Jack's Insights December 2016

By Jack Whittier, Director, Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

Occasionally, as I interact with people around the Panhandle, I find that some have little understanding of what we do at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center and across the Panhandle Extension District. Some are very familiar with us and frequently use the information or services we provide; however, others have little understanding of our purpose and programs.

Dr. Jack Whittier

My objective for this monthly article is to spotlight various programs, people and projects in the Panhandle Extension District. This month I’ll focus on the Food, Nutrition and Health education program in the Panhandle. It’s one of the seven educational program areas Nebraska Extension focuses on statewide.

Administratively, Nebraska Extension is housed within the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, or IANR, on the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska. Currently the Dean of Extension is Chuck Hibberd, who for 12 years previously was the Director of the Panhandle Research and Extension District, the position I hold today. Chuck’s name and influence are still well known in the area for the great leadership he provided while in the Panhandle.

As I mentioned, Nebraska Extension focuses on seven educational programs as part of its mission:  Beef Systems; The Learning Child; Community Environment; Community Vitality Initiative; Cropping & Water Systems; Food, Nutrition & Health; and 4-H Youth Development. Each of these program areas is designed to extend the knowledge of the university across the state.

In the Panhandle Extension District, Food, Nutrition & Health programming is carried out by several Extension professionals and reaches several key groups of clientele.

Most people in the agricultural sector are familiar with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to the agriculture programs it administers, but are less familiar with the whole scope of USDA.  Specifically, USDA is cabinet-level agency responsible for developing and administering federal policy on farming, agriculture, forestry, and food.

You may be less familiar with USDA’s role in providing food and nutrition services to individuals and families.  Providing access to healthy food for families and individuals is a top goal of the current farm bill, and designates about 80 percent of its funding toward that goal. This is where Nebraska Extension’s program in Food, Nutrition and Health comes in.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, provides food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people living in the United States.  SNAP is a component of the federal social safety net for low-income Americans. An additional education component of SNAP, known as SNAP-Ed, began in 1988 as a vital educational program to complement SNAP.

Nationally, implementation of the SNAP-Ed program occurs mainly through the land-grant university system, primarily through affiliated state Extension systems, through a federal-state partnership. Today, land-grant colleges and universities conduct SNAP-Ed in all 50 states. Here in the Panhandle, we are part of that effort too.

Erin Kampbell, an Extension Assistant based at the UNL Panhandle Center in Scottsbluff, provides SNAP-Ed programs across the region. A useful website, www.food.unl.edu, explains that Nebraska Extension Assistants within the Nutrition Education Program (NEP) “…provide nutrition education and food budgeting information to help families on a limited budget make healthier food choices and choose physically active lifestyles by acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavior changes necessary to improve their health.  NEP is free to all participants who meet income guidelines.”

SNAP-Ed participants are taught a set number of lessons by an NEP assistant within their community.  This is the role that Erin plays in our Panhandle District for Nebraska Extension. NEP is also supported by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Additional UNL Panhandle District programs in Food, Nutrition and Health educational program area are conducted by Jamie Goffena, our Extension Educator located in Chadron. Some of Jamie’s major focus areas include: training classes in diabetes prevention and control; and training and certification of food handlers in the ServSafe® program, a program designed to assure food safety in restaurants and other food service businesses. Jamie also works closely with adult extension audiences and after-school youth to teach principles of food safety, food preparation and healthy living through physical fitness programs.

The Nebraska Extension state-wide staffing plan also forecasts a Food, Nutrition and Health Extension Educator be located in Morrill County. Discussions are beginning regarding this staffing objective.

Hopefully by reading this Jack’s Insights today, you have a better understanding of what we do at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center and across the Panhandle District -- specifically, our focus area in the region on Food, Nutrition and Health.  Our role is to serve the needs of the Panhandle.  Please let us know how we are doing and if we can better meet these needs.