COLUMBIA, Mo. – Three new University of Missouri Extension projects will help address Missouri food system challenges while encouraging collaboration across teams.

The projects are funded through a mini-grant program announced by the MU Extension Food Systems Network during the 2022 Extension and Engagement Week. The grants are part of the yearlong focus on work that creates positive economic impacts, enhances food access and increases food security for all Missourians, said Alison Copeland, UM System deputy chief engagement officer.

The grants will fund development and distribution of:

  • A Missouri specialty crops podcast.
  • Freeze It! meal preparation and food waste diversion curriculum.
  • Expanded Value Added Meat Team education.

“We look forward to seeing the impact these innovative, multidisciplinary projects will have on strengthening Missouri’s food system,” said Bill McKelvey, senior project coordinator, Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security and MU Extension.

Learn about UM System All Things Food efforts to provide vital nutrition and a healthy planet for all.

Missouri specialty crops podcast

A podcast will serve as a resource for Missouri specialty crop producers and help promote the specialty crops industry in the state, said team leader Justin Keay, an MU Extension horticulture specialist in Pike County.

“The growth of the specialty crop industry in Missouri offers an opportunity to have an outsized economic impact on a per acre basis compared to conventional row crop production,” Keay said. “Demand for locally produced food continues to increase, reflected by the growth in farmers markets across Missouri over the past decade. Targeted efforts to connect with and offer educational programs to current and prospective specialty crop producers is one way MU Extension can support the growth of the specialty crop industry in Missouri and double the economic impact of agriculture in Missouri by 2030.”

The podcasters will interview specialty crop farmers and showcase production and marketing/sales opportunities in Missouri. Episodes will touch on topics related to starting and growing a specialty crop business, including production, marketing, business management, agritourism, legal issues, research updates and state and federal resources.

“By interviewing specialty crop growers, we will bridge the knowledge gap of how to get started and be successful long-term in specialty crop production,” Keay said. The podcast will also amplify existing resources such as the MU Integrated Pest Management and Commercial Horticulture YouTube channels, as well as the free MU Commercial Horticulture newsletter.

Project leads: Justin Keay and Patrick Byers, horticulture field specialist, Webster County.

Freeze It! course

An estimated 40% of all food in America ends up in landfills. Not only does this waste drive up the economic and environmental costs of disposal, it’s also a significant if unrecognized drain on family budgets. The Freeze It! curriculum helps Missourians in Monroe, Crawford and Gasconade counties develop the skills and knowledge to select, store and prepare food to be frozen and served later. The goal is to make the curriculum available throughout Missouri.

The course was inspired by conversations among solid-waste management professionals and MU Extension health professionals in east-central Missouri, said Rachel O’Halloran, nutrition and health specialist in Gasconade County. Research shows that limited knowledge about food preparation and preservation leads to consumer inaction in reducing food waste.

“We discovered that we held a common goal to help community members meal plan,” O’Halloran said. “From there we discovered many overlaps between community health and environmental health, which we are still exploring today.”

Participants will learn how to reuse, reduce and repurpose food products as they learn about meal planning, food preservation with a focus on fast freezing, food sharing and packaging.

Freezer meal techniques are popular for adults who shop and cook for their households. Research shows freezer foods produce 47% less waste than room-temperature and refrigerated household foods. Frozen food has a longer shelf life and is easily portioned, said O’Halloran, who presented pilot results from the curriculum at the 2023 Missouri Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic Conference.

“In pilots, we have seen members build habits to exchange surplus harvests with each other, exchange food waste reduction knowledge and leverage community assets like public kitchens or composting centers,” O’Halloran said. The goal is to normalize food waste reduction as a natural byproduct of enhanced food preparation and preservation skills.

Project lead: Rachel O’Halloran.

Team members:

  • Sarah Wood, assistant extension professor, nutrition and exercise physiology.
  • Carrie Elsen, field specialist in nutrition and health, Shelby County.
  • Bethany Bachmann, field specialist in nutrition and health, Perry County.
  • TJ Sethi, field specialist in nutrition and health, DeKalb County.
  • Micah Potgieter, field specialist in nutrition and health, Mercer County.
  • Sara Bridgewater, field specialist in nutrition and health, Bates County.

Value-Added Meats Team

MU Extension’s Value-Added Meats Team will add two hands-on learning activities to its current offerings: “butcher cuts” for beef and how to safely process poultry at home.

The team helps livestock producers develop skills to market their livestock and meat directly to producers and consumers and helps consumers learn how to find local producers selling finished animals, how to assess the quality of products and more.

Using a butcher beef cuts curriculum — Beef Cattle Anatomy, Cattle Harvesting and How To Prepare and Cook Cuts, the team will help beef producers learn to more accurately predict the cuts they will receive from the processor and then better market these cuts directly to consumers. They will also teach consumers about what cuts and quality of meat to expect when they buy from local livestock producers.

The poultry training targets small producers as well as home-based poultry producers, whose numbers increased during the pandemic in response to supply chain shortages. More small poultry producers now operate under an exemption that lets them produce, slaughter, process and sell poultry meat from the farm without inspection. Safe processing of poultry is essential, especially given salmonella and E. coli bacteria risks associated with handling and consuming poultry.

Risks can be reduced during slaughter and processing by following well-established food safety handing procedures. Unfortunately, many home producers don’t know about these procedures, said project team co-leader Jennifer Lutes, an MU Extension agricultural business specialist. The team will teach these best practices and partner with MU Extension nutrition and health specialists to teach proper food safety handling during these trainings.

Project leads: Jennifer Lutes and Kyle Whittaker.

Team members:

  • Eric Meusch, field specialist in livestock, Texas County.
  • Amie Breshears, field specialist in agricultural business and policy, Benton County.
  • Rachel Hopkins, field specialist in agricultural business and policy, Washington County.
  • Patrick Davis, field specialist in livestock, Cedar County.
  • Nutrition and health specialists (to be determined).

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