Making A Difference in Our County
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working hard for its constituents. The following are examples of Extension’s impact in the county over the past year.
Fulton Extension SNAP-Ed Program Delivers Online Education to Curbside Mobile Market Participants
Food insecurity in Atlanta is an issue that UGA Extension and Fulton County Government worked to address annually to improve the overall health of citizens. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity drastically increased due to job loss and income reduction in households. According to the USDA, Food insecurity refers to the lack of access, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
In March 2020, food insecurity drastically increased due to the sudden closure of many companies, businesses, restaurants other industry-related facilities. This abrupt closing resulted in families struggling to feed their loved ones. Food banks, faith-based communities and other non-profit agencies experienced a sudden strain on their employees and volunteers, as they worked tirelessly distributing food boxes to all in need.
Each year, UGA Extension and Fulton County Government offer a Fulton Fresh Mobile Market for citizens residing in food-insecure communities. Following Fulton County/UGA COVID-19 programming guidelines, the Extension team offered a contactless curbside adult market that consisted of online UGA SNAP-Ed nutrition education classes and free 10-12lbs of fresh produce.
- The Fulton Fresh Adult Market distributed 45,690 pounds of produce to 6,415 Fulton County citizens residing in Food Deserts in 40 different zip codes.
- 799 people registered for UGA SNAP-Ed eLearning nutrition classes through the Fulton Fresh program.
- Fulton Fresh participants completed a total of 2,327 eLearning lessons, with
- 102 (13%) participants completing all 10 eLearning lessons.
Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market: Addressing Food Insecurity, Nutrition, and STEM Education during a Pandemic
The Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market was launched during the summer of 2020 in order to provide educational programming and access to fresh fruits for youth who were not currently being served by the Fulton Fresh Mobile Market. Although separate programs, the markets were run simultaneously so that families could receive produce for both adults and youth at the same market location. Fulton County 4-H and Family and Consumer Sciences staff members created a virtual and take-home kit-based healthy living and science program. This program consisted of five weeks of educational programming. Each week included three educational videos – one healthy recipe, one science experiment, and one farm tour – each focused around a highlighted produce item (apples, beans, strawberries, and citrus) which were shared on social media platforms. Each participating youth received a three-to-four-pound bag of fresh produce and an activity kit. Activity kits included recipe cards, instructions for a science experiment, supplies for the science experiment, a digital Fulton County Library resource sheet, and healthy living activity sheets from USDA. The program included two five-week program sessions for the summer of 2020 (for a total of 10 weeks of STEM and healthy living programming).
The Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market distributed 9,597 pounds (approximately 4.8 tons) of fresh in-season produce to youth ranging from 18 months to 18 years old and reached approximately 1,500 households in 40 different zip codes. Along with bags of fresh produce, 2,650 STEM and healthy living activity kits were distributed for youth to complete program activities at home (the program distributed approximately 250 kits a week for a total of 10 weeks). Additionally, 14 Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market videos were created for distribution via social media. A total of 112 minutes of educational video were created with step-by-step instructions and demonstrations of weekly recipes and STEM activities, along with virtual field trips to local Georgia farms.
A program evaluation was distributed to program participants via text message using Qualtrics software. A total of 692 participants completed the evaluation questionnaire. Evaluation results suggest that participation in the Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market led to increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and increased interest in science and healthy living topics among youth. Of those participants who completed the program evaluation, 64% reported that their child’s weekly and daily fruit consumption increased and 54% reported that their child’s weekly and daily vegetable consumption increased. Additionally, 86% percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their child was more willing to try new foods or recipes after participating in the Fulton Fresh Kids’ Market.
Canning from A Distance: A Virtual Learning Experience
The spring season typically increases enthusiasm for home food preservation, and this has been greatly increased by the emergence of the global pandemic, COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension was unable to conduct face-to-face programming. However, it is critical to provide education for home food preservation because a high percentage of home canners follow incorrect practices putting them at risk for serious illness and possibly death. Fulton County Extension had to adapt to online resources to address the need for food preservation education in order to reduce the risk of improper canning.
The virtual Canning for Beginners classes was designed to educate participants on the science of home canning, safe canning methods, and where to find trusted resources on food preservation. An initial home canning class was presented on May 7th, reaching 232 participants from Georgia and surrounding states. Due to the positive response, an additional four-part Canning for Beginners series was created and conducted entirely online, from May to June 2020. The canning presentations were offered for free.
A total of 843 virtual attendees came from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arkansas and three foreign countries: Canada, Australia, and Argentina. The participants connected via Zoom for five approximately 1.5-hour classes, providing detailed information on canning jams and jellies, salsa, pickles, and pressure canning. Participants were shown step-by-step instruction and used recipes from “So Easy To Preserve”, a food preservation recipe book produced and distributed by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. At the conclusion of each class, participants were shown how to find evidence-based canning resources online.
- A total of 314 of 843 participants completed the online questionnaire. Participants reported feeling more confident, knowledgeable, and empowered to use this information in the future. Before each canning presentation, almost one-third of participants reported having no knowledge of the information presented, and only 4% considered themselves extremely or very knowledgeable. After each class, about 60% of participants reported feeling very or extremely knowledgeable about the information presented.
- 86% of participants would definitely use this information in the future to prevent the growth of microorganisms and follow safe canning practices. The biggest impact was the ability for participants to see live demonstrations in contrast to a standard slide presentation. One participant stated that the most beneficial part of the program was: “Watching the canning process. As a self-taught canner, I realized I was doing some things improperly, and watching the techniques was very helpful”
Virtual Programming for Agricultural Literacy and Awareness: Connecting Farmers and Families
In 2020, COVID-19 reshaped the way we think about and execute extension programming. Instead of the traditional face-to-face workshops, seminars, and diagnostics Extension has relied on for decades, a virtual model was developed across all three program areas. Virtual programming in 2020 reached more individuals than previous years, connected households to local farmers, and promoted agricultural literacy and awareness in the community.
In the metro-Atlanta area, 79% of its 53 urban farms generate the majority of their revenue through farmer's markets (Food Well Alliance Baseline Report, 2017). However, due to the restrictions and precautions that came along with COVID-19, markets were delayed or reduced, and families had to look to other healthy sustainable food options. With restaurants closed, markets canceled and labor reduced, farmers asked for help in promoting their crops to prevent spoilage in the field and surplus going to waste. Simultaneously, senior centers, libraries, and families were requesting information about local food sources and resources on self-sufficiency.
A three-fold approach was developed to address these needs. First, a virtual homeowner gardening series was developed in partnership with Muscogee County Extension detailing herb, vegetable, and ornamental gardening in containers. This webinar series was the most popular event ever conducted in the county, reaching over 715,000 individuals on Facebook, and over 1900 requesting registration. Across all three webinars, 1500 individuals were registered and 43% of registrants attended the entire series. The second aspect of this approach was a series of virtual farm tours on Fulton County farms via Facebook Live. The purpose of this was not only to promote agricultural literacy within the community but also to aid in promotion for local farmers in need of marketing assistance. Each live event had between 24 and 35 people attend virtually, and subsequently reached over 2000 people total the following month. The third virtual program was a series of videos entitled “Field Trip Fridays” where we recorded and edited videos at specialty farms throughout the state. Farms were chosen based on what crops were in season or readily available. The videos contained an interview with the farmer, a tour of the fields, and a brief overview of the biology of the crop. The end of each video and accompanying social media post detailed where the farmer’s produce could be found and how to visit the farm (if appropriate). Featured crops included citrus, apples, strawberries, and beans, and collectively, these videos reached 1478 individual households over a period of three months.
- A total of 78% of survey responses indicated that individuals planned to apply something learned to their own gardens, though the actual behaviors varied.
- 41% percent of positive responses indicated applying new knowledge to a more sustainable watering solution in their container gardens.
- 59% indicated that they would alter the types of plants they grew, the time of year they planted, increase the amount of time spent preparing soil mix and properly transplanting, or that the knowledge they gained gave them the confidence to start their own garden during the summer. The virtual farm tours had similar positive responses, with all participating farmers reporting that they received additional business either at their farm stands or through their CSA memberships.