Cooking Up New Programs With Sarah Ware

— Written By Emma Jablonski and last updated by
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Sarah Ware is the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Jones and Onslow Counties. In this role, she executes evidence-based programming in nutrition, health, food safety, food preservation, and local

Sarah Ware conducting a virtual cooking class

Sarah Ware conducting a virtual cooking class.

foods, as well as housing, parenting, family resource management, human development, and aging. She spends half of her time in Jones County, which is approximately a two-hour drive southeast of Raleigh and most famously known for its farming and timber activity. The County ranks second in North Carolina and ninth in the United States as a tobacco producer. Sarah mentioned that with only two grocery stores and no public transportation, Jones County is in need of more fresh produce options. “I first assumed that a farmers market would be the best idea, but a co-worker suggested that asking the residents what they needed and wanted would be the first best thing to do,” said Sarah. Since then, she has been surveying residents on what and where the need is regarding the County’s local food landscape.

In April 2020, she added to her title, Food Coordinator for Jones County Government. As a Food Coordinator, her main focus has been weekly distributions of the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program, a federal food distribution program to provide food assistance to individuals and families during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 2021, this program has reached over 78,000 people, delivered approximately 950,000 pounds of food, completed 26 distribution days, and had over 940 volunteer hours with Sarah’s leadership.

USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Infographic

USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Infographic

Sarah’s favorite part of being a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent is the autonomy and flexibility in connecting with her community and answering community needs. She enjoys being able to direct her efforts to wherever she feels she can be most helpful. “I am able to work with children, adults, and seniors. I can teach food safety, cook healthy recipes and help local food pantries set up to deliver in the best possible way for their participants,” Sarah added. As a Food Coordinator, she has most enjoyed witnessing the impact of her work over the eight short months that the Food Box program has been in operation. Sarah has received glowing remarks through a survey she distributed to participants: “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The County was thankful for this food and said it made such a difference in their lives.”

In spite of the many obstacles that COVID-19 has brought to local food, Sarah has found great success in her adaptations. She has connected with hundreds of children, adults, and families through a variety of classes, all having a focus on food and nutrition.

Sarah Ware teaching a virtual cooking class for kids

Sarah Ware teaching a virtual cooking class for kids.

Through her virtual cooking classes, she has reached audiences from all over the world. “The children joining us from other countries was exciting because the little girl and her father from India, for instance, had different ingredients when we cooked. It was neat to see what they had and what they could substitute.” Teaching virtually has not only allowed for more collaboration across counties and countries, but also for more individuals to get involved in food education. “Using the internet to teach, allowed more people with time constraints and physical limitations the opportunity to join in on learning. I value in-person teaching but online has a lot of benefits as well,” Sarah added. 

Sarah teaching the Holiday Bites virtual cooking class with families from all over the world

Sarah teaching the Holiday Bites virtual cooking class with families from all over the world.

Over the course of the pandemic, Sarah has taught over 900 people in collaboration with several Family and Consumer Sciences Agents from different parts of North Carolina. Sarah worked especially close with Michelle Estrada, Wayne County’s FCS Agent, and Kelly Tyndall, Lenoir County’s FCS Agent, on creating eight unique cooking programs during 2020. A few of her popular classes include Locally Delicious: Kids EditionCyber Cooking in the Kitchen, One Dish Wonders, and Stir It Up Baking Series. These classes help participants develop basic cooking or baking skills and learn how to best utilize simple, healthy ingredients.

FCS Agents, Kelly Tyndall, Sarah Ware and Michelle Estrada (left to right)

FCS Agents, Kelly Tyndall, Sarah Ware, and Michelle Estrada (left to right).

When asked for advice to offer other Local Food Coordinators in the state, Sarah expressed the importance of not letting fear hold you back. “I was super nervous about accepting the Food Box program. I did not know anyone in my county when I accepted this food,” Sarah said. But by saying yes, she found that the program allowed her to build trust and establish strong relationships more easily and quickly. Fortunately, this program has been an answer to many of the food security issues Jones County has faced during COVID-19.

Sarah’s Favorite Local Foods Recipe

Sarah’s favorite recipe using mostly local food is a Black Bean & Corn Stuffed Sweet Potato. Follow along with her Locally Delicious video to find out how to make one!

Black Bean & Corn Stuffed Sweet Potato

Black Bean & Corn Stuffed Sweet Potato.