Integrating Food Systems and Local Food in Family and Consumer Sciences
Perspectives from the Pilot Extension Master Food Volunteer Program
Cooperative Extension programs across the United States are embracing food systems and local food as a new topic area. Previous studies indicate that successful local food programming requires cross-program collaboration. However, research in this area has underrepresented Extension educators from non-agricultural program areas, although understanding their perspectives is key to fostering cross-program collaboration. The case study presented in this paper examines qualitative evaluation data from the pilot year of the NC State Extension Master Food Volunteer (EMFV) program, which provides training in food systems and local food to Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) educators and their volunteers. Data from semistructured interviews with educators in the pilot program and from focus groups with their volunteers provide the opportunity to explore areas of intersection and divergence between local food and the FCS program area in order to determine how to best integrate FCS and local food. Findings suggest that integrating local food into FCS programming will require special attention to potentially controversial issues that require educators and volunteers to communicate with the public about scientific issues that also invoke personal values, such as pesticide use and genetic engineering. We also found that educators and volunteers felt that promoting local food was not always compatible with an FCS focus on healthy eating. Overall, this case study demonstrates the potential to engage FCS educators and volunteers in cross-program, community-based food system projects, and to provide public education in the growing field of food systems and local food.
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