“What exactly do you do as a Penn State Extension food, family and health educator?” or some version of that question is frequently asked when I meet someone new. Despite a 100-plus-year history of providing non-formal educational programs to our nation’s citizens, it is still said that the Cooperative Extension is a best-kept secret.
If someone knows about Extension, usually their first thoughts go to agriculture or maybe our 4-H youth programs. So, how did food, family and health become a “thing” in Extension? Our discipline has been an integral part of Extension work since the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, which states: “ ... cooperative agricultural extension work shall consist of the giving of instruction and practical demonstrations in agriculture and home economics to persons not attending or resident in said colleges … .” So, while we work under the support of Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, as Penn State Extension educators, Pennsylvania residents at large are our students.
Extension work is funded primarily through federal, state and local tax dollars, as well as grant funding and registration fees. The federal funding source for family and consumer sciences (formerly home economics) programming is the USDA and NIFA, or National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
NIFA programs are further broken into the Institute of Youth, Family, and Community Division of Family and Consumer Sciences and the Institute of Food Safety and Nutrition Division of Nutrition. NIFA’s mission is to improve quality of life in rural America, support a productive workforce, and maximize rural prosperity with a vision of optimal health and well-being for all.
Throughout the state, Penn State Extension food, family and health (FFH) educators provide a wide variety of programming both face-to-face and using technology to achieve NIFA’s mission and vision. While each of Pennsylvania’s counties has an Extension office, not each office houses a FFH educator.
The Extension website, at www.extension.psu.edu, provides a gateway to articles, publications, online courses, videos and webinars available from a variety of disciplines including those related to food, family and health.
Website visitors can also search for and register for upcoming classes as well as create a personal profile indicating their professional and personal areas of interest. As events are planned in your area that relate to your preferences, you will receive notification.
Projects that FFH educators are currently working on include:
• LIFT (Lifelong Improvements through Fitness Together) an eight-week, biweekly, strength-training program for middle-aged and older adults which will replace the StrongWomen program.
• Cooking schools that introduce participants to basic kitchen skills as well as different cuisines.
• Dining with Diabetes.
• Home Food Preservation.
• Aging issues such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Additional programs we find ourselves involved with include the statewide initiatives surrounding the spotted lanternfly infestation and the opioid crisis.
To learn more about our programs, check our website or call your local county Extension office.
Robin Kuleck is a Penn State Extension senior educator in Cameron County.