BANNER ELK — Avery County residents are going green—on their dinner plates, that is.
Melanie Cashion, who is known across the county as the “food lady,” is helping individuals and families across the local area eat better and live healthier lives through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
EFNEP is a federally funded program through the Avery County Agriculture Extension Service which teaches new skills to families, individuals and communities to help them overcome barriers to healthy eating and physical activity.
Through teaching a series of 10 classes, Cashion is tasked with going into schools, civic organizations and homes to educate individuals and families on healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices, such as preparing and eating more meals at home, making healthy food and drink choices, increasing physical activity and limiting TV time.
When going out to the community and sharing the benefits of EFNEP to clubs like the Rotary Club of Avery County, Cashion enthusiastically shares the positive impact the program has made on the lives of children and adults alike, with the latter being the group that Cashion is especially passionate about.
“In one class, it was a group of young, pregnant mothers. One mother did not know you could by chicken and make chicken nuggets yourself at home. She literally did not know anything about cooking. Anything. So I take these folks from beginning stages and teach them how to cook. We also talk about how to use your food dollar wisely, how to plan a meal, how to shop and how to get more exercise,” Cashion said.
According to a 2020 report by the NC Cooperative Extension, the EFNEP program is proving effective in both Avery and Mitchell counties. Last year, 393 individuals were reached through direct programming, while an additional 354 low-income individuals were reaching supplemental outreach efforts in both counties.
Testimonies from the past year included one woman who lost a total weight of 12 pounds after attending classes and choosing not to consume any soda or fast food over the two-month duration of the class. The woman even brought her family along and attested that each family member had significant changes in their habitats and diets through the EFNEP curriculum.
“(During classes), they actually get to taste and watch and sometimes help make the recipe each time I come. They also get a food tasting (not during COVID), and they get to see if they like the recipe. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve been told ‘Miss Melanie, I didn’t know I liked broccoli.’ That happens as much with the adults as it does with the children,” Cashion said.
At the end of each lesson, participants are given a recipe, which includes advice on how to plan, shop, fix, eat and exercise. Just as importantly, Cashion even sends home cooking equipment with some families, such as cutting boards, measuring cups and water bottles.
Cashion says that years ago she was learning these same tools and techniques that she is not teaching across the county. After growing up eating the same way as many other families, she began cooking for herself and learning healthy eating habits after taking a culinary class in high school. She now shares those same life lessons in the classes she currently teaches.
“When I grew up, we ate hot dogs, frozen pizzas or beans and potatoes, those kinds of food. The whole reason why was because my mother didn’t really have a mom or grandma that taught her those things. I have the best mom in the world, but she didn’t know those things to teach me. So when I got in high school, I took culinary arts and had someone who taught me,” Cashion said. “For people that don’t have that, maybe they come from a broken home or mom lives in a different town, how do they ever get the chance to learn those things? That’s what my program is all about.”
To learn more about the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and other programs offered by the Avery County Agriculture Extension, click to avery.ces.ncsu.edu.