June 3, 2011

It all started with a lone response to an advertisement to participate in a community garden; what sprang from it was more than just fresh produce.

Through connections made in the garden, Pamela York, Russell County’s family and consumer sciences extension agent, has built strong bonds with the county’s Hispanic population and introduced them to programs the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service offers to improve their homes, families and food.

After the first harvest, York held a series of food preservation workshops for the participants. She continues to offer several of these classes each year.

“Because many of their families have seasonal jobs, learning how to preserve food really makes a difference in them having food to eat in the wintertime,” York said. “I think they’ve been able to prepare more nutritious food for themselves and their families.”

In addition, York introduced eligible residents to Margie Hernandez, the extension assistant for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education. Many of the Hispanic men work in local factories or are migrant laborers and support their families on one income.

“You have a sense that you can help them,” said Margie Hernandez, who also speaks Spanish. “You can help them fit into the community, save money, teach them how to budget and make healthier meals for their families.”

As word spread about the work Russell County extension was doing with area Hispanics, the county’s Extension Homemakerssuggested York form an all Hispanic Extension Homemaker Club, and the other county clubs would pay the annual membership dues for those enrolled. The club was named the Las Latinas, or Latin women, and began meeting in August 2010.

Through Las Latinas, the women have learned how to prepare many American dishes and about healthy eating and food safety. They also have participated in financial literacy classes, including Kentucky Saves. York tries to share with them the university publications that are translated into Spanish. She’s even had a local retired Spanish teacher translate the UK canning publications.

“This group is very dedicated, very interested and very appreciative,” York said. “Their ability to take in information is just astronomical.”

Extension Homemakers Marta Barrios and Yazmin Chavez recently attended a food preservation workshop at the extension office. They said they’ve learned a lot through Extension.

“The first year I participated in the garden, I had to give my excess tomatoes away, but last year I learned how to can my own produce,” said Chavez, who has participated in the program since 2009. “I’ve stayed with Extension, because they help us and we save money. We save more money every year.”

“I’ve learned how to grow a garden, about canning and preserving and have saved a lot of money,” said Barrios, whose experience with Extension started in the garden in 2007.

York and Hernandez have been able to expand Extension’s reach to more Hispanics in the community, because their clients tell their friends.

As a way of saying thanks, some of the Hispanic women have volunteered their time doing cooking demonstrations of popular Hispanic foods at extension events.