SFC is probably used to volunteers coming and going, but I am sure that I was one new face this summer that never seemed to leave! As part of another exciting collaboration with the UT School of Public Health (UTSPH), an opportunity “cropped up” for me to “cook up” an evaluation for The Happy Kitchen’s cooking and nutrition classes, as part of an internship for my Masters program. The idea that Joy (The Happy Kitchen Director) envisioned was to measure different aspects of participants’ life that may have changed since completing the program, such as use of healthy cooking oils, use of the nutrition facts label, or intake of leafy greens. After a lot of work was done on the questionnaire, it consisted of questions to measure participants’ recall of two timepoints (e.g., before The Happy Kitchen classes and in the week before the interview); later when the data is analyzed, we will be able to tell if there is a significant difference in certain areas between these two timepoints, which could mean that something was learned and maintained from the classes. When the data analysis is complete, we will hopefully be able to determine which factors, in particular, help individuals to be healthier in their eating and what else SFC can do to improve barriers to healthy eating. Hopefully we will see that a large portion of the participants using farmers markets and other SFC programs, which in itself is definitely a (tasty) step to healthy, sustainable living
Overall, this setup worked great for both me and SFC, given that I needed experience doing public health work, and they needed someone who knew about running a study and would work for free. Given the breadth and amount of work that SFC does, the organization is still relatively small, and running a study like this requires funding and a large time commitment that SFC has had to allocate to other projects in the past. With future expansion set to occur at the new SFC building early next year, this really was a key time for SFC to test see if The Happy Kitchen is meeting its objectives. It is always daunting to start a job somewhere new, and never before had I been the authority on a project that had such responsibility wrapped up in it. I will tell you, though, I thought I was a pretty “green” person before I came to SFC, but never have I had to think about composting my lunch scraps at work. There was one incident where I threw away a banana peel (because it can’t be recycled)- I swear that I thought I would be shunned for eternity, but I came to love the staff at SFC!
All joking aside, it was real work pulling this off with just a little bit of book knowledge. Though I have made it through undergrad and (almost) graduate school and pulled a couple all-nighters along the way, never before has my schedule been as crazy as this summer has been with classes, my part-time job, and this internship with SFC! Looking back, it has definitely been worth it- How many people get to say that they volunteered at a great organization with great people for degree credit, plus- oh yeah- you are running this big study in which you are basically your own boss, have creative control, and have someone to compost your banana peels and tea bags? Alright, so I was not completely running wild, and I did have to answer to Joy, who collaborated with me on the study design and questionnaire topics. And- okay- I totally had help from my advisers and friends at UTSPH, who gave me a lot of great comments and advice. I could have not completed the study without the bilingual Community Health Organizer VISTAs, who dedicated their time and helped me carry out the actual phone interviews (Sadly, my own Spanish is muy trieste). Doing the phone interviews was a time-consuming job for all of us, not to mention the time it takes to enter everything into a database to be later analyzed and the initial time spent on translating everything. At the end of our efforts, we completed 90 interviews with some great people all over the Austin metro!
I must admit: I hate talking on the phone. I blame it on my work history, in which my phone experience lay primarily in dealing with angry/impatient customers and patients. My poor family is a victim of this weird quirk, as well, and is forced to put up with mainly texts and emails from someone they only see a few times a year and who lives 1,000 miles away! Despite this fact, I loved these phone calls once everyone started sharing. I never thought I would meet such characters and genuine people over the phone, and I found it difficult not to just crumple up the questionnaire and begin chatting about life. So if you were one of the ones that made the phone calls such an enjoyable experience for me, thanks for helping me face my fear!
I also want to give some credit to the facilitators for The Happy Kitchen classes- Many of the positive comments we received in the phone interviews were about your attitude toward and knowledge about nutrition and cooking, coupled with fun personalities and a supportive atmosphere- I went to sit in on one of the classes and would be willing to contribute my own positive comments from that singular experience! The enthusiastic comments that had nothing but praise for The Happy Kitchen, overall, also poured in with overwhelming sincerity and mass. Based on my background in the social sciences, I knew this phenomenon was not normal for study recruitment. Though the actual statistical results will not be completed until I complete my thesis this fall, I am confident that The Happy Kitchen must be doing something right!
I may have helped SFC and The Happy Kitchen by evaluating their program, but I was helped myself. The last day of the study, I brought in gluten-free chocolate espresso cupcakes (decorated with fondant “seedlings” and made with pureed black beans!), which I was more open to trying than I would have ever been before SFC. Also, I can no longer go without feeling guilty when I do not compost my food scraps. I would thank SFC, but because of their influence, now I’ll just have to take one of the City of Austin composting classes offered at the SFC Farmers’ Markets just so I can receive the free composting pail that I can no longer seem to live without…. Stop bettering my life, SFC! I can’t take anymore!
By Rachel Pauley