Extension strengthens communities by
improving the availability and quality of food grown by and for Missourians.

Photo of preschoolers showing produce from their school garden
Preschoolers learn about healthy food choices as part of the Family Nutrition Education Programs.

In both production and distribution, University of Missouri Extension has specialists and programs devoted to improving the systems that put food on shelves at the grocery store and on the table at home. Improving these systems improves not only the health and well-being of Missouri’s consumers, but also the individuals and businesses that produce the fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat we eat every day.

Before Missouri beef sees the inside of a grocery store, the Show-Me-Select Heifer Replacement Program works with livestock producers to improve the quality of beef cattle herds. The heifer replacement program draws on the expertise of MU Extension specialists, veterinarians, beef producers and industry leaders to improve the quality of beef cattle herds across the state. Extension specialists apply the latest research in health, nutrition and reproductive science to ensure Missouri continues to be a national leader in providing a steady supply of quality beef.

Neighborhoods across the state now have better access to supermarkets due to the work of Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy, a program that enables communities to work with small food retailers to make healthy foods available where they were previously scarce or entirely unavailable. Stock Healthy, Shop Healthy also educates the community about making healthy food choices and where they might be available at a supermarket. With better access to a supermarket stocked with healthy, affordable foods, people rely less on fast-food restaurants or corner stores to feed their family. When this program began, it focused on a single urban neighborhood in need of better food choices. Today, it has expanded statewide to improve the economic and social fabric of rural and urban communities alike.

Both programs address the same complex societal issue. That is, how do you ensure all Missourians have access to healthy food, regardless of income or location? The programs' methods differ, but their goals are the same: improve Missouri’s food production and distribution systems to ensure every community, large and small, has access to healthy food options.

But making healthy options available and helping people make healthy food choices are different challenges. It can be especially difficult for low-income populations, so the MU Extension Family Nutrition Education Programs (FNEP) work in every county of the state to reach all age groups with programs tailored to their needs. Extension nutrition specialists go into schools and adult education centers to educate people of all ages, all across Missouri.

graphic: farm animals

On June 2, 2015, the FDA released the final rule of its Veterinary Feed Directive, marking a shift in how antibiotics should be administered to livestock. The FDA is trying to phase out the use of antibiotics for production purposes, such as feed efficiency, and increase veterinary oversight. The rule affects many of Missouri’s 55,000 livestock operations, which is why Veterinary Medical Extension and Continuing Education specialists have been meeting with producers statewide ahead of the December 2016 deadline to educate them on how the changes might affect their operation.

graphic: pie chart showing 17%

A recent USDA report estimates that 17 percent of the U.S. population have limited access to a supermarket, meaning they live more than a half-mile from the closest supermarket in urban areas. Low-income and elderly people typically have the least access to healthy foods.

Missouri map showing distribution of FNEP contacts by county

In Lewis County, students at Canton High School have been tracking their food intake using the MyPlate online tool, and many found they were not eating enough fruits, whole grains and vegetables. Under the guidance of an FNEP specialist, they learned how to use the website to make healthier food choices.

On the last day of teaching the Eat Smart Be Active curriculum at the Warsaw Senior Center in Benton County, one woman said she and her husband hated dieting and never did well at it. Instead, they changed how they ate according to what they learned in Eat Smart Be Active to help them lose weight, despite not being on a diet.

At Perryville Middle School in Perry County, students made healthy wraps with new ingredients, such as radishes and avocadoes, as part of an in-school nutrition education activity. Many balked at the ingredients but were asked to try a bite before removing anything they didn’t like. Students admitted to enjoying the wraps and said they look forward to trying new foods.

 

FNEP specialists have hundreds of anecdotes like these from parents, teachers, relatives and participants all over the state. Extension is involved at both ends of the spectrum; helping operations produce quality food and ensuring it is available for all Missourians, no matter where they live.