Let's Move

US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture at NCSU

Earlier this week, US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Dr. Kathleen Merrigan kicked off her nationwide ”Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” College Tour here in North Carolina. The Center For Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) hosted Merrigan for free lectures at N.C. A&T State University and at N.C. State University February 9. As a national leader in the sustainable food movement, Merrigan spoke at NCSU’s Danbey Hall to an auditorium full of students, professors, farmers, chefs, and concerned citizens. Inter-Faith Food Shuttle (IFFS) staff had a moment to chat with the Deputy Secretary as she toured the NCSU Campus Farmers’ Market with CEFS. Farm Manager Steven Horton and Young Farmer Training Program Coordinator Mitra Sticklen had a chance to meet Dr. Merrigan and explain a bit about IFFS internship and training programs. She wished us the best of luck with these programs and suggested that there should be more programs like ours across the nation. Just a few hours later, many IFFS team members attended her NCSU lecture.

Merrigan’s approach toward whole-system food security is exciting because it connects all the pieces of our broken food system. She explained that the linked problems of diabetes, obesity, food insecurity, and malnutrition could be solved with combined efforts to practice healthy eating habits from an early age and create more local farms. Building a culture of healthy communities who eat fresh food within a vibrant local economy is the basic idea for Merrigan’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” campaign.  Her approach is to promote regional food systems by creating equal access to healthy food and new jobs, and focusing on young leaders to transform the food system.

In a nod to other successful programs at a national level, Merrigan highlighted the first anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative to fight childhood obesity and promote healthier lifestyles. Merrigan applauded Michelle Obama for bringing children’s diets in school and at home into the national conversation.

A USDA Press Release from the NCSU lecture quotes Merrigan as saying:

“The Obama Administration believes this is a historic opportunity to help win the future by laying a new foundation for economic growth, creating jobs and building and revitalizing critical infrastructure here in North Carolina and in rural communities across America through supporting and establishing local and regional food systems as an economic development strategy to keep wealth in local communities,”

In addition to offering many options for USDA internships for students in the audience, Merrigan also directed young leaders to apply for FoodCorps , a “yearlong term of public service in school food systems. Once stationed, FoodCorps members will build Farm to School supply chains, expand food system and nutrition education programs, and build and tend school food gardens.”  North Carolina is one of ten states chosen for 2011 FoodCorps through a partnership between CEFS and 4-H, and Merrigan urged audience members to join this year of service for North Carolina’s school food system.

The USDA team engaged the audience with interactive remotes, and Merrigan quizzed attendees about everything from nutrition education to profitable crops in North Carolina. Here are a few interesting statistics from her presentation:

  • 73% of the USDA budget is for nutrition education
  • 43.4 million Americans (that’s 1 in 7) are on SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps
  • 1 in 4 SNAP dollars are redeemed at Walmart
  • 45% of the food dollars spent in Detroit are SNAP dollars

Yikes! You can see from these numbers that our food system is in serious trouble, and we need some serious game-changers to face these challenges.

Merrigan briefly fielded a few questions about local crop sources in the military (see more on this blog), and a question from IFFS Farm Educator Sun Butler about organic farmers and a recent USDA recent decision to deregulate genetically engineered crops. While her response to this question was short and opened the doors for further discussion, she pointed to a strategy of “coexistance” between farmers who use organic methods and farmers who use genetically engineered crops. Merrigan closed simply by saying,

“Not every family needs an accountant. Not every family needs a laywer. But every family needs a farmer…Do you know yours?”

Learning to cook healthy meals through Operation Frontline

Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign has made Americans begin a conversation about nutrition among children in America. Inter-Faith Food Shuttle is working to educate families and children by going into communities and teaching healthy cooking classes through Operation Frontline (OFL).

Today's guest post is by Madeline Frye, a senior in NC State's Nutrition program and OFL volunteer.

I am fortunate enough to be working with an amazing group of fellow students to teach the OFL Side by Side class in Knightdale’s Headstart Center. I have been keeping you all informed on how our classes have been progressing through our six-week healthy lifestyle adventure. This week sure was full of exciting activities!

For our second week (catch up with the 1st Knightdale class on our OFL blog), the class came together and learned many new things about fruits they had never tasted before, economic ways to purchase healthy foods, and how to tell the differences between whole and refined grains. At the beginning of class, everyone got to taste test some uncommon fruits and vegetables. Mangos, kiwis, and hummus were loved the most and became snacks for the rest of the day. Hummus is another form of chickpeas (Garbanzo beans), which was and ingredient we cooked with in our Chinese vegetables and rice last week.

The children learning about their plants!

We were also very lucky to plant our first snap pea plants! Byron, our class gardener, made sure to tell everyone the proper ways to care for their plants, such as making sure to water it every day, and place it in lots of sun light. Every plant also had a green stick for it to wind up as it starts to grow. Each family got to take them home to care for while they blossom over the next couple of weeks.

Nate and his daughter chopping some veggies

At the end of the day, we cooked an amazing meal of Barley Jambalaya. Chopping up all of the vegetables was no problem with our talented parents showing off their knife skills. The children were great kitchen aids by collecting the chopped vegetables, mixing all of the spices, and helping to set the table. Chef Jay really enjoys the amazing help and company in the kitchen!

It is always nice to sit down and enjoy an amazing meal with your family that you made together. All of the families loved our dinner and were discussing the different vegetables and spices that you could substitute and experiment with. Why don’t you try this week’s recipe on your own?



Barley Jambalaya

serves 6


  • 1 cup barley*
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 2 medium celery stalks
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 4 ounces turkey ham*
  • 1-tablespoon canola oil
  • 1-teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1-½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, no salt added

*Chef’s Notes:

Turkey ham can be substituted with ham, turkey, chicken, or turkey sausage. You can also substitute brown rice for barley if you like. To save time, cook the barley up to two days ahead of time, refrigerate, and add to soup pot in step 11.


  1. Measure and place barley in a colander and rinse under cold water. Add barley, water, and bay leaves to a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and cook 45 minutes or until barley is tender. Place barley in a colander, draining any excess water, and set aside.
  3. Rinse celery and green pepper.
  4. Peel and rinse the onions. Peel garlic cloves.
  5. Dice onion, celery, and green peppers. Mince garlic.
  6. Dice turkey ham into tiny, ¼-inch pieces.
  7.  Heat large soup pot over medium heat, and add canola oil when pan is hot. Add meat, onions, celery, peppers, and garlic to the soup pot. Mix well.
  8. Sauté 5-10 minutes, scraping bottom of pan periodically.
  9. Measure and add salt, cayenne pepper, oregano, and black pepper to the pot, along with the canned tomatoes, and stir.
  10. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  11. Add cooked barley, and stir to combine.
  12. Add more liquid, if necessary, and cook over low heat for another 5-10 minutes to combine flavors and reheat the barley.
  13. Remove bay leaves before serving.

If you'd like more information on volunteering or sponsoring an OFL class, contact our Director of Nutrition, Katherine Andrew, at Katherine@foodshuttle.org