HERMISTON, Ore. – The other night, Angie Treadwell, an Oregon State University Extension Service nutrition educator in Hermiston, sent a text message to some of the families who attended her recent Zoom class.
Treadwell talked in the class about healthy eating and sent a 12-minute video she’d made with her two daughters, showing how to prepare a simple beef-and-broccoli dish. Treadwell has been teaching face-to-face cooking and nutrition classes for years in Umatilla and Morrow counties, but she wasn’t sure how this pandemic-inspired distance teaching approach was working.
Was she getting through to anyone? So, she sent that text. Did anyone have any questions? Any feedback for improving the class?
What followed eased Treadwell’s mind considerably.
The texts poured in. And the photos. Kids in aprons stirring ground beef. Young adults cutting broccoli and following proper knife-safety techniques. Facebook-worthy images of plates piled high with stir-fry.
The dish was a hit.
“I was shocked at how quickly people responded,” Treadwell said. “I got tons of great feedback and pictures of beef and broccoli. People said they loved the dish and enjoyed making it.”
Treadwell and her colleagues Jamie Cox in Union County and Becca Colton in Baker County are SNAP-Ed educators who teach limited-income youth and families how to make tasty meals from healthy, inexpensive ingredients. The educators have been cut off from their students for two months, but the need for sound nutrition education in their communities hasn’t abated.
They’ve been forced to learn how to touch their students without actually making contact.
SNAP-Ed is the nutrition-education and obesity-prevention component of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. OSU Extension delivers the SNAP-Ed program under contract with the Oregon Department of Human Services. These programs are vital in the rural areas of eastern Oregon where poverty levels are higher than average and many suffer from obesity, diabetes and other health issues related to a poor diet.
All three of the SNAP-Ed educators — Treadwell, Cox and Colton – have turned to video as a way to keep teaching. But while it is their new medium, the approach they take varies significantly. Cox got some video production lessons from her husband. Treadwell’s 15-year-old daughter Ashley handles the camera and video editing, banking on the knowledge she gained from the television-editing club she belonged to in school. Colton works alone and focuses on demonstrating how to make simple, tasty foods from things many people already have in the pantry.
“Everyone is doing the best they can under the circumstances,” Colton said. “We’ve all had to learn new skills.”
The educators use recipes from Extension’s Food Hero program, which is designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income residents and features a bilingual website rich in recipes, nutrition information and cooking and gardening tips. The recipes are simple and cost-effective because many families can’t afford to have a recipe fail.
Before the pandemic, the educators’ schedules were crammed with appointments in local schools, senior centers and community events. Students loved the nutrition classes because the SNAP-Ed educators often prepare food samples to pass out during the lesson. Now the Extension educators join Google Classroom, but the amount of time they have to deliver information is severely compressed from what it used to be.
Cox has made 11 videos since the pandemic started. She began by sending her first videos to the Food Hero team, and they were quickly approved for posting on Facebook and the Food Hero website. She’s had to teach herself how to shoot and edit the videos, but, like Treadwell, she gets help from her family. She also has a YouTube channel called “Anyone Can Cook!”
While Cox doesn’t narrate her videos, preferring to add text and background music, Treadwell and her daughter Acelyn describe what they are doing when they make Popeye Power Smoothies or Potato Wedges. Their videos are branded as the “Food Hero Cooking Show,” and Treadwell’s goal is to film one episode a week through the summer.
All three educators estimate that their videos take from six to eight hours to produce. First, they plan the recipe, premeasure the ingredients, film the segment and then edit the video, adding in close-ups, b-roll footage (supporting shots and scenes), text, titles and all the transitions between shots. That’s not counting the time it takes to clean the kitchen.
And even though they continue to distance themselves socially, all three educators are keeping their partnerships strong and active. Colton, for instance, will be participating in Baker County’s annual Summer Academy. She’ll be Zooming in to the small face-to-face classes planned under strict social-distancing and personal protective gear-enhanced guidelines. Last summer, she taught nearly 40 classes over five weeks to students from kindergarten to sixth-grade.
Cox has fielded requests from local high schools. Her first video, on hand-washing, was created just as the pandemic was breaking and was shown just before the school closed. She also made a video on “Rethink Your Drink,” which is a campaign to help young people understand the impact of sugary drinks. Teachers used it in their remote classes.
Treadwell, meanwhile, stays in touch with local farmers. When they have a particular crop about to be harvested, they let her know so she can prepare cooking workshops using that vegetable. That work is her contribution to the Veggie Rx program, in which qualified families receive boxes of produce and attend a two-hour workshop where they prepare up to four different recipes and then sit down as a group for a meal. The produce boxes will still go to families this year, but the workshop and meal will have to replaced with, you guessed it, food-preparation videos.
Treadwell is also working with local partners at Umatilla-Morrow Head Start to offer the six-session Cooking Matters nutrition education series remotely. Cooking Matters teaches families about healthy eating and the importance of working together to plan and prepare healthy meals on a budget. The videos are a companion to the nutrition instruction and replace the in-person meal preparation that is typically part of the series. The campus Food Hero team is adding Spanish subtitles to the videos so they are accessible to all audiences that Treadwell typically engages with.
Although the videos were an emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis, Treadwell thinks they are here to stay.
“They are just one more tool for our toolbox that we might want to use all the time,” she said. “As much as we love our face-to-face teaching, the videos are good for people who can’t attend or who would like to watch them at their own convenience. If we record them and keep them, we can reuse them for different people in different types of programs.”