- 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.
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. One hundred seventeen middle school youth who participated in EatFit increased their fruit and vegetable intake by 30%.
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: Saoimanu Sope
About 15 years ago, Mary Maser saw an ad in the classified section of her local newspaper for a job opening with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program serving San Diego County. As a community education specialist with EFNEP, she has provided nutrition lessons for thousands of Spanish-speaking residents until her retirement on July 1.
Maser, who is of Mexican descent and fluent in Spanish, enjoyed working with the Spanish-speaking community in San Diego because it kept her connected to her roots. Before joining University of California Cooperative Extension, Maser taught factory workers English and served as an interpreter in the medical field.
“I've had a lot of different jobs and being fluent in Spanish has helped me in my line of work tremendously,” she said.
“We offer the EFNEP courses in English and Spanish, but a majority of my students were Spanish speakers,” recalled Maser, who taught nutrition education and healthy living practices to adults. Making her students feel as comfortable as possible was important to Maser.
Based on her time with EFNEP, Maser said that she is most proud of her students' dedication.
“I was impressed with the number of students who showed up to every class, wanting to learn, even during the pandemic,” Maser said. When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate hit California, Maser said she started teaching students over the phone.
“I had one student who was spending quality time with family in Tahoe, and I told her that it was okay for us to postpone class,” Maser said. “But she insisted and said she wanted to do it, so we did.”
Maser was the only community education specialist who worked in San Diego's North County. For years, she participated in community events like the Fallbrook Clinic Health Fair, promoting EFNEP and connecting with residents. In 2019, she was recognized by Senator Brian Jones for her work with EFNEP and continued efforts teaching healthy living.
“Many of my students didn't speak English well or at all and had varying levels of education. For some, it was the first class they ever took in their life,” said Maser. “There's a lot of fear and stress they deal with on a daily basis, but it never stopped them from coming to class,” she added, emphasizing how much she admires her students' tenacity to learn.
Shirley Salado, UCCE nutrition supervisor for EFNEP in San Diego County, described Maser as a positive, respectful and considerate teammate. “Mary loved to teach nutrition and fondly cared for the Hispanic community. She was so attentive to her participants, ensuring nutrition knowledge was clearly presented to help families make better healthy choices for their well-being,” Salado said.
In her retirement, Maser is looking forward to traveling and learning another language. “I think Italian would be the easiest for me to learn, and I know a little bit of Portuguese, but I'm also interested in French,” she said.
Maser will also be using retirement to practice what she has preached for so many years, by focusing on her health and wellness.
- 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: Linda Forbes
University of California Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development Program in Santa Clara County partnered with multiple community organizations to hold a 4-H Nature Explorers Day Camp at Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy in East San Jose from July 17 to July 21.
Organizers wanted to reach more participants this year than they had in the inaugural 2022 camp, so they structured the program for different K-8 grade levels to attend on different days. 79 campers participated, which was a 130% increase over the number of campers last year.
“Everything we did during the week was focused on environmental science,” said Susan Weaver, 4-H Regional Program Coordinator. “We partnered with Project Learning Tree, UC Environmental Stewards, UC Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC– as well as community agencies related to the natural environment.”
Numerous activities engaged the youths such as field trips; demonstrations; and sessions themed around trees as habitats, birds and bugs, and being “leaf detectives.” 4-H Adult Volunteer, Laura Tiscareno, took charge of the hands-on Project Learning Tree sessions. Craft time included making nature-themed wind chimes and spinning paper snakes.
Bilingual teen camp counselors guided small groups of students for the duration of the day camp. In situations where the adult facilitator did not speak Spanish, teens translated information into Spanish for students with less English confidence.
“These kids call me ‘teacher' and it's awesome,” said Rodrigo, one of the counselors. “The camp benefits me a lot because I connect with children and in the future, I can even be a teacher if I wanted to.”
Another counselor, Andrea, learned about communication. “It's a bit different with kids at different age levels,” she said. “Since we had kindergarten through eighth grade, we had to switch our tactics from grade to grade so that they would understand us and we'd be able to understand them. Also learning how to bond with them so that they would pay more attention.
One highlight of the week was a field trip for third through eighth graders to the Master Gardeners location at Martial Cottle Park, where students learned about vermicomposting and made their own individual countertop worm habitat and composter.
Campers especially enjoyed the interactive demonstrations. “My favorite part is going on all the field trips because we went to a garden, and we've been catching worms and doing stuff about worms,” said one student. “It's really fun going on trips.”
Another camper said, “Something I would like to change about camp is having more time here.”
The program culminated in a Nature Camp Festival at Escuela Popular in partnership with community agencies. Youth enjoyed games, meeting reptiles, outdoor science activities, arborist crafts, a “Rethink Your Drink” table to make a fresh fruit drink, tamales, a nacho bar and more.
Representatives from the Silicon Valley Wildlife Center discussed animals that live in local neighborhoods and how the Center supports people to keep the animals safe. Victor Mortari of Vexotic Me talked about and showed snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other creatures, making the kids squeal while learning about them. As a fun added bonus, 4-H Community Educator Zubia Mahmood arranged to have a local team come to teach soccer skills as a healthy living activity.
The event increased the youth's interest in environmental education and involved Latino youth and adults who are new to 4-H – representing a community that has not historically benefited from the 4-H program. The teen teachers also increased their leadership and career readiness skills; post-camp surveys showed that all the teen counselors see 4-H as a place where they can be a leader and help make group decisions. Some campers noted in the survey that they wanted the camp to be every day, all summer!
National 4-H funded the camp in 2022 and 2023, allowing organizers to provide meals, T-shirts, water bottles and other items to foster belonging and promote healthy living. Community partners, crucial to the program's success, included the Boys and Girls Club of Silicon Valley, Escuela Popular Bilingual Academy, Silicon Valley Water and Silicon Valley Wildlife Center.