Local Food in Nutrition & Cooking Classes: A Conversation With Janice Roberts
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Janice Roberts, FCS Agent in Moore County, loves changing someone’s mind about trying and liking a fruit or vegetable! “I feel like I have opened up a whole new world for them,” she shared. On any given day you may find Janice teaching a cooking class to Early Childcare Educators to help incorporate local foods, organizing and running Farm to Fork Camp for youth, teaching food preservation for preserving what’s in season throughout the year, or doing food demonstrations at farmers markets. Her programs all tend to have a local food focus because she loves teaching people how to incorporate fresh local food into their diet and building confidence in their skills preparing those local foods. Janice shared, “I am a foodie and think that all foods have something delicious to offer. There is so much good food out there to be had!”
Janice’s Local Food Landscape
Moore County is one of the southwestern counties of North Carolina’s Coastal Plain that make up the Sandhills region and as the name suggests, the soil here is very sandy! There are two farmers markets that currently operate within the county, as well as a CSA called “Sandhills Farm to Table”. The county is rich in smaller producers and has gained more farms in recent years and some are starting up their own CSA boxes. Chefs in the area enjoy partnering with farmers to incorporate local produce into their menus and even offer Farm to Fork dinner events on farms! Several early childcare centers are also working to incorporate local food into their programs through Farm to ECE work. Moore County is a famous resort and golf destination so agritourism plays a huge role in the farmer’s incomes and the county has become a part of the VisitNC Farms App.
Janice’s Primary Projects & Programs
“With such a diverse and bountiful local food environment, our entire Extension office has local food responsibilities,” Janice shared. Janice is the county co-chair of the Local Food Preparation Workgroup, Savanah Laur who serves as the Horticulture Agent in Moore County is the county co-chair for the Food Security Workgroup and a member of the Growing Farm Capacity Workgroup, and their CED Deborah McGiffin serves on the Local Food Program Communications Team.
Having the whole staff share a focus on local foods allows great cross-programming towards a common goal. Last year, Moore County was one of five counties that signed on with a USDA grant to provide funds for Early Childcare Centers (ECE) to purchase and grow local foods! Janice has had the opportunity to work with these centers and address challenges to find the best model for food procurement for each center. For example, home centers are small and cannot buy the bulk orders so the solution may be connecting with specific farmers to purchase directly. As they continue to see the benefits of local food for these young children, they are still working on sustainability for when the grant funding ends.
Another big part of Janice’s work includes demonstrations at farmers markets. After realizing a need for more support related to demonstrations, Janice decided to get involved with the Local Food Preparation Workgroup, as part of the Local Food Program Team. “I didn’t have the skills or tools I needed to safely prepare samples outdoors, so the Local Food Prep group provided trainings, materials, and equipment so that I could set up anywhere and teach about the great taste of local food.” You can find more about the demo kit and the recipe cards.
Janice’s Final Thoughts
When asked about the future of local food in North Carolina, Janice shared that she doesn’t know for sure what it will look like, but she knows what she hopes for. The Sandhills Farm to Table CSA slogan is “Neighbors Feeding Neighbors”. “I grew up on a farm and when we got home from school, there was a bag full of produce on the back step from my grandma’s garden.” She said that her hope is for local food to continue connecting neighbors to farmers and community gardens and finding ways to incorporate it more into schools and restaurants – that the future of local food is “neighbors feeding neighbors”.
Janice’s Favorite Place to Buy Local and Favorite Recipes Using Local Food
Janice considers herself a foodie and with that comes favorite spots for buying certain foods. One of her recent favorites has been a farmstand called Kalawi’s. “They have some of the best peaches, watermelon, and pumpkins!” She added that now that she has littles in her life she loves that Kalawi’s has the best playground and ice cream for her kids! Janice shared that her favorite recipes using local food include squash. She did a pasta making class with butternut squash ravioli and a delicata squash pasta. “I also love the veggie quesadilla recipe. I once got a marriage proposal from it – it’s that good!”