Fourth-generation CALS student seeks to connect agriculture and nutrition
For the past four generations a member of Megan Johnson’s family has earned a degree from the University of Idaho’s Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Johnson, a fourth-generation Vandal, will receive her bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition with an emphasis in dietetics this May.
Johnson’s great-grandmother, Beulah Berreman Marshall, graduated from UI in 1934 with a degree in home economics; her grandmother, Marge Marshall Brown, earned a degree in home economics in 1963; and her aunt, Catherine Brown Pachner, received a bachelor’s in child development in 1992.
But it’s not just an FCS family. Johnson’s grandfather received his Juris Doctor from UI in 1964. Her father earned a degree in accounting and finance in 1988, and her mother earned a secondary education degree the same year. Her brother recently graduated with a degree in finance and her cousin is finishing up his freshman year in accounting. Another aunt earned a bachelor’s in veterinary science.
“We are a big Vandal family,” Johnson said. “It was never like I didn’t have a choice where to go to school, but I knew all of these wonderful experiences that my family members had at UI and saw all the positive things they had done with their degrees and so it was a natural fit for me to continue that legacy.”
A Passion for Agriculture and Nutrition
Growing up around her family’s cattle business in Parma instilled a passion for agriculture in Johnson at a young age. She discovered her interest in human nutrition in high school and wanted to find a way to combine both passions together.
“I feel like nutrition is such a unique way to make a huge impact on people’s lives,” Johnson said. “Everybody has to eat and I think people should enjoy food and eat well to protect their health. That, initially, is what interested me in dietetics.”
Johnson often looks to her grandmother for advice when preparing menus or working on projects. Brown was a home economics teacher in Lewiston and also co-taught a community gourmet cooking class with fellow Vandal graduate, Sherri Ely Ritter, resulting in a co-authored, self-published cookbook, “Cooking with Class,” in 1979.
“My grandma is a big part of the reason that I love food so much,” Johnson said. “It was a way to be close to her and I have such pleasant memories around the foods that she makes.”
Johnson’s experiences at UI have resulted in a new passion: research. She volunteered for an undergraduate research project with FCS assistant professor Samantha Ramsay and enrolled in Ramsay’s research methods course.
“I honestly didn’t realize how much research was going on in dietetics and how easy it was for students, especially undergrad students, to get involved,” Johnson said. “That has been a huge thing that has changed my college experience – being able to be involved in that undergraduate research.”
Uniting Agriculture and Nutrition
Johnson will begin a master’s program in dietetics with Ramsay this fall and plans to continue on to earn her doctorate, focusing on nutritional epidemiology.
“I think that would be a great way to further unite those worlds of agriculture and nutrition because it’s a very research heavy field and I think that’s what the world of agriculture needs in order to connect to the health care world,” Johnson said.
Connecting agriculture and health care will be the focus of Johnson’s work in her master’s program, a project that Ramsay has been eager to explore.
“We have a gap in a connection between meeting our health care needs and agriculture,” Ramsay said. “It’s almost like there are two different camps — agriculture and the very medical community of health professionals. Both sides are talking food, but in different ways and not necessarily on the same page.”
Ramsay’s concept is to provide a unified message about how the agriculture community is working toward supporting the human body and ultimately health that will resonate with growers, health care providers and legislators.
“What I’d like it to be is an outreach effort that we use within a research framework,” Ramsay said. “We’ve done farm to home, we’ve done farm to the table and we’ve done farm to school. These are great, but they are missing one key element, which is the human. We need to bring the human part in.”
Ready for the Future
Johnson feels prepared for the next phase in her education after the past semester spent as an intern at a hospital and the Department of Corrections.
Johnson worked with the Department of Corrections dietary services director who oversees the production of food for up to 9,000 inmates in Idaho.
“I absolutely loved working at the Department of Corrections,” Johnson said. “I was terrified. I didn’t think that I could do it. But I had such a wonderful and supportive preceptor who made sure that I was pushing myself. I enjoyed working with the staff and the inmates and providing some nutritional education to them.”
Her internship experiences helped build her confidence and reaffirmed that she was headed in the right direction with her future.
“I’m excited to continue my education,” Johnson said. “I feel really good about working with Dr. Ramsay. She is such an amazing personal role model, so I’m really looking forward to getting to work with her more.”
Continuing the family legacy in family and consumer sciences education appears to be the right fit for Johnson and her grandmother couldn’t be prouder.
“She is really proud of me and that is huge,” Johnson said. “It’s really cool for her to see me following in her footsteps.”
Story by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences