Champion Food VolunteersWARSAW, Ky. For 16 women in Northern Kentucky, it took about 40 hours of instruction to become a Champion Food Volunteer-in-training. Now the real work can begin.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service began Champion Food Volunteers as a way to teach people more about nutrition, food safety, food preparation and demonstration. In return, the trainees will become trainers over the next year as they “pay back” 40 hours by volunteering and giving food demonstrations in counties throughout Northern Kentucky.

“The program had a lot of hands-on activities like learning to read food labels, making recipes, identifying products and so much more,” said Diane Mason, family and consumer sciences extension agent for Boone County. “They meet each Friday for five weeks and they have homework in between sessions.”

Mason collaborated with 11 other Northern Kentucky family and consumer sciences agents to teach and mentor the program’s first 16 volunteers in March. Eventually, the program will go statewide.

Sandra Bastin is the interim chair for the UK College of Agriculture’s Dietetics and Human Nutrition Department. She helped develop the Champion Food Volunteer curriculum.

“The program not only provides training for the volunteer but also extends the reach of the county Extension office into the community,” she said. “Being able to offer more educational experiences that allow for a positive change in food safety, diet and physical activity behaviors may improve the health of community members.”

Cathy Kunkel-Mains is a member of the Extension Homemakers in Kenton County. She was one of the 16 to complete the training. She said members of her family have recently had health situations that have made them more conscious about their lifestyles, and that sparked a passion in her to do something proactive in her community.

“I’m looking forward to it (the volunteer hours), because I don’t mind being in front of people,” she said. “I want to do food demonstrations and let people know my passion and how easy it is to change something one step at a time. I believe sharing personal stories can impact people, and I want to do that.”

Kunkel-Mains said she and her husband have been making healthier choices, but she’s learned a lot about choosing the right foods through the Champion Food Volunteer program.

Grace Angotti is the family and consumer sciences extension agent in Carroll County. She said that even though none of the volunteers were from her county, many of them have already approached her about coming to help in Carroll County to fulfill their 40-hour requirement. She said she and other agents have witnessed a desire of their clients to return to the basics.

“I think there is a movement to get back to the basics in cooking; a lot of people are interested in learning how to grow their lettuce, how to cook from scratch,” she said. “For a while everyone was all about convenience food… but now a lot of people want to grow their own food, raise their chickens, things like that.”

Mason said she’s looking forward to having the volunteers help out in Boone County.

“I have 16 people who already have experience that I can count on,” she added.

In Northern Kentucky, the family and consumer sciences extension agents expect to have a class of Champion Food Volunteers at least every other year.