Extension agent’s thesis assists homeland security

Extension agent's thesis assists homeland security By Kimberly Kolden Not many students have part of their graduate work funded by the Department of Homeland Security, but Sharon Guthmiller�s thesis on food security recently inspired a proposal leading to $32,000 in funding in order to help improve South Dakota�s food system.

Guthmiller, a Family and Consumer Science Extension agent in Yankton County, wrote the thesis based on comparing food security in the past with how food is handled now.

�The purpose of the project was to increase public awareness and knowledge of potential vulnerabilities associated with food security,� Guthmiller said.

After drafting a research paper, Guthmiller then divided it into segments that could be used as educational resources for adults and high school students in particular. Although Guthmiller�s project never reached it�s final phase, Joan Hegerfeld, a food safety Extension specialist in Brookings drafted a grant in 2003 using some of Guthmiller�s research and wording.

That small grant proposal has now been funded and will soon be helping disseminate food security and safety materials to food handlers at all levels of South Dakota�s food system.

�Now, a year and a half later, it�s been funded,� said Guthmiller.

While the grant is small compared to other research projects at South Dakota State University and the SDSU Cooperative extension office, the project is still very focused, according to Hegerfeld.

�That�s not very large, but it enables us to concentrate in an area for a little over a year,� said Hegerfeld. �This one is very focused for 15 months, focusing on food biosecurity and looking at what we can do as far as preventative measures that we can use to make sure we have a safe and secure system in this state. We�re targeting primarily the retail level, and our secondary target will be looking at the processing level.�

The committee formed to use the grant monies will work to facilitate getting information out to the people of this state who�s work involves handling food and identifying for them the areas of risk ensuring safety of food supply. Hegerfeld said the distribution will be aided by using the resources and connections already formed by the state�s extension offices.

One of the main focuses of the grant project will be high school students. The materials will hopefully help them become aware of what�s involved with the global food supply, and the food produced locally in South Dakota, Hagerfeld said. Also, educating that age group about what measures are in place and why they aid in making the food supply safe will play a key role.

�We can�t take our food supply for granted,� said Hegerfeld. �What role we play depends upon what we work at.

�Looking at the high school age, there�s a lot of people that age who end up working in a food system somewhere at one of those levels.�

Hegerfeld also said that working in fast food restaurants may only be a jumping-off point for teens. For those going into the agricultural industries, the food security knowledge will be helpful to them while working at both ends of the system � hitting two birds with one stone.

�Our true goal is to (benefit) that end user, and that�s the people in South Dakota,� Hagerfeld said.

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