Building Tomorrow’s Leaders through Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR)

Image from YPar Project

The Issue
Youth live, play, eat, shop, and learn in their communities but are rarely included in decision making processes that directly impact their health and nutrition, such as related school district policy-making, neighborhood design, food access, and advertising placement. Engaging and building the capabilities of youth as leaders is an important step toward effective policy, systems and environmental (PSE) changes. 

What Has UC CalFresh Done?
UC CalFresh’s Youth Engagement Initiative, launched in 2016, gets youth involved in promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity. To facilitate youth participation in PSE changes, El Dorado, San Mateo, and Imperial County initiated Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects during the 2016-2017 school year. YPAR engages young people in research and action that builds their skills and fosters strong, just communities and institutions.

Each county team pursued a unique strategy based on local youth interests and opportunities:

  • In El Dorado County, a PhotoVoice and YPAR project with Georgetown Elementary School sixth graders focused on improving nutrition by purchasing a healthy vending machine.
  • In Imperial County, an afterschool YPAR project at Meadows Union Elementary School focused on expanding physical activity opportunities for 6th-8th graders.
  • In San Mateo County, an in-school YPAR project with Pescadero High School students worked to improve the school meals program and communication between students and decision-makers.

The UC Davis Center for Regional Change and the Public Health Institute Center for Wellness and Nutrition provided ongoing technical assistance and program documentation. Support included in-person trainings, one-on-one coaching, and resources to assist youth to use mapping tools and data to identify needs and build their cases for PSE changes.

The Payoff

YPAR helped youth build leadership skills to create change in their communities.

Through YPAR, the counties combined direct nutrition education with PSE change, built and leveraged local partnerships, empowered young people to take on leadership for youth health, and helped youth develop research and presentation skills.

  • In San Mateo County, students surveyed their peers and advocated to add smoothies to the lunch menus. After presentations to school and district officials, their peers, and attendees at the Childhood Obesity Conference, their recommendations were implemented in May 2017.
  • In Imperial County, students met after school and mapped out their school resources, surveyed their peers, and analyzed publically-available physical fitness and obesity data for the school to advocate for new physical activity equipment and approval of a playground stencil project. After presentations to school and district officials and their peers, their recommendations were approved.
  • In El Dorado County, students researched options for purchasing a healthy vending machine. They presented their findings to the principal, food services staff, teachers and their peers. This project will continue with a new cohort of youth next year.


To read more about these YPAR projects, please see Moving from Serving Youth to Engaging Youth, which documents the counties’ work.

Clientele Testimonial

“I got involved with the Youth Food Alliance because they were serving healthy food; I stayed involved because I was making the community healthier.” – Youth Researcher


Supporting Unit:

Brandon Louie, MS, Community Engagement Coordinator, UC Davis Center for Regional Change,

Metria Munyan, Youth Engagement – Project Manager, Public Health Institute, Center for Wellness and Nutrition,

Anne Iaccopucci, 4-H Healthy Living Academic Coordinator, UC ANR, Ca. State Office,

Andra Nicoli, MA, Program & Evaluation, UC CalFresh State Office,

Georgians Have a New Learning Resource at the DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market

GA Mobile Farmers Markets

The University of Georgia Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (UGA SNAP-Ed) offers shortened free nutrition education classes in a series known as “Food Talk: Farmers Market.” Adapted from full-length “Food Talk” curricula by faculty and staff from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Food Talk: Farmers Market nutrition education is a collection of short classes taught by UGA Extension staff at stops along the “FRESH on DEK” DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market route. 

“We are very excited to provide this new curriculum for our SNAP-Ed program in DeKalb County,” said Judy Hibbs, Nutrition Program Coordinator for UGA SNAP-Ed. “The Mobile Market is very popular in the community, and county staff are doing a great job of recruiting participants from shoppers and delivering sessions.”

The DeKalb Mobile Farmers Market provides access to healthy, affordable food at multiple stops in food deserts and low income communities throughout the county where fresh produce might be hard to come by. The Mobile Market accepts EBT (SNAP benefits), credit cards, checks, or cash and is a program of DeKalb County Extension. “The great part about our new curriculum is that it’s designed to be completed in a short amount of time,” Hibbs added. “Shoppers at the Mobile Market don’t typically have as much time to spend learning as participants do in the full Food Talk class, so people can still learn something even when they’re in a rush.”

Food Talk: Farmers Market offers eight lessons that are taught by SNAP-Ed peer educators and cover topics like how to make healthy choices when dining out; adapt traditional Southern recipes to reduce sodium and increase vegetable servings; and how to plan meals and shopping trips to save money.  Participants can take different classes at the same location on different weeks or visit multiple Mobile Market sites to benefit from each lesson.  “Food Talk: Farmers Market has been a tremendous addition to the Mobile Market this season,” said  Edda Z. Cotto-Rivera, County Extension Agent for SNAP-Ed. “These programs are making real differences in people’s lives, and participants have shown great enthusiasm for what they are learning.”

UGA SNAP-Ed is building upon the existing Food Talk lessons to include topics on obesity in addition to adapting lessons for use at farmers markets and in an online course known as “Food eTalk.” Healthy Child Care Georgia, an additional project in UGA SNAP-Ed, is a multi-level Policy, Systems, and Environment (PSE) intervention for early care and education (ECE) centers being piloted in Athens-Clarke County.

“We have a great need for this type of program in the state of Georgia, and we have a capacity to meet that need,” said Jung Sun Lee, an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition who serves as principal investigator for UGA SNAP-Ed.

Food Talk: Farmers Market is provided by UGA SNAP-Ed for SNAP-Ed eligible Georgians and classes are currently being offered only in DeKalb County. Those interested in attending a Food Talk: Farmers Market class may find how to contact the local UGA extension office at Visitors to the website may click the green “Attend a Class!” in the main navigation to find local contact information.


Tennessee Farmers Market


In Tennessee, a team of state specialists working with the University of Tennessee Extension SNAP-Ed: Tennessee Nutrition and Consumer Education (UT SNAP-Ed: TNCEP) program in the Department of Family and Consumers Sciences (FCS) have launched a state-wide social marketing program – Farmers’ Market Fresh.  The primary objective of Farmers’ Market Fresh is to encourage limited-resource families to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption through farmers’ markets.  

Throughout the summer, FCS County Agents, para-professionals, and assistants have booths at farmers’ markets where they offer food demonstrations, recipes, and research-based advice on best ways to select, prepare, and store some of our favorite summertime items.  The best part of the program – each person who stops by the booths receives a recipe card for the food being demonstrated.  At the end of the season, consumers could have an entire collection of recipes all featuring items fresh from the farmers’ market.  Adults, however, are not the only ones who learn from the Farmers’ Market Fresh booth.  Children enjoy a sample of the food prepared, and they are able to participate in a weekly children’s challenge.  Through the challenge, children are able to earn prizes for the fruits and vegetables their families purchase, prepare, and taste at home.  There is even some buzz that a special visitor – Rudy the Raccoon – makes an appearance at the markets.

During the pilot year (FY 2015), Farmers’ Market Fresh was implemented at 15 farmers’ markets.  A total of 121 food demonstrations were presented resulting in 29,071 educational contacts.  310,651 indirect contacts were made through exhibits, newspaper articles, publications, social media, and television segments.  As a result of the programming, fruit and vegetable consumption increased among the participants.  Additionally, SNAP redemption at the pilot markets increased by over $3,600.

Farmers’ Market Fresh is currently in its second year of implementation with programming occurring at 39 farmers’ markets across the state. 

Celebrating “Dining In” Day

Puerto Rico educators in EFNEP program promoting Dining In Day

Janice Colon, Lorna Campos, Gisela Panzardi, Elsa Arana, Ircha Martinez, Lisa Morales. Professionals of Puerto Rico EFNEP program. 

The second annual “Dining In” for healthy family day was celebrated on December 3, 2015.  Family & Consumer Sciences Day is an opportunity to promote family and consumer science programs, tools, and professionals that support family mealtime.  Additionally, this is a day to encourage families to make and eat a healthy dinner together at home.  This year more than 125,000 people committed to participate in “Dining In” Day.

Puerto Rico FCS Program and EFNEP Program from University of Puerto Rico promoted the “Dining in” for healthy families on Family and Consumer Sciences day in the work meetings, educative activities and communities. The Extension personnel shared information about healthy foods and the importance of building good relations in the families and work. 

Learn more about “Dining In” on Family & Consumer Sciences Day here

OSU Teaching Students about Garden to Table

Students picking cherries off of a cherry tree.


OSU Extension Franklin County and OSU Wexner Medical Center have combined our efforts to teach over 260 youth about eating healthy plant based recipes. The children grow the vegetables and fruit in the Highland Youth Garden and Chef Jim prepares the recipes while I teach the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) in the classrooms.

You can see more information about our program at:    Contact Peggy Murphy at for more information.


Next Generation Program — Utah State University

Families completing the Next Generation Program with Utah State University Extension

In 2012 Utah State legislature passed the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act to combat the cycle of intergeneration poverty among low income families. This act requires the Department of Workforce Services establish and maintain a system tracking intergenerational poverty and to use that data to assist government entities in breaking the cycle.

Utah Food $ense (SNAP-Ed) is one of the agencies tasked with helping break this cycle of poverty.  A pilot program in Weber County named Next Generation Kids recruited six families. These families attended a series of classes focused on healthy food choices, family mealtime, budgeting food monies, and basic cooking skills. The end results were excellent and participants showed increased confidence in the kitchen, improved self-efficacy, and a greater awareness of safe food handling. Utah Food $ense proved to be an effective educational source for the IGP initiative and looks forward to more opportunities to teach families the SNAP-Ed principles of eating healthy on a limited budget.  

Next Generation Kids was featured in the KSL news for it’s great work.  To view the story and a short video clip, click here.  

Texas A & M — “Kids’ Camp: Fun, Food, Fitness”

Children making a healthy recipe during a summer camp.

The Hopkins County Community Health/Wellness Alliance completed the fifth year for “Kids’ Camp: Fun, Food, Fitness”, targeting Sulphur Springs students in grades 1 thru 4.  Components of the camp are nutrition (lots of hands-on activities), physical activity (including Walk Across Texas), and gardening (led by Master Gardeners).  The camp is a 4-week, 3-days-per-week, summer camp, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon.  Volunteers assisting Texas A&M AgriLife Extension in implementation of the camp include Department of State Health Services staff, Community Action Network staff, High School Blue Blaze Drill Team, community partners, Master Gardeners, Master Wellness Volunteers, and Family & Consumer Sciences Committee members.

Evaluations indicated that students:

  1. Could identify the five food groups
  2. Understood the importance of eating breakfast
  3. Learned that they need 60 minutes of physical activity every day
  4. Indicated that they would replicate the recipes at home
  5. Understood the importance of limiting sugary beverages and snacks

48 students enrolled in the summer camp program.

For more information about the program, contact Johanna Hicks at 

SNAC Report — Utah State University

Family having a meal together.

The State Nutrition Action Coalition (SNAC) in Utah released a report about the impact of collaboration with different agencies on nutrition education.   Collaboration is considered to be an important approach to foster the management of health education.  This report includes data collected from 2014 from numerous members of our SNAC and created one report to share with stakeholders and policy makers in the state.  This report shows how agencies are working together to help Utahns improve food security and overall health. 

To access the full report, visit 2014 SNAC Report.

School Gardens

April was National Garden Month!  We are pleased to highlight West Virginia’s work in school gardens. To learn more about the school garden project, visit here.