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Families & Nutrition

Nutrition education assistants aid thousands of Minnesotans

Nutrition education

Neighbors helping neighbors. For 40 years, Extension's nutrition education assistants have taught thousands of people about how to eat healthfully and to stretch their food dollars. Funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture food stamp dollars, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps limited-income households and families with children. Today, Extension's 100-plus nutrition education assistants teach in community centers across the state. Nutrition education assistants of different ethnic backgrounds also help Minnesota's newest populations adjust to the American food scene and choose healthy foods for their families. In 2006, nutrition education assistants in the Twin Cities metro area alone reached more than 7,700 families.

Number of obese school children reaches new heights

Children and nutrition

From 1976 to 2004, the percentage of overweight grade-school children in the United States nearly tripled, from 6.5 to 18.8 percent. In 2007, Extension nutrition experts and nutrition education assistants began piloting an activity-packed curriculum, "Go Wild with Fruits and Vegetables,"? in 22 Moorhead-area schools. The program uses stories, songs, games and "mystery food"? taste tests to make the lessons fun, and is based on studies showing that children are more likely to believe and act upon a message if they hear it from multiple sources. So far, 3,600 grade-school children have learned that good food and physical activity are smart choices. The Go Wild curriculum is expected to go statewide in 2009-10.

Families turn to Extension when disaster strikes

People having a conversation in front of destroyed buildings

Minnesotans have long relied on Extension in times of disaster. When the St. Peter tornado and the floods of 1997 struck, for example, Extension educators were there in the communities, helping residents pick up the pieces. Ready with research-based information, Extension showed people how to dry out their homes and belongings, prevent mold and keep their food from spoiling. People also called on Extension to help them deal with insurance, cope with stress and address tough financial questions. From pulling together the agencies needed to helping with long-term recovery, Extension educators are prepared to help people get their lives and communities back on track.

View 'Responding to disaster' on the Centennial Videos page.

New ways of reaching families gain popularity


During the post-war 1950s and '60s, women wanted to know more about family life, mental health, farm policy, farm business and improving their homes. Extension responded with new programs and in 1958, using a new way of communicating, began broadcasting best food buys over Minnesota's 22 TV stations. Heart disease among women was a big concern, and Extension taught lessons in eating right to manage weight. Extension also developed nationally known programs to teach handicapped homemakers how to manage with less energy or limited motion. Now more than ever, families relied on Extension's research-based information to help them make good decisions.

Programs reach American Indian communities

Two Native American boys standing in a kitchen

Extension expanded its health and nutrition programs in the mid-1950s to American Indian families. Invited by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to set up programs on the White Earth and Red Lake reservations, Extension hired its first agents to work with those communities. These agents became known and trusted on the reservations. They organized 4-H clubs and homemaker groups and taught gardening, nutrition and clothing projects. This work laid the foundation for programs such as the White Earth Math and Science Academy in the 1990s and ongoing interactive nutrition programs that help increase understanding today between Minnesota's oldest and newest cultures.

View 'Bridging Cultures' on the Centennial Videos page.

Mattress-making provides dual solutions

Mattress Making

After the Great Depression of the 1930s, many rural and low-income people were sleeping on cornhusk mattresses. In 1941, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a large amount of surplus cotton, bought up from Southern cotton producers. Extension agents in 84 counties accepted the offer of cotton and ticking and organized mattress-making centers in village halls and county fair buildings. They helped 70,000 Minnesota families make their own mattresses and comforters. Total cost of supplies was 88 cents per mattress and 33 cents per comforter. With this program, Extension helped solve an economic problem in one part of the country and assist low-income farm families at home.

Hot lunch programs become new norm

Kids eating lunch

In 1935, a St. Louis County home demonstration agent predicted that schools would serve hot lunches just as they hired teachers and bought books. As early as 1911, Extension had set up a hot lunch program in the rural schools, complete with bulletins and recipes.

By 1940, hot lunch programs had been established in more than 200 Minnesota schools. In the 1940s and '50s, Extension nutritionists taught school lunch staff around the state how to transform surplus commodities into healthful meals.

Women pioneers lead way in home economics

Woman next to a Model T

As early as 1911, rural schools had hot lunch programs, thanks to Mary Bull, Extension's first state home economics leader. Before World War I, Minnesota's home economics staff grew by only four. But in 1917, with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, Extension added 11 home demonstration agents. They expanded their reach through judging county fair exhibits, demonstrating baking and canning, and holding short courses at farmers' institutes. Specialists backed them up with popular leaflets on milk, fish, eggs, conservation, textiles and recreation. Today's Extension learning circles still help families use their resources wisely, from food and nutrition to family finances.

President Wilson calls for food to 'win the war'

Examining food rations

With world food supplies desperately low in 1916, Extension agents worked closely with farmers to aid the war effort. As the United States entered World War I, President Wilson provided $4.3 million to national Extension under the Emergency Food Production Act. County agents responded to the call, "Food will win the war,"? by teaching people to grow and preserve more food and change cooking and eating habits. Home economists traveled out to the people around the state, teaching canning classes and providing recipes for meatless and wheatless meals. This was Extension's first response to a major emergency and a trademark of its mission.

View 'Access to Healthy Food' on the Centennial Videos page.

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