Rutgers Family and Community Health Sciences Collaborates on Major USDA Grant

NJ Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher and Rutgers FCHS’ Kathleen Morgan announce the grant at the Millhill Child and Family Center in Trenton on Oct. 7.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Department of Family and Community Health Sciences (FCHS) has again collaborated with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to secure a $324,151 Team Nutrition Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The two-year grant renews the Grow Healthy New Jersey–Team Nutrition Initiative that began in 2010. Grant funds will be used to train school foodservice professionals on strategic ways to improve student nutrition and to train teachers and volunteers to use school gardens as teaching tools to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among kids. Funding will also help provide technical assistance to school wellness teams to create and sustain the school wellness environment. This second grant cycle, which runs through September 2014, will reach a larger number of schools than the first grant cycle which ended in 2012. This new round of funding will add early-care and education centers to the initiative in order to engage the state’s youngest learners in healthy eating habits.

Kathleen Morgan, chair of Rutgers FCHS, will serve as project director and liaison to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. “It is a wonderful opportunity for us to work with the early-care providers and parents through the Grow Healthy program,” said Morgan. “If we are going to reduce childhood obesity, those working in early-care education are the front line of these prevention and health promotion efforts.”

Eleven schools and eight early-care centers in 11 New Jersey counties were selected through a competitive process for mini-grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 to be used for garden supplies, curricula and educational materials, food for fruit and vegetable taste tests, and resources to support the development and activities of a school wellness team. Each of the recipient schools demonstrated a strong commitment to improving the nutrition and health behaviors of their students, staff and families.

“The garden will be an excellent learning tool for the little ones. Growing and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables is a fantastic start for this garden-enhanced learning,” added Morgan.

The federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandated menu changes to all foods served on the school campus during the school day and greater transparency and monitoring of school wellness policies. FCHS will employ evidence-based strategies and best practices to engage the whole school community, including students, teachers, administrators, nurses, foodservice personnel, families and community members in wellness policy development and program implementation. A Grow Healthy New Jersey–Team Nutrition Initiative website will provide program news and links to important resources.

The principal investigators, all of whom are FCHS faculty, are Michelle Brill, FCHS Educator for Mercer County; Sherri Cirignano, FCHS Educator for Warren County; Alexandra Grenci, FCHS Educator for Hunterdon County; Luanne Hughes, FCHS Educator for Gloucester County; and Daryl Minch, FCHS Educator for Somerset County.

The Grow Healthy New Jersey–Team Nutrition Initiative received the prestigious 2013 Nutrition Education for the Public Dietetic Practice Group Award of Excellence from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This annual award is given to support the development and reporting of high quality nutrition education projects that enhance and advance the objectives of the practice group.

For more information about the Grow Healthy New Jersey–Team Nutrition Initiative and Rutgers Family and Community Health Sciences, visit http://growhealthy.rutgers.edu/news.html and http://njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs.