Thank You Extension Master Food Volunteers
I’m a fan of quotes, and one of my favorite quotes comes from Mahatma Gandhi, one of of my favorite historical figures. It’s reported that Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” My dear readers, you have no idea how much this saying encapsulates my life. For when I found the Johnson County Extension Master Food Volunteers in 2005, in many ways I found myself.
Newly married to a native Kansan who was itching to get back to his roots, my husband and I moved to Olathe in 2003. Having grown up in the Deep South, moving to the Midwest was a big transition for me, but I was ready for a change. I was, in many ways, undergoing an existential crisis. I discovered that my post-college career path was not suitable to neither my personality nor values, but I wasn’t sure what direction to take. I had too many interests to decide on a single path, so opted to start volunteering at different organization to find my passion. After a year of living in Kansas and feeling no closer to a chosen career path, I had a heart-to-heart with myself and asked, “What is it I really want?” My answer, influenced by memories of growing up surrounded by obese family members who suffered from diet-related chronic diseases, was to help people learn about nutrition and cooking so they could improve their health. That’s what I really wanted to do. And, later that week, I found a flyer for a class that was being taught by the Extension Master Food Volunteers of Johnson County. Eight years after joining the program, I now find myself managing it, and it's mission to improve the health of Johnson County residents still inspires me today.
The Extension Master Food Volunteers (EMFV) is quite an extraordinary organization. While it is a national organization, its foundation started here in Johnson County as an inspired idea from the late Nada Thoden, Johnson County’s former Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) extension agent.
Nada was influenced by the excellent work of Johnson County’s Extension Master Gardener volunteer program and believed a similar program could help with her educational outreach of teaching cooking, food safety and nutrition programs. With the help of FCS Extension Agents from Miami and Wyandotte counties, the three agents piloted the EMFV program in 2001. Today, Extension Master Food Volunteer programs exist throughout Kansas and also in Virginia, North Carolina State, Iowa State University Extension programs, and many others.
Today, the Johnson County Extension Master Food Volunteer program has 76 volunteers, and last year contributed over 8500 hours of service.
The EMFVs main mission is to encourage county citizens from all backgrounds regardless of education, income or skill-level to improve their nutritional awareness, food safety knowledge and strengthen their food prep skills through the means of monthly adult and youth cooking classes at the county extension office located in Olathe.
Additionally, the volunteers coordinate nutrition programs at the county’s Growing Futures and several local Goddard preschools; they partner with county organizations and several city park and recreational departments to host cooking classes; and they also provide cooking demonstrations at food pantries and farmers markets. All recipes featured by the EMFVs are analyzed for their nutritional content and tested for their flavor and ease of understanding.
The unique thing about all Extension programs including the Extension Master Food Volunteer program is that all the materials and information provided to and by the volunteers is science-based and backed by credible research.
But, the volunteers don’t just teach; they learn, too. For many of the EMFVs, the continued education requirement is one of the benefits of being in the program.
Advanced trainings touch upon current nutrition topics from local experts and academic professionals and visits to foodie hotspots.
Previous training sessions have included:
- university research professor presentations on GMO foods,
- microgreens nutrition,
- food safety from field to fork and
- field trips to Shatto Dairy Farms, Lenexa Public Market, and local wineries,
- as well as group viewings and discussions of nutrition-themed documentaries.
In order to become an Extension Master Food Volunteer, all volunteers attend a 40-hour hands-on training program that covers basic nutrition, food safety, cooking techniques, knife skills and food preservation. Volunteers must also live in Johnson County, be at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or equivalent.