Extension Family Nutrition Program Incorporates More Local Foods

Extension Family Nutrition Program Incorporates More Local Foods 
By Brenda Marty Jimenez, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Lisa Gonzalez, Family Nutrition Program, Food Systems Specialist

The UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP) staff in Broward County are charged with teaching the county’s SNAP-eligible population about nutrition, eating healthy on a limited budget and the importance of gardening and eating fresh fruits and vegetables. (If this fresh produce is locally grown, all the better!) FNP does this by providing research based nutrition education classes to low-income individuals of all ages throughout the county. Our goal is to reach as many of the nearly 260,000 Broward County residents who receive food stamps through the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that we can.

In March 2017 40,000 pounds of fresh tasty strawberries were procured from Plant City, FL with the help of the UF/IFAS FNP Farm to School Coordinator, and were served to Broward County School District students.  “PICK ME!” was the message that was displayed (and encouraged) on the days the strawberries appeared in the school cafeterias.  In addition to being a favorite fruit of elementary aged children, strawberries are a great source of vitamin C and fiber and are low in calories and fat.
 
The UF/IFAS Broward Extension, FNP District Food Systems Specialist works with farmers, school districts, community organizations, government agencies and other food system stakeholders on initiatives that aim to increase the availability of locally grown foods in limited income communities. This includes work on initiatives such as school and community gardens, local foods procurement, food policy efforts and farm to foodbank programs.
There are many ways schools, community organizations, and farmers can partner with the UF/IFAS FNP. This support the Food Systems Specialist can provide related to local foods procurement includes:
• Provide technical assistance related to local food procurement
• Work with schools and school districts to promote an increase in healthy local foods in the school cafeteria and the implementation of school garden programs
• Work with schools to organize local foods tasting events at schools such as the “Cucumber Crunch” event during National Farm to School Month.
• Support qualifying schools in applying for the USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program
• Help farmers increase access to new markets such as schools and farmers markets
• Work with farmers markets and vendors to promote the acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps) dollars to pay for healthy local foods
• Work with farmers markets to enroll in the Florida Access Bucks program http://www.foginfo.org/our-programs/fresh-access-bucks/
• Provide training to Florida growers and buyers to support farm to school and farm to community efforts
• Work with farmers and community organizations to increase fruit and vegetable options at food banks and pantries
• Work with farmers, volunteers and food assistance programs to glean extra produce from farms and redistribute to food assistance providers such as food banks and pantries

FNP’s local food procurement efforts enable students and adults to make better choices in the fresh foods they select and eat. Hopefully, these initiatives will have a lasting impact on their overall eating habits and health throughout the life cycle. When Broward FNP YUM (Youth Understanding MyPlate) nutrition lessons, FL farmers, Farm to community agricultural efforts, the school district and student food selection all converge, this is a win for everyone. 

References:
UF/IFAS FNP. Farm to School and Community Brochure.