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Students help UK boost health through blackberries

Lucinda Smith is hoping to create a more health-conscious Kentucky, one blackberry at a time. 

Last summer, the Cumberland Valley RECC consumer-member, then a senior human nutrition major at the University of Kentucky (UK), mapped the location of blackberry bushes that had been distributed to people through the UK Community Engagement Core and Berea College’s Grow Appalachia program. 

“I worked with Josh Knight, UK senior extension associate with the Center for Crop Diversification, to map where the blackberry bushes were planted across Clay and Letcher counties,” says the Corbin resident. “This allowed us to create a unified map of both counties to see how the interest flowed.” 

Smith, who had received an undergraduate research award from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment that was matched by UK’s Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, worked with Dawn Brewer, an assistant professor in that department and leader of the Community Engagement Core. This is a component of the University of Kentucky Superfund Research Center, which is funded by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences. 

“My students and I work with community partners that have land where they can plant blackberry bushes and an audience to teach people about the relationship between good nutrition and reducing the harmful effects of pollution on the body,” says Brewer. “The bushes generate a plentiful source of blackberries that are a nutrient-rich fruit that is very healthy, but tends to be expensive for people to purchase.” 

The BerryCare program, as it is called, has been implemented in central and eastern Kentucky. 

Bringing berries to Kentuckians has had an impact on Smith’s future goals. 

“As a human nutrition major, I learn about how food and nutrition impact the body on a chemical level before leading to serious chronic illness,” she says. “Through this project, I was able to have hands-on experience laying groundwork for healthy eating habits.” 

Smith plans to attend medical school with a focus on family medicine. 

“I hope to bring my knowledge and experience in human nutrition to my home of southeastern Kentucky,” she says. 

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