January 21, 2011

Our Apologies!

Due to a technical glitch some of our subscribers received a re-post from last August. We are sorry this happened and we are tracking down why this occurred.

Thank you to all of our readers that notified us about the issue.

January 19, 2011

Valuing Civic Engagement

Ramona Madhosingh-Hector, Regional Specialized Agent, Urban Environmental Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

When the New Year began, many of us resolved to do something new or different or resolved to ignore resolutions and just take it one day at a time. Whichever path you chose, civic engagement can help you maintain that commitment. Simply defined, civic engagement is the opportunity for individuals or groups to address issues of public concern in the communities where they live.

Civic engagement plays an important role in achieving the vision of sustainability and allows individuals and groups to serve the communities where they live and to become connected with the people who live in that community. Opportunities for civic engagement vary in magnitude and scale and include simple volunteer efforts in your neighborhood, working with nonprofit groups, or working at a community, regional or international scale through well established entities. Building sustainable communities relies on citizen participation and recognizes the value of social interactions to build and strengthen our communities.

So how you can get involved and what are the benefits of civic engagement? Getting involved is easy – join the neighborhood association or the PTO at your child’s school, get involved with your church, volunteer in your community or county, or donate your time to a local nonprofit group. These groups will allow you to connect with other individuals who also want to serve and contribute to community development. Maybe you have an ill neighbor that you can support or a special skill that can be used by a volunteer group. Even if you think you don’t have special skills, many groups provide training that allow you to become involved or they may assign you a job that does not require a specialized skill set. Either way, you’re still able to contribute to your community.

What are the benefits? Civic involvement allows you to identify areas of need in your community and it gives you an opportunity to voice your concerns about actions and decisions that affect your community. An informed and involved citizen can work to make a difference in their community in areas of safety (sidewalks, speed bumps, neighborhood watch), service (street clean-up projects, helping aging neighbors with yard or house maintenance projects) and going green (carpooling, recycling, repurposing). All of these opportunities can lead to greater neighborhood character and stability which will create strong, sustainable communities. Best of all, the biggest benefit you’ll receive is that you had the experience of a lifetime working with individuals of diverse backgrounds and receiving the “thanks” of individuals who couldn’t have done it without your help!

Through the University of Florida’s Extension Service, there are many opportunities for you to become involved either through training or volunteering. The Extension Service offers Master Gardener, Master Money Mentor and Sustainable Floridian training as well as 4H family and youth opportunities.

In 2011, get out there, make a difference, and reap the benefits of a stronger, more connected community!


January 17, 2011

The Latest on the “Diet Plans”

By Meredith Harper, Dietetic Intern Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, Pinellas County Extension

With so many different diets promising quick and easy weight loss, it can be difficult to separate the myths from the facts. Here’s a look at some of the latest diets and the “raw” truth about them.

Eat Like Our Ancestors
The Paleo Diet also called the Caveman Diet, claims that it will help you lose weight and have increased athletic ability. Based on the premise of eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, this diet excludes foods that became commonplace after the rise of agriculture such as grains, legumes, and dairy products. Periodic fasts are advocated, as cavemen often endured hunger while searching for foods. This diet is high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate, recommending that most of one’s diet come from animal foods. If you follow this diet, you’ll likely end up with higher cholesterol levels (putting you at risk for heart disease), less energy (due to low carbohydrate intake), and possibly food-borne illness if you’re among the folk that eats barely cooked meat (apparently cavemen did not have fire).

The Latest Diet Rage
The Gluten-Free Diet was originally developed for sufferers of Celiac Disease, which is intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barely, and rye. Recently it’s taken off as a measure to achieve weight loss as well. Gluten-free products are now common in groceries and restaurants. Unfortunately, these specialty foods will put a dent in your diet. You’re also likely to miss out on important B vitamins and dietary fiber found in whole grain products. Plus, there is no guarantee of weight loss: you can easily fill up on gluten-free cookies and brownies. Unless you have Celiac Disease, your best bet is to stick to a well-balanced diet that includes wheat, barley, and rye.

Twinkies for Weight Loss?
The Twinkie Diet has been made popular by a nutrition professor who proved that you can lose weight while eating a diet of junk food. Of course, there is a catch: he restricted his intake to 1800 calories a day. While calories are important in weight loss, the quality of the calories must be considered: eating a diet of Twinkies is going to provide you with a lot of sugar and fat, and not any of the benefits of healthier diets.

O Positive or AB Negative?
The Blood Type Diet suggests that your blood type controls what diet works best for your body. When it comes down to it, there is no clinical evidence that people with type O blood need higher protein while those with type A should be vegetarians. Contrary to claims, this diet will not help you lose weight or improve your body’s function.

It’s All About Lifestyle
When choosing your foods, it’s best to go with the tried and true rather than the latest fads. Choose meals that offer a healthy mix of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein such as baked chicken and fish. Practice portion control and add a little physical activity, and you’ve got yourself a plan that will help you look and feel great.

For more information, check out these RD-conducted reviews of popular diets.

January 12, 2011

4-H Gardening Growing Strong

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Agent, Pinellas County Extenison 

Nationally, Americans are once again discovering the joys of home vegetable gardening. Whether it is the downturn of the economy, Michelle Obama’s White House garden, or the emphasis today of buying local produce, vegetable gardens are popping up in yards, schools, and community gardens.

According to a 2009 survey of the National Gardening Association (NGA), seven million more households are participating in home vegetable gardening than last. This is an increase of 19% over 2008 and means that 37% of all United States households are doing some part of their own food production. The reasons given ranged from quality and taste to cost and food safety.

The new gardeners are a cross section of United States demographics. The National Gardening Association report concludes that “There are few other outdoor activities where virtually every demographic group is so well represented, no matter what their age, education, income, marital status, household size, gender, or regional location.”

While the focus of the NGA survey was on adults, 4-H and youth gardening is also on the rise. In Pinellas County, youth have the option of using their home vegetable garden as their 4-H project. Since this is an urban county, and many families don’t have room in their yards for a vegetable garden, many youth choose to join the Ochs Garden 4-H Club. The Ochs 4-H Garden Club is a solid model for urban 4-H programming. Instead of backyard gardens, youth come to the Ochs 4-H Educational Center (located at 14644 113th Avenue N., Largo) to tend to their own 10 X 12 foot garden plot. This gardening program was started 20 years ago and has never been as popular as it is now. There are currently 60 children enrolled in the club. Each child works in a garden plot and each has the opportunity to select a related 4-H project book to accompany their work. Using University of Florida recommendations, this 4-H Agent, Master Gardeners, and 4-H volunteers instruct the children in how best to manage their garden plot. In this program, the children learn more than sound gardening practices; they learn to eat new vegetables. Along with the usual beans, peas, and tomatoes, there are community plots with Swiss chard, kohlrabi, New Zealand spinach, and kale. Often, families learn together to try and like something new.

Pinellas elementary schools are using gardens as teaching tools for hands on science class. High Point Elementary and Fuguitt Elementary schools have maintained vegetable gardens for the past two years, maintained by interested parent volunteers and teachers. Classrooms take turns planting, weeding, and watering.

Afterschool programs are also incorporating vegetable gardening into their programs. The Greater Ridgecrest Area Youth Development Initiative (GRAYDI) has started a new 4-H afterschool club focusing on gardening. There are twenty youth in the club gardening in five raised beds. The group has already learned how to plant seeds and transplants, understand plant families, and which bugs are beneficial, and which are harmful to gardens. As the youth work in the garden, they learn what the vegetable plant looks like and which part of the plant we eat.

While working with youth gardeners, it becomes evident that the benefits of gardening go beyond the resulting fresh produce or exercise time outside. Children working together in a garden learn organization skills, sharing, record keeping, persistence, patience, and the importance of planning. It is no wonder that interest in gardening continues to grow.

National Gardening Association:

Florida vegetable garden guidelines:

January 10, 2011

Extension in 2011

Mary Campbell, Extension Director and Urban Sustainability Agent, Pinellas County Extension

As we enter 2011, the mission of the University of Florida Pinellas County Extension is even more critical to local residents. All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation's more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities, have a third critical mission—extension. "Extension" means "reaching out," and—along with teaching and research—land-grant institutions "extend" their resources, solving public needs with university resources through non-formal, non-credit programs.

Congress created the extension system nearly a century ago (1914) to address agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent of the workforce was engaged in farming. Through Extension Agents working closely with farmers to provide better methods, the American agricultural revolution dramatically increased farm productivity. Extension changed the face of American farming and supported not only farm operations but family life through home economics and 4-H youth programs. The entire family was served by the expertise of Agents on subjects as diverse as crop rotation, food safety, youth development and money management.

Today, Pinellas County Extension still keeps residents informed on critical topics of interest. Local issues are more centered on resource conservation, environmentally friendly practices, sustainable development and challenges such as youth obesity. Extension provides continuing education that assists professionals to stay up to date with current information. Residents can find non-biased, scientific resources on topics like money management, energy conservation, composting and nutrition.

In the age of technology, Extension provides many on line resources and programs to make it easier to access information 24/7. The national extension system supports the eXtension Web site. One of the goals of eXtension is to develop a coordinated, Internet-based information system where customers will have round-the-clock access to trustworthy, balanced views of specialized information and education on a wide range of topics. The University of Florida database, EDIS –Electronic Data Information Source is also available. Each year, visitors to the EDIS Web site access one of over 7,000 publication titles more than 24 million times.

For local access, Pinellas County Extension provides a Frequently Asked Questions database at that is searchable and allows for residents to post new questions which are answered by the experts at Extension. The methods may have changed, but the information is still the most up to date science available from the University of Florida. Explore the on-line sites or register on line for a class this year to update your knowledge on a variety of topics. Extension is available to help our community learn sustainable practices and improve the quality of lives. Share our information with a friend who may not know about Extension. Join us on Facebook and Twitter in 2011!