Nebraska Extension 'Voices for Food Project' Wins National Awards

From left to right: Volunteers Gina Anderson, Colleen Mouw, Sandy Nation, Extension Associate Brenda Sale, and Volunteer Mark Gehring.

Nasrin Nawa | 

August 23, 2023


This summer, Nebraska Extension’s Voices for Food Project was honored with two national awards. Brenda Sale, Extension educator and the project coordinator, was presented with the Putting Families First Award by the National Eligibility Workers Association Professionals Associated Through Human Services (NEW PATHS) and the USDA. Additionally, at the National Extension Health Outreach conference in New York, Dakota County Food Council received the Jeanne M. Priester – Extension Health Award community award for outstanding contributions to community engagement, particularly its commitment to promoting lifelong health and well-being for all individuals.

In May, a committee comprising NEW PATHS board members and a representative from the USDA recognized the Voices for Food Project as a shining example of the exceptional efforts being made to enhance access to healthy food in rural communities.

The Voices for Food (VFF) initiative serves as a Policy, Systems, and Environment (PSE) intervention aimed at bolstering nutrition security in diverse rural communities and fostering changes that increase the availability of healthy foods within local food systems. Under the VFF umbrella, Nebraska Extension's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) in Dakota County established a VFF community food council in 2014.

In 2015, the VFF community food council initiated a community-produce program to enhance food access. Gardeners were recruited to donate excess produce, and two grant-funded gardens, operated by 60-80 volunteers each summer, were established to supplement the Dakota County food system. Over eight years, 96,591 pounds of produce, valued at $161,306, have been incorporated into the food system through food pantries, senior centers, and apartment complexes, thereby increasing food access and healthy options for families with low-income . In the last five years alone, the VFF program has consistently provided over 15,000 pounds of fresh produce annually to the food system, with 3-5,000 pounds dedicated to serving medical clients with low income through their collaboration with Siouxland Community Health Center.

Sale has been a dedicated Extension professional since 2001, primarily engaged in educational programs, serving families and individuals with low-income. She expressed her gratitude, stating, "I am elated for our dedicated volunteers who invest countless hours in this project. They are truly exceptional, unique, and deeply committed individuals. This recognition is not just an honor for me and Extension; it speaks volumes about the Dakota community and their active involvement in this process."

Charles Stoltenow, dean and director of Nebraska Extension, emphasized the importance of Extension programs and their profound impact on the people of Nebraska, saying, "I believe that no one understands the people of Nebraska better than the people of Extension, and these Extension programs and individuals underscore that belief. I am extremely proud of the value that Extension adds to the lives of Nebraskans."