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August 16, 2007

Two Extension programs receive Star Awards

Leigh Guth
Leigh Guth, right, talks with a symposium participant about Foothills Fresh, which received an award from the N.C. Fruits and Veggies Nutrition (Photo courtesy of Leah Chester-Davis)

The North Carolina Fruits and Veggies Nutrition (formerly 5 A Day) Coalition recognized two North Carolina Cooperative Extension programs for their outstanding efforts in promoting better health for all North Carolinians by increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption.

At its annual symposium on Aug. 8 at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, the coalition presented a Gold Star Award to Foothills Fresh, a local food initiative that helps farmers in a four-county area market their fresh produce, farm products and agricultural tourism.

A Silver Star Award was presented to Ann Simmons, Iredell County, for her community outreach events to encourage participants to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Accepting the award for Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, were Leigh Guth, family and consumer sciences agent, Lincoln; Melinda Houser, family and consumer sciences agent, Lincoln; and Linda Minges, family and consumer sciences agent, Gaston. Guth is the coordinator of Foothills Fresh.

The effort is an example of integrated programming, with team contributions from agriculture, horticulture, 4-H and family and consumer sciences and communication services Extension personnel. In addition, farmers, agricultural tourism providers and county public information and chamber of commerce representatives provide input as part of the Foothills Fresh Advisory Committee.

In her presentation of the awards, Zoe McKay-Tucker of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, cited Foothills Fresh for its campaign to encourage people to increase their daily intake of fruits and vegetables, to buy from local farmers and to visit local farms. The leadership team in the four-county region educates people about what is grown locally, where to find it and why it’s best to buy locally. The leadership team also promotes farm tours and keeps the public informed about offerings at the local farmers’ market.

Foothills Fresh has garnered attention in the Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Parent Magazine, Lake Norman Magazine and numerous other dailies and weeklies in the greater Charlotte region. Participation in Foothills Fresh grew by 35 percent in a 12-month period, from 30 to 46 farms.

Guth, who was one of the featured speakers at the day-long symposium, sings the praises of local foods. “Local fruits and vegetables are picked ripe. The food in the grocery store has been picked at least 14 days before it arrives in a store and it has traveled 1,400 miles. Which do you think tastes better?” asks Guth.

When news media reports feature food safety scares and concerns regarding food shipped from China and elsewhere, the uncertainty of where the food comes from is removed when you buy locally, she said. Guth mentioned many other benefits of local foods, including health, environmental, genetic diversity, economic and community.

She provided examples for each such as the work Foothills Fresh is doing by connecting local farmers with local schools to provide produce; farm tours and markets that encourage people to get to know local farmers; and farms that provide produce that is reminiscent of what our grandparents might have grown, with delicious flavors that simply aren’t available in produce that is bred to survive early picking times and travel for two weeks.

Guth cited a University of Maine study that said that for every 1 percent of your food dollar spent locally, you increase a farmer’s income by 5 percent, which often goes into the local economy. “That’s tasty economic development,” she said.

The Cooperative Extension leadership team that coordinates Foothills Fresh has developed numerous promotional items including brochures and a Web site. Visit www.foothillsfresh.com. The team is currently working with its membership to gear up for fall festivals and other events that will draw people from the Charlotte region.

Ann Simmons
Ann Simmons, right, shares tips with Diane Ronan on how to select tomatoes for canning. (Photo courtesy of Ann Simmons)

Simmons, family and consumer sciences agent, was recognized for events she holds throughout Iredell County where she demonstrates creative and delicious ways to prepare fruits and vegetables. She says that “simple, quick recipes that taste good make the difference.”

Simmons’s work is also an example of integrated programming. She partners with her Extension colleagues in Iredell and with a number of local organizations to reach community college employees, children in summer programs, childcare providers, parents, diabetic patients, senior citizens and others.

Simmons works with Nelson McCaskill, 4-H youth development agent, to offer classes throughout the year. Through Families Eating Smart, Moving More, Dining with Diabetes and the Curious Cooks 4-H Club, Ann incorporates lessons on how to prepare fruits and vegetables. She also works with one of the local farmers’ markets to demonstrate how to use what’s available at the market.

Simmons teams with Don Breedlove, horticulture agent, by using the Iredell Center’s demonstration garden for her classes. Participants tour the garden to learn about vegetable varieties and how they can grow them in a small space. She uses produce and herbs from the garden for some of her cooking classes.

Simmons says that many people simply don’t know how to prepare produce. Class attendees often say they don’t like vegetables but end up enjoying ones that Simmons prepares. She says parents are always surprised when their children attend cooking classes and then eat the dishes they have helped prepare.

“My goal has been to make it easy for people to eat more fruits and veggies by showing them how to use fresh, frozen, or canned items and taking advantage of what is in season,” she said. During the last year, she has provided valuable cooking lessons and demonstrations to more than 1,000 participants.
-L. Chester-Davis

Posted by Natalie at August 16, 2007 01:03 PM