Master Food Volunteers Expand Nutrition Outreach and Education | Community Idea Stations


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Master Food Volunteers Expand Nutrition Outreach and Education

A Virginia Cooperative Extension program is training community members to become ambassadors for a healthy lifestyle. Master Food Volunteers combine their passion for food and health with a commitment to help others. Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.

Learn More: Find out more about the Master Food Volunteer program with Virginia Cooperative Extension.


A group gathers around a long table inspecting 25 paper plates holding bright green herbs and powdery spices.

Student: What’s that?

Their task is to identify as many as possible using sight and smell.

Student: Oh! I know what number 24 is too...

This exercise starts out Twandra Lomax-Brown’s workshop on Seasonings, Flavorings and Marinades.

Twandra Lomax-Brown: What do you think it is? Students: Cloves…

An agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Lomax-Brown is explaining the best ways to add flavor to food while cutting down salt, fat and other unhealthy ways of cooking.

Lomax-Brown: Basil has a licorice-like flavor and you can kinda smell that when you break it...

This session is part of 30 hours of training to become a Master Food Volunteer. Modeled after the Master Gardener program, participants will use their new skills and knowledge to help the community.

Kimberly Edmonds: They’ll be prepared to help us with our nutrition classes education classes.

Kimberly Edmonds is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent in Henrico County

Edmonds: They may be responsible for doing a nutrition workshop for a particular audience that may include basic nutrition education and may also include some type of a food demonstration and they can also have the opportunity to bring programs or topics to us that they may see in their community that they would like to assist with.

Volunteers will go to health fairs and do demonstrations and talks at schools, non-profits and churches. It’s a grassroots way to respond to high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and help educate more people about nutrition and how to prepare healthy foods.

Edmonds: Small steps are very important, they may not seem as important but they really over a period of time can make a difference and just those small things can change how an individual family might prepare and purchase food.

Classes are hands-on, with volunteers preparing their own healthy lunch in a demonstration kitchen. On today’s menu: white bean basil chicken chile and confetti pepper cornbread.

Lomax-Brown: All right, we’re ready for the onions and the garlic...

Students also learn about food safety and knife skills, dietary guidelines and food labels, as well as trends in nutrition and how to eat on a budget. Other sessions teach them about food preservation, physical activity and working with diverse audiences.

Kathryn Bracken: My name’s Kathryn Bracken, I’m from Amelia County and I just this year started Master Gardening and found out about Master Food Volunteer and decided that I wanted to go into that.

Bracken will graduate from the Master Gardener program in January and thought combining the two classes would make her a better teacher.

Bracken: I’m basically at a turning point in my life so I was looking for direction and I decided I wanted to learn as well as give back to the community, because I’ve been blessed and I wanted to bless others. This was an opportunity for me to help out the community, help the Extension offices and get out and meet new people and just learn, continue learning.

A way to learn, be social and give back draws other participants too, like Claudia Muelhaupt and Cynthia St. John

Claudia Muelhaupt: I just like to be out in public and teach people and talk to people. Be out and tell people that it’s possible, you can do things if you want to.
Cynthia St. John: I volunteer now in elementary school so I’d really like to work with children and I think they absorb everything you tell them and they take it home it with them so I thought that would be a good opportunity to combine both.

When their healthy lunch finishes cooking, the Master Food Volunteers take a break to eat their meal. And the verdict is in on the White Bean Basil Chicken Chili.

Bracken: The white chili is very delicious, very light, very spicy, but very filling and good down-home cooking.

The Master Food Volunteer program started at the Cooperative Extension in Kansas 2002. Virginia adopted the program in 2009 and it’s since spread to 10 counties with more than 120 volunteers. In Newport News, the Extension recently created a Junior Master Food program for youth 13 to 18 years old. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.