Tia Schmitz, recent recipient of a master’s degree in public health, is the newest employee of the North Dakota State University Extension.

Schmitz began serving Richland County, North Dakota, as a family nutrition program agent on June 1. She is based at the Extension’s office in the Richland County Courthouse, Wahpeton.

A family nutrition agent provides nutrition and physical activity outreach for youth and families in households that are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“With the youth, I’ll be mostly working with schools where 50 percent or more of the students are receiving free or reduced lunches,” Schmitz said.

Once Richland County’s schools reopen to students, Schmitz expects to work closely with principals and teachers in creating plans for youth.

“It’s about introducing kids to different ways to eat healthy foods and stay physically active,” Schmitz said. “We want them to make smart, healthy choices.”

Besides teaching youth, Schmitz will also work with community partners to improve access to helpful foods and physical activity. She’s enthusiastic about the upcoming Twin Town Gardeners’ Market, which opens at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 9.

“We want to work with parents, guardians and adults on ways to eat healthy. When you spend carefully and thoughtfully, you can get the most out of your money and nutrition-wise,” Schmitz said.

Ensuring healthy food accessibility and security has long been a passion of Schmitz’s. She reminds residents to consider fruit and other alternatives while snacking.

“Right now, fruit is in season,” Schmitz said. “There’s blueberries and strawberries available. There are also healthy ways to bake, like making your own kale chips.”

Kale chips are a snack which the whole family can make. All they require are fresh kale, some olive oil and your choice of seasoning.

“You could coat them with a barbecue rub, or go for a Middle Eastern flavor. There are many ways to substitute in fruits and vegetables for your go-to unhealthy snacks,” Schmitz said.

Schmitz has a history of community involvement. Her previous jobs include serving as the SNAP Double Bucks coordinator at the farmers market in Moorhead, Minnesota; directing a community garden at First Presbyterian Church of Moorhead; assisting with COVID-19 case tracing with the North Dakota Department of Health; and working with individuals experiencing low income and health disparities as a behavioral health technician with the Dacotah Foundation, Fargo.

In May, Schmitz received her master’s degree from NDSU. She also has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, focusing on neuroscience, from Concordia College in Moorhead.

“When I started my education, I considered a career in privatized medicine before I discovered how many people I could help in the public sector,” Schmitz said.

Upon the public reopening of the Richland County Courthouse, Schmitz will have office hours from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday. The Extension can be reached at 701-642-7793.

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