Family and Consumer Sciences
Strengthening Families, Farms, Communities, and the Economy
NIFA’S Family & Consumer Sciences (FCS) Science Emphasis Area addresses 21st century human, economic, and health challenges. NIFA offers a range of research, education, and extension programs to help rural families and communities make healthy choices and better financial decisions to reach their full potential.
In 2017, NIFA committed $2.8 million in competitive funding through the Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) Program. RHSE-funded educational outreach programs address the needs of rural Americans through cooperative extension. RHSE supports non-formal education programs and services to promote and enhance rural health, strengthen economic vitality, and, in the long run, mitigate the effects of rural poverty. Projects focus on chronic disease prevention and the prevention and reduction of opioid abuse.
Opioid abuse is a critical issue across the nation. The annual societal costs of opioid overdose, abuse, and dependence are estimated at $78 billion, a figure that includes direct healthcare costs, lost productivity, and costs to the criminal justice system. The resulting impact on family well-being and community vitality are often less quantifiable—but nevertheless devastating—particularly in rural areas and farm communities.
Misuse and abuse of opioid-based prescription drugs disproportionately affects rural populations. Mississippi State University Extension’s RHSE-funded Promise Initiative provides community engagement forums; extension agent-led and peer-to-peer education; a social marketing campaign; and placement of drug take-back boxes in rural communities. This coordinated education and communications campaign promotes behavior change at the consumer-level that can reduce the risk of opioid misuse and abuse.
The prevalence of grandfamilies is on the rise across the country, with 1 in 14 children being the product of grandfamilies. West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for the percentage of grandparents raising one or more of their grandchildren. In its first year, West Virginia State University’s Healthy Grandparents program graduated 43 grandparents who were raising 90 grandchildren. Participants learned several modern-day parenting skills, including social media, navigating the school system, and literacy. More than 97 percent of participants reported being better prepared to raise their grandchildren.
With an average growing season of only 90 days, residents of Fairbanks, Alaska, don’t always have ready access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. The Fairbanks Native Association Elders & Youth Community Garden Enterprise distributes these hard-to-get foods to over 500 elders and low-income people in the area. More than a dozen volunteers contributed nearly 500 hours to the project last summer.
DC Central Kitchen, a community kitchen in the District of Columbia, develops and operates social ventures that target the cycle of hunger and poverty. Their programs prepare jobless adults for culinary careers, create living wage jobs for their graduates, and provide 3 million meals each year to homeless shelters, schools, and nonprofits across the District.
University of Kentucky (UK) leads the Extension Disaster Education Network “Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Planning” program, which helps build a community’s capacity to handle agricultural issues during emergencies. UK trained more than 1,100 people at 24 workshops in 20 states during the past three years.
North Carolina A&T University researchers found that long-term exposure to contaminants in animal production facilities contributes to respiratory diseases among agricultural workers, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Their research into structural and cellular differences in swine respiratory systems contributed new findings to the science of respiratory health for swine and, potentially, for humans, which could lead to improved treatments for COPD.
The Ohio State University’s Urban GEMS (Gardening Entrepreneurs Motivating Sustainability) program enriches young people in high-risk communities by instilling health-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors amongst young people, while they gain skills in science, agriculture, and food production. In its first year, participants operated 26 tower gardens in nine locations within Columbus area food deserts. Their goal is to operate 90 gardens within five years.
Bed bug infestations have grown exponentially and researchers at Pennsylvania State University answered the call. They showed that immobile fungus spores sprayed onto a surface can infect bed bugs. The exposed bed bugs carry the pathogen back to their nests to infect other bed bugs, and die within 3-4 days. This research led to the creation of Aprehend, a nontoxic biopesticide.
More than half of Indiana’s small farmers want to transfer their land and operations to their families, but have not yet made plans. Purdue University, Indiana, Extension is addressing this issue through workshops and information on the internet. Now, Indiana farmers are learning how to start succession planning, options for asset and management transfer, and the tools for risk management and financial feasibility.