July 19, 2006 | By: Carol Lea Spence

First the strawberries are added, then blueberries, then raspberries. The mixture is topped off with yogurt and blended together into a fresh, wholesome smoothie. It’s a delicious and easy way to eat healthily, and that’s the point that Jefferson County’s Master Food Volunteers are determined to make.

At 4-H camp, in senior centers, farmers’ markets, schools and hospitals, the 16 Master Food Volunteers in Jefferson County are eagerly showing people how they can eat flavorful foods that will trim their waistlines and may help prevent heart disease or diabetes. The reception they’ve received has been as enthusiastic as the volunteers themselves. Marda Dewey, a master food volunteer and a member of the inaugural class, cooked a meal for a senior citizens group at a local church. Between the stir fry and the dessert, they talked about the food pyramid and food safety.

“I’ve had people stop me afterwards and ask me different questions about nutrition,” she said. “A couple of people were diabetic and a couple had heart problems, so they all had special problems that they wanted to ask about.”

The program is designed to join the battle over the population’s growing girth and to make the public aware that an old cliché turns out to be right. You are what you eat. Both volunteers and the general public benefit from the program. Mary Rose Mattei, a Master Food Volunteer and a gourmet cook, was interested in the course because she was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. 

“That meant I had to change my diet and my outlook on how to cook,” she said. “When this class was announced I signed up for it, and it was a lovely way to learn to cook all over again. Healthy.”

Nelda Moore, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service family and consumer sciences agent in Jefferson County, credits her FCS advisory board with lighting the fire under the idea to offer more nutrition programming.

“The council really geared us up and said, hey, this is very important,” she said. “We need to do a lot more nutrition education in our county. And then the (Louisville) mayor was coming out with his Healthy Hometown Initiative so we wanted to tie in (with that).”

Moore was aware of the successful Master Food Volunteer program in Northern Kentucky.

“Our Master Gardener program here in Jefferson County is just wonderful and they have great volunteers. So we thought we would try to create that, something similar to Master Gardeners.”

Moore said the health department gave them a one-year grant to get the program started. The grant allowed them to hire a coordinator and enroll 16 students in the first class. Participants met for six and a half hours a week for five weeks. The curriculum included basic shopping and cooking skills and nutrition information. To be certified, volunteers must “pay back” 30 hours through volunteer work.

Elizabeth Buckner, FCS agent in Jefferson County, said the volunteers are eager to pitch in. 

“I think the enthusiasm of the volunteers is just overwhelming,” she said. “They really absorbed the mission of Extension. I really think personally they were able to use the nutrition education for themselves and then that gave them the confidence and the ability to go out and reach others.”

Mattei was one of the volunteers who applied what she learned to her own life. 

“I’ve changed my whole way of grocery shopping. I’m single again, an empty-nester, and you know, I was beginning to eat that junk food because it’s cheap,” she said. “But since I’ve taken the class… I’m eating much healthier. I’m also reading what’s on the package and looking for the sodium content and the sugars. It takes me longer at the grocery, but I buy less and it’s healthier.”

Kelly Buntain, 23, is one of the youngest Master Food Volunteers. She, too, was able to apply her newly acquired skills to her personal life. A senior at the University of Louisville, Buntain was looking ahead to when she would have her own apartment.

“I didn’t know much about cooking or nutrition. And I really wanted to learn basic food preparation and just get more knowledgeable in that area. I thought this was a great way to do it. It sounded like a lot of fun.”

Buntain took her newly acquired knowledge to 4-H camp this summer where she and another Master Food Volunteer taught campers how to prepare healthy outdoor meals.

“We made them try new things,” she said. “Like they didn’t want to put beans or corn on their pizza, but we made them try it and some of them actually liked it. So if we got across to one kid, then we were successful.”

There are plenty of opportunities for the volunteers to reach people, including popular farmers’ markets where they demonstrate methods for using fresh fruits and vegetables, said Moore.

“That’s the whole problem,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know what to do with the vegetables that they get. They like going (to the farmers’ market), but it’s like, ‘What do I do now?’ “ 

“Everybody needs help, especially when it comes to eating healthily,” Moore said. “It’s not limited to one segment of the population.”

For more information about the Master Food Volunteer program contact the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension Office at 502-569-2344, or visit them online at http://ces.ca.uky.edu/jefferson/.



Nelda Moore or Elizabeth Buckner, 502-569-2344