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Virginia Cooperative Extension
One way Master Food volunteers learn about food safety and nutrition is by reading labels.
Friday, April 26, 2013
A new program offered by the Virginia Cooperative Extension office is designed to benefit the community and help extension offices meet the demands of those communities. The Master Food Volunteer Program has been in place for about four years in other parts of the state; now it is being offered in the Smith Mountain Lake area for the first time.
“The Master Food Volunteers are involved with farmers markets demonstrations, and some of them work with students in school,” said Dr. Melissa Chase, consumer food safety program manager for the Master Food Volunteer Program .
Volunteer training involves a 30-hour course covering topics such as basic nutrition, reading labels, meal planning, cooking techniques, food safety, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. A fee of $50, which covers lunches, training materials, apron and supplies, is required. After completing the course, graduates must agree to perform 30 hours of volunteer work in the community in subject areas that interest them.
Having an army of volunteers helps the extension offices, too. The Master Food Volunteer Program helps agents reach more Virginians with up-to-date, research-based knowledge on food preparation, nutrition, food safety and physical activity.
“We had 107 counties and cities in Virginia at the time we started this program, and we had about 30 consumer science extension agents. The Master Food Volunteers do programs when agents are not available,” Chase explained.
“A lot of people are becoming foodies nowadays and want to cook healthy. Also, people are interested in volunteering, and that is why most people are signing up for this program,” said Shewana Hairston-McSwain, Cooperative Extension agent for Franklin County.
A chance to volunteer is one reason Bonnie Dillon of Callaway signed up for the Master Food Volunteer Program. She recently finished taking the course in Roanoke, but will spend many of her volunteer hours in Franklin County. Dillon, a college professor, said she wants to use her time educating people about the program.
“I saw the Master Food Volunteer Program and thought it was a good way to get back into volunteering around a very important topic for our community,” said Dillon.
Some of the volunteer opportunities for Master Food volunteers include helping out with health fairs; food demonstrations; farmers market and grocery store displays; and 4-H youth programs.
“Any program through the Virginia Cooperative Extension is evidence-based, so any information we present has to be evidence-based, so we don’t do programs about fad diets that are really not proven to be effective,” said Hairston-McSwain . “We go over these things in the Master Food Volunteer course so that when the volunteers finish the program, they are equipped to give programs to the public.”
Dillon said she uses what she has learned to help plan her elderly parents’ meals. The training also has influenced her to make healthy changes in her own diet. Dillon recommended the class to anyone with an interest in their own well-being and helping others.
Joel Rodriguez took the course with Dillon. He has lived in Rocky Mount for 14 years and shares everything he has learned with his young children and whomever else will listen, he said.
“I’m really involved in the local food movement and bringing good quality food to the table,” said Rodriguez. “I thought this program was the perfect opportunity to get more knowledge about everything that is going on locally. I don’t think people realize how lucky we are to have the quality food we have from local farms.”
Rodriguez, 30, said he was one of the youngest participants in his group. The native of Mexico City said he wants to see more young people volunteering in the community.
“I think younger people should get involved because it is amazing what you can learn,” said Rodriguez. “I was impressed with the people in class with me. I learned a lot from them. The class opened new doors for me and gave me a new perspective.”
For more information, contact Susan P. Prillaman, Family & Consumer Sciences agent, at 586-7675 or email@example.com.
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