A new research brief developed by the Nutrition Policy Institute outlines the results and implications of the 2023 study: “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education reductions during COVID-19 may have exacerbated health inequities.” The study examined changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education programming by California's local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, when schools and other institutions closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 emergency, the impact on public health programs like SNAP-Ed was immediate and large. As the pandemic continued, California's local health departments reported numerous challenges, including the diversion of staff, funding and other resources from programs like SNAP-Ed to emergency response. NPI researchers documented dramatic reductions in the reach and dose of local health department SNAP-Ed programming during the early stages of the pandemic. Reductions disproportionately impacted disadvantaged communities, including those with higher poverty, higher proportions of Black and Latino residents and less healthy neighborhood conditions. Disproportionately reduced access to important health programs may have worsened health disparities in diet and physical activity-related chronic diseases, as well as increasing susceptibility to COVID-19. This study demonstrates the importance of an equity-centered approach to promoting healthy eating and active living, even—or perhaps especially—during public health emergencies. The peer-reviewed study was authored by NPI researchers Gail Woodward-Lopez, Erin Esaryk, Sridharshi Hewawitharana, Janice Kao, Evan Talmage and Carolyn Rider. The research brief was created by NPI's CalFresh Healthy Living Evaluation Unit, including: Carolyn Rider, Miranda Westfall, Reka Vasicsek and Summer Cortez.
Nutrition Policy Institute researchers were awarded a $199,786 grant from the California Collaborative for Pandemic Recovery and Readiness Research Program, also known as CPR3. The grant funds a collaborative project with NPI principal investigator Lorrene Ritchie, co-principal investigator Susana Matias from the University of California, Berkeley and the CACFP Roundtable. The project, “Child and Adult Care Food Program: Impacts of COVID-19 Changes to Meal and Snack Reimbursement Rates on Family Childcare Home Providers, Children and Families – Phase 2”, builds on a current project to understand the impact of COVID-19 changes to CACFP reimbursement rates for family child care homes on CACFP participation, food quality, and food security. The one-year project began on July 1, 2023 and includes Kassandra Bacon as project manager, Celeste Felix as data analyst, Reka Vasicsek as research coordinator, Meirong Liao as Administrative Coordinator, Hannah Thompson as statistical consultant, and Ken Hecht as policy advisor. A goal of the CPR3 Program is to generate policy-relevant evidence to improve the health and well-being of California residents in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPR3 Program is funded by the California Department of Public Health. California Department of Public Health will not be involved in study design, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, manuscript development, or the decision to publish.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Christie Hedrick started a new role Dec. 5 as a statewide coordinator with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Hedrick will oversee state level administration and provide support to counties implementing the EFNEP program. In this role, she is excited to begin working with and supporting the EFNEP team throughout the state.
Hedrick has been a part of UC ANR for more than 14 years. She began her career with UC ANR in 2008 with the CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Yolo County Program (CFHL, UCCE Yolo). She provided program oversight and implementation to low-income schools and communities. Her expertise is in education and development of food literacy, healthy eating behaviors, and cooking skills specifically aimed at increasing self-efficacy and nutrition security.
She earned a bachelor's degree in food and nutrition and a Master of Public Health degree from California State University, Sacramento.
Hedrick is based at the UC ANR building in Davis, office 260C, and can be reached at (530) 390-9753 and email@example.com.
Reka Vasicsek joined the Nutrition Policy Institute on Dec. 6 as a program assistant, supporting NPI's operational and research project functions.
Vasicsek has worked at the intersection of nutrition, public health and social justice to help communities mitigate the impact of climate change on food security. Her past research focused on the cardiometabolic impacts of fiber supplementation, as well as iodine bioavailability after modulation of the gut microbiome. She has experience assessing school lunch programs and previously worked with Friends of the Earth's climate-friendly school food team.
She earned her bachelor's degree in French and Spanish literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and her master's degree in human nutrition with a specialization in public health from the University of Glasgow.
Vasicsek is based at UCOP in Oakland and can be reached at (510) 987-9270 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alec Dompka began with UC ANR on Oct. 20 as a rural communities economic development advisor. He will serve as technical support for economic development projects in Del Norte, Humboldt and Trinity counties.
Dompka said he aims to help local communities by working with government entities and private businesses to coordinate and facilitate beneficial projects.
“In this position, I hope to engage with people in the counties to tie them more closely with planning their economic development,” Dompka said. “I hope to show that economic development in rural communities can be locally led and directed, inclusive and effective.”
By applying technical knowledge and science-based expertise to these projects, Dompka said he also hopes to “generate research that pushes forward our understanding of what economic development looks like for rural communities.”
Born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Dompka earned a bachelor's degree from North Carolina State, double-majoring in political science and economics. He also holds an M.A. in agricultural and natural resources economics from NC State.
Dompka is based at the Del Norte County UC Cooperative Extension office in Crescent City and can be reached at (707) 464-4711 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alec_rural_dev.
Kirsten Pearsons began working as a UC Cooperative Extension integrated pest management entomology advisor for Monterey County on Nov. 7. This is a new role for Pearsons, who joined UC ANR in March as a small farms advisor in San Luis Obispo County.
Pearsons focuses on insect-related concerns on the Central Coast, such as impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV), a disease transmitted to lettuce by thrips, and identifying possible solutions. In collaboration with USDA scientists and her UC colleagues, Pearsons is researching the biology and ecology of the thrips populations that vector INSV to identify existing tools and new strategies that can help growers manage thrips and INSV.
Though her research focuses on lettuce and cole crops, Pearsons also supports berry growers and other specialty crop producers in the region with large-scale producers and agricultural pest control advisers as current clients.
Pearsons earned a bachelor's in environmental toxicology from UC Davis and a Ph.D. in entomology from Pennsylvania State University, studying how pest management strategies adopted in field crop systems affect non-target soil invertebrates.
During her undergraduate studies at UC Davis, Pearsons was curious to know what alternatives existed for broad-spectrum pesticides.
“Funny enough, I took my first entomology class just to get a basic idea of insect biology, because a lot of what I was learning in my toxicology courses had to do with insecticides,” she said. “The staff and the other students in the entomology department were so awesome that it didn't take much for me to completely fall for the subject.”
Prior to UC ANR, Pearsons worked for the Rodale Institute, an organic research institute in Pennsylvania.
Pearsons is based out of the UCCE Monterey County office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The UC Master Gardener Program and Program Planning and Evaluation team have been honored by the American Evaluation Association with the 2022 Excellence in Extension Program Evaluation Award.
Kit Alviz, program policy analyst; Tamekia Wilkins, youth, family and communities data analyst; Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director; Katherine Webb-Martinez, Program Planning and Evaluation director; and Melissa Womack, UC Master Gardener Program communications specialist, received the award on Nov. 3.
The award also recognizes the hard work and dedication of program coordinators and volunteers, who do the programming and collect the data necessary to ensure the success of program evaluation efforts.
The data is used in the latest UC Master Gardener Program impact report and the UC ANR 2021 Annual Report. As the UC Master Gardener Program's evaluation efforts continue to expand statewide, they remain focused on continuing to improve their practices on collecting and reporting impact, to better meet community needs and build support for the program.
“The Extension Education Evaluation Award is awarded for an evaluation of outstanding quality. This team has established the gold standard to improve Extension program evaluation and provide accountability for public funds invested in the UC Master Gardener Program,” said Deanne Meyer, UC ANR interim associate vice president.
Between wildfires and drought in 2022, the UCCE Siskiyou County staff in the Yreka office has faced considerable adversity this year so they were pleased to receive a complimentary letter from Siskiyou County agricultural commissioner Jim Smith.
“I received a very positive letter from the Siskiyou County agricultural commissioner commending Grace Woodmansee, Siskiyou UCCE livestock advisor, for her hard work and success with the Siskiyou Livestock Pass program this year,” Rob Wilson, interim director for UCCE Siskiyou County and farm advisor, wrote in an email.
“Grace was instrumental in setting up this program in the county and it paid large dividends this year given the numerous wildfires in the county,” Wilson wrote.
Smith, who has worked with Woodmansee for the last two years on the Ag Pass program, wrote, “Grace promoted this program following the disastrous wildfires in Butte County…This effort in Siskiyou was very timely since we have been experiencing ever more serious wildfires.”
The McKinney Fire, which broke out July 29 about 10 miles west of Yreka, killed four people, destroyed 185 structures and burned 60,138 acres. The Mill Fire started Sept. 2 in Weed and quickly spread to burn 3,935 acres.
“Most of our staff dealt with wildfire evacuations and numerous smoky days,” Wilson said. “Samantha Clawson, Siskiyou County office coordinator, had her house burnt to the ground. I'm proud of all the staff this year for helping the community get through difficult times with the livestock pass program, housing neighboring animals, and covering for each other.”
Reka Vasicsek joined the Nutrition Policy Institute on December 6, 2022 as a program assistant. She received her bachelor's degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in French and Spanish literature and obtained her master's degree in human nutrition with a specialization in public health from the University of Glasgow. Reka is passionate about working at the intersection of nutrition, public health, and social justice and working with communities to mitigate the impact of climate change on food security. Her past research focused on the cardiometabolic impacts of fiber supplementation, as well as iodine bioavailability after modulation of the gut microbiome. She has experience assessing school lunch programs and previously worked with Friends of the Earth's climate-friendly school food team. Reka brings her experience to NPI to support operational and research project functions. She will work collaboratively with NPI researchers and business departments at the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources and other UC and non-UC locations.