After serving Californians for over 22 years as a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Riverside County, Chutima Ganthavorn retired from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources July 1. Ganthavorn credits her success in improving nutrition education for Inland Empire residents to community partnerships, reliable funding and leadership support.
Ganthavorn earned her bachelor's degree in food and nutrition at UC Berkeley. After taking on a work-study opportunity at Cal, Ganthavorn was inspired to pursue food and nutrition further, which later led her to earn a Ph.D. in food science from Washington State University.
When Ganthavorn joined UC ANR as the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Riverside County in 1999, one of the first major responsibilities she was given was to build successful programs for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, now known as CalFresh Healthy Living, UC. This proved to be quite a challenge since there were no program supervisors and limited statewide office support at the time.
“It was a job that involved having a passion for helping others, especially low-resource families that were in need of better health,” said Ganthavorn.
Early on in her career,Ganthavorn worked with Southeast Asian farmers, grandparents raising grandchildren, and Latino youth from migrant families. During her time at UC Agriculture and Natural Resources,Ganthavorn has collaborated with many UC Cooperative Extension staff and academic colleagues as well as community partners, all in an effort to help build healthy families and communities.
Patti Suppe, a Loma Vista Middle School physical education teacher and Alvord Unified School District's wellness leader who worked with UC Cooperative Extension on gardening and nutrition projects until she retired two years ago, expressed her appreciation to Ganthavorn.
“Thank you so much for all you have done for UC Cooperative Extension and wellness in general,” Suppe wrote. “I especially want to thank you for all that you did for Alvord and especially Loma Vista. There is no doubt that we would have never received the recognition from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation without your hard work and continual support.”
Later in her career, Ganthavorn also became involved in nutrition projects serving Native American and African American communities. In 2006, Ganthavorn partnered with UC Master Gardeners, a partnership that deepened over the years and subsequently led to community garden and school garden development and garden-based nutrition education.
“Ganthavorn is a selfless, thought-provoking partner on projects,” said Michele Nicole Tabor, program representative III in the statewide CalFresh Healthy Living, UC office at UC Davis. “She has been a pivotal figure in developing strong relationships with people throughout the communities she has served, such as members of the Torres Martinez Tribal community. Her amazing work ethic and calm spirit are inspiring. Her absolute dedication to positive community health outcomes in the Riverside and San Bernardino communities has made a difference in people's lives.”
By 2015, her responsibilities expanded to include overseeing EFNEP in San Bernardino County. As a result of efforts with Ganthavorn and EFNEP educators to create a healthier environment for students and parents, Juanita Blakely Jones Elementary School in San Bernardino received an award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy School Program in 2018.
“A common thread I found in all my interactions over the years is that there are plenty of dedicated and passionate people – ANR staff and academics as well as community partners – wanting to build healthy families and communities,” said Ganthavorn. “The keys to success are partnership, funding and leadership support. It has been a joy working with everyone I have encountered and a memorable journey for me.”
During her retirement, Ganthavorn, who has been granted the prestigious emeritus status from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, plans to continue assisting the Torres Martinez Tribe with their Advancing California Opportunity to Renew Native health Systems (ACORNS) project. She also looks forward to spending more time with her family, sleeping in, exercising, reading more, and hopes to travel soon.
“Her quiet, unassuming character over time moves mountains and builds deep trust in all who have the honor to know and work with her. She will be missed immensely!” Tabor said.