Posts Tagged: tech
The buzz or chirp of an incoming text message started some San Diego County residents on the path to a healthier diet during this past year. In September 2020, most CalFresh participants in the county – more than 172,000 households – began receiving monthly text messages about the benefits of California-grown fruits and vegetables as part of a pilot program.
This novel approach to delivering nutrition messages to California food assistance program participants was developed by a partnership of the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the UC San Diego Center for Community Health and the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, which administers CalFresh in the county.
The HHSA, which had been using its text messaging platform to send administrative reminders and alerts, was receptive to using the tool for sending nutrition-focused information. NPI and CCH partnered with ideas42, a firm that applies behavioral science to solutions for social change, to develop a series of five text messages promoting California-grown fruits and vegetables.
The text messages – originally delivered in English and Spanish, with the addition of Arabic beginning in July 2021 – were friendly and conversational in tone.
“In a text, you have very few characters you're communicating with people, so we wanted to make sure we were using cutting-edge behavioral science to construct those messages to have the most impact,” said Wendi Gosliner, NPI senior researcher and policy advisor.
Each text included a link directing recipients to a website developed as part of the project, with information on selecting, storing and preparing California-grown fruits and vegetables; health benefits; tips to reduce food waste; and recipes – including TikTok videos.
Initially running from September 2020 to March 2021, the pilot program was well-received. Nearly 90% of CalFresh participants responding to a survey said they appreciated receiving the texts. “It is very important for us to eat healthy, to teach our children to eat healthy,” wrote one participant. “I love the recipes…they're so delicious and easy to make…I'm very, very grateful for the help because without you guys, I would be struggling more and I just want a better life for my children.”
Gosliner said it was encouraging to see that two-thirds of the approximately 5,000 survey respondents reported eating more California-grown fruits and vegetables after receiving the messages, and 85% expressed a desire to see more texts.
“What we see is that there's definitely a decent-sized population of people participating in CalFresh –now this is just in San Diego County but imagine the entire state – who would benefit from having this kind of information available to them,” Gosliner said. “And there is at least a subset of people who really liked it.”
UC San Diego's Center for Community Health was instrumental in facilitating the partnership between UC ANR and the HHSA. Further, CCH, in partnership with the San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative, formed a community council composed of residents representing diverse communities throughout San Diego County. Together, the council facilitated CalFresh participants to take part in focus groups, which provided feedback and guidance on the messaging and design for online resources. Gosliner said the success of the text program has been a direct result of community input and involvement.
“The Center for Community Health-led focus groups were integral to ensuring CalFresh resources were accessible and informative to a wide range of CalFresh participants, and local individuals and families more broadly,” said Blanca Meléndrez, executive director at the UC San Diego Center for Community and Population Health, Altman Clinical Translational Research Institute. “In the process, the text-based campaign also placed a greater focus on the local production of nutritious fruits and vegetables, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, and building new streams of income for the region's farmers and producers.”
This effort also suggests a simple way to reach CalFresh participants and bridge gaps between the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and programming that offers nutrition education and healthy eating resources.
“By combining UCSD and UC ANR knowledge about healthy eating with our outreach capability, we are able to reach thousands of families via text message each month,” said Michael Schmidt, human services operations manager for the HHSA. “With the click of a button, these families are provided with resources to assist them in making healthier lifestyle choices, supporting a region that is building better health, living safely and thriving.”
The effort has been so effective that HHSA has asked for additional messages, beyond the original five months' worth of texts and resources.
“The partnership between UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute, UC San Diego's Center for Community Health, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and San Diego County community residents brought together a great team to develop an innovative, technology-based intervention,” said Shana Wright, San Diego County Childhood Obesity Initiative co-director at CCH. “Each partner provided knowledge, resources and assets that enhanced the project beyond the initial pilot phase, exceeding preliminary expectations.”
Gosliner said the pilot program has been a “great example and wonderful experience” of partnership in action.
“You can sit with your research or program ideas for a long time but if you don't have people who can help you implement them, then they really aren't helpful in any way,” she said. “In this case, it was just a nice combination of an idea…with partners who wanted to work to make something happen.”
More than 300 people gathered in Mountain View for the fourth annual FOOD IT: Fork to Farm on June 27 to discuss the role of information technology in the food system – from managing crops in the field to dealing with consumer food waste.
The event, hosted by The Mixing Bowl, attracted professionals who intersect with every part of the food system, from farmers to scientists, from entrepreneurs to venture capital investors.
Panelists discussed the shift in power caused by the rise of the tech-enabled food consumer, its effects on food production and supply as well as implications for society.
VP Glenda Humiston announced that UC ANR is launching The VINE, or The Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, to cultivate regional innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in rural communities. Led by Gabriel Youtsey, UC ANR chief innovation officer, The VINE aims to bring together resources such as small business development centers, community colleges, county cooperative extension offices, makers labs, incubators and accelerators.
“We're trying to go in region by region to catalyze a coalition,” Humiston said. “We want to make sure innovators and inventors can go from idea to commercialization with all the support they need.”
The VINE would connect innovators with legal advice, someone to discuss finances, access to people who can help with business plans and opportunities to partner with the university on joint research projects.
“We want to make it possible for anyone in California to access support,” Humiston said. “If you're in an urban area or near a campus, you probably have access to those resources. If you're in agriculture, natural resources or more remote rural communities, you typically have little access.”
On a panel of agriculture college deans from Iowa State, Cal Poly and UC Davis moderated by Humiston, the deans lamented the lagging interest in farming by young people.
"Everybody wants to be a vegetarian, but nobody wants to be a plant scientist,” said Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Humiston said that farming isn't just for young people. "We see people making mid-career changes."
Throughout the day, several people speculated that Amazon's buying of Whole Foods would mix things up. Dean Andy Thulin of Cal Poly's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences said tech makes food sexy.
Wendy Wintersteen, dean of Iowa State University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said that consumers are more informed. Millennials want to know what is in their food and are concerned about food safety, allergens and are willing to spend more on food.
On a panel discussing “Changing Food Preferences of the Tech-Enabled Consumer,” Walmart executive Katie Finnegan noted that Apeel, a product that coats produce and keeps it fresh longer, could reduce food waste and change the food supply chain. “A small change can have a big impact,” she said.
For years, life expectancy for Americans has gradually increased. Last year, for the first time, life expectancy decreased due to obesity and poverty, said Justin Siegal of UC Davis Genome Center.
Kevin Sanchez of the Yolo County Food Bank said he has been developing relationships with farms to get fresh food to people, but added, “We have a storage challenge.”
Discussing “Upstream Production Impacts of New Consumer Food Choices,”Driscoll's Nolan Paul said, “People want to know where the berries are from.” They ask about the tools used for breeding. Paul said Driscoll's will never use genetic engineering unless consumers on board with it.
On the Internet of Tomatoes panel, representatives for Analog Devices, Bowles Farming and Campbells talked about using data on weather, water, soil and other things to grow higher quality tomatoes and using optical grading at processing plants for quality control. Bowles Farming has also have begun using Instagram to engage consumers in conversations about farming issues that commodity marketing groups try to avoid, such as unintended consequences of some policies.
UC ANR was a cosponsor of the event, which delighted conference participants with exhibits featuring array of futuristic devices like printing your own pancake or tortilla.