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Farm-to-table event exposes nutrition knowledge gap

newspaperMore than 50 medical, nutrition and nursing students from the University of Virginia toured local farms and enjoyed local foods at a Farm Bureau-sponsored farm-to-table event Sept. 25.

While giving students a chance learn how local foods are produced was an important aspect of the tour, the real lesson was that even health care professionals are confused about accurate nutritional advice.

“We live in a country that’s obsessed with food!” commented Dr. Paul Freedman, an associate professor of politics at the university’s College of Arts and Sciences. “We eat a lot of it, we talk a lot about it, we watch a lot about it on television, we are constantly reading about it. But unfortunately, this din, this cacophony of messages about food, about nutrition, about health often has the effect of making people confused and uncertain. Sometimes we just give up.”

He added that “it’s particularly important that we train nutrition professionals who can not only wade through all of these messages themselves, but can translate this in clear and simple ways to their patients, to their clients and to the public in general.”

A lack of clear and accurate nutritional advice is a challenge facing everyone, agreed Dr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, a nursing professor at the U.Va. School of Nursing. Yet, in public opinion polls, medical professionals are considered one of the top sources of good nutrition advice.

“Social media will not necessarily tell you what’s healthy,” Siega-Riz noted. “There are definitely different websites that are true and trusted, like the USDA. is an excellent resource; so is the American Heart Association. There’s also, which is the American Dietetic Association. Those are your trusted sources. If you just plug in as key search words ‘food,’ ‘eating healthy’ or ‘organics,’ you’re going to get a lot of hits. And some of it is not going to be credible information, from individuals who are not well-trained.”

Andrew Burns, a first-year student at the U.Va. School of Medicine, said he was talking to people during dinner about how nutrition is an important part of our lives, “and as physicians and nurses, a big part of our jobs is to educate our patients on nutrition. But in my four years of education I will have exactly zero nutritional training.”

The tour, meal and panel discussion about nutrition was co-sponsored by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and U.Va., in cooperation with the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture, Innovation and Rural Sustainability.

The students visited Bellair Farm CSA, a certified organic vegetable community-supported agriculture farm, and the Morven Kitchen Garden. They also observed the soybean fields at Morven Farm and heard from Farm Bureau farmer members Kevin Engel and James Saunders about what it takes to produce commercial farm crops like corn, wheat, soybeans, fruit and nursery products.

“To have those farmers available to us to ask questions to, to show their enthusiasm for what they do, really does translate to us clinicians who are super-passionate about what we do,” commented Becca Lesnoff, a clinical nurse leader student in the U.Va. master’s of nursing program.

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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Augusta Free Press