot of them were unhealthy and I got cavities. During the lesson we learned that the labels are actually important. Now I check the label to compare and buy the snack that is more healthy. It is working I am more healthy and happy.”— Jacob Ponce, EatFit Participant
- Author: Mathew Burciaga, UC Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Resources
UC Cooperative Extension specialist to evaluate effects of improved access to fruits and vegetables and health education
Health and nutrition experts generally recommend that all adults fill half their plates with fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy meal. For adults with diabetes, those fruits and vegetables have an added benefit: recent research suggests that including produce as a part of their care plans can lead to improvements in hemoglobin A1C and blood pressure.
To help improve these key clinical outcomes, doctors and medical professionals in Yolo County will begin to provide locally grown fruits and vegetables to more than 500 patients with prediabetes, types I and II diabetes and gestational diabetes through a new Produce Rx program. The project is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered by CommuniCare+OLE, a network of 17 federally qualified health centers that serve medically underserved areas, regardless of the patient's ability to pay.
For the program's pilot year that began in May 2023, 112 participants are receiving access to an average of $70 worth of produce every month for six months, which is paired with monthly educational activities. Susana Matias, a professor of Cooperative Extension in the UC Berkeley Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, will partner with CommuniCare+OLE to evaluate outcomes as the program expands through the end of 2025.
“We are very excited about this project because it addresses a major social determinant of health: access to healthy food,” she said. “Our role in the project is to build evidence about the impact of this type of program, which is critical for scaling up.”
“Having consistent access to fruits and vegetables and health education support may affect patients' health and well-being,” Matias added. She will work with undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, as well as postdoctoral researcher Caitlin French, to ask each patient about their produce consumption habits at the beginning and at the end of their participation in the program. Those responses will be analyzed to determine if improving this access resulted in significant changes among patients. Matias also will track how average blood sugar level and household food-security change throughout the program.
Other Produce Rx project partners include the Davis Farmers Market, the Center for Land-Based Learning's Mobile Farmers Market, and Spork Food Hub.
Learn more about Produce Rx at the CommuniCare+OLE website.