Judy Huffaker, R.D.
Nutrition Education Specialist, Grade PreK-12
Alhambra Unified School District, Alhambra, CA
Los Angeles County
This interview was originally published in the June 2011 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."
Judy Huffaker, center, with her husband, Don, and two daughters, Monika and Candace.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I enjoy working with people and wanted to be able to make an impact on one's behavior change for improving their eating habits. I wanted to share how one can find the fun in eating healthy.
How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I have been a registered dietitian for 29 years—the first 19 in health care and the past 10 years in education. I am also an instructor for an ROP Culinary Arts class for high school students, many of whom have never cooked before.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
There are many people in my life that have influenced me towards my career path. I'll begin with my father, who taught me about agriculture and later about the exciting food industry. I have been surrounded by family members, Linda Yoshioka, Shirley Woo and Kirsten Woo, all inspiring educators.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Oftentimes, students and families do not understand the full intentions for adopting healthy eating choices and being physically active until they hear about chronic diseases they may be at risk for. I shared how individuals who are obese or at risk of becoming obese, may increase their chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension. One of my students shared that his mother, grandmother, and aunt all were overweight and had diabetes. He returned for the remaining lessons and shared he wanted to learn how he could help his siblings and himself reduce their chances of developing diabetes. One year later, this same student stopped me in the hallway and was excited to share that not only was he was eating more fruits and vegetables, making better eating choices, participating in after-school activities, and lost weight... but felt good about his health. How cool is that?
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
My favorite AITC event is the annual Ag in the Classroom Conference. It's fabulous and a great place to network with other educators who integrate agriculture in the classroom—I get so many new ideas and resources each year! I am always energized to take back the wonderful ideas to my school environment.
How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
As the nutrition educator for Alhambra Unified School District's Network for a Healthy California, one of the ways we promote fruits and vegetables is through our Harvest of the Month program. Each month as we introduce the featured produce, we integrate agriculture as well; students are able to learn where and how the produce is grown, as well as "farm to table" concepts. Our teachers have been using school gardens for their outdoor laboratories as they make these connections.
Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
Providing nutrition education for preschool students has been rewarding, especially in teaching them about eating fruits and vegetables, and where and how they are grown. We integrate the senses, allowing them to touch, feel, smell, and sample the produce being featured. We are working on extending this project and growing various types of produce so they can harvest fruits and veggies for the new upcoming year, such as pumpkins, squash, and potatoes.
Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
As a child I grew up on a farm, surrounded by chickens and horses, not to mention the fields of asparagus and strawberries. Today, this farm which once enriched my family heritage no longer exists, but the fond memories and ties to agriculture still remain a big part of my life. As I share these experiences with my students, they find it hard to believe what life could be like on a farm, when they are surrounded by technology, supermarket chains, and a surplus of restaurants to provide them with all their culinary needs. Just as the simple phrase sums things up, "from farm to table," I think it is important for our students to truly experience and understand the true meaning of what this means and where their foods come from.