Ashley Fondren was born and raised in small town Mississippi. Growing up in the South meant many hot summers in the garden followed by long stints in the kitchen listening to the whistle of a canner on the stove. The South is known for its cuisine, and Ashley was quick to discover a love of food and the special memories associated with harvesting, preparing, and enjoying wholesome meals with family and friends. Her interest in food and cooking led her to the Culinary Arts Institute at the Mississippi University for Women where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts with a minor in Food Journalism.
As the nation began to focus more attention on the poor health outcomes associated with overweight and obesity, Mississippi quickly became the poster child for the growing obesity epidemic. Could the food that Ashley held so near to her heart be cutting Mississippians’ lives short? At that point, Ashley decided to focus her attention on cooking skills as a means to combat poor nutrition practices. She enrolled in Mississippi State University’s Health Promotion program and in the summer of 2009, received her master’s degree in Health Promotion.
Ashley began her career with Cooperative Extension in 2008 as a graduate assistant and after graduation, an Extension Associate with the National leadership team for the eXtension Families, Food and Fitness community of practice. She worked with the team to obtain certification and later develop a social media strategy to engage FFF's target audience, parents and caregivers of young children. She then worked as the project coordinator for a 12 week healthy lifestyle program, Mississippi In Motion. The program was successfully implemented in schools throughout the state and a medical facility as a wellness program for employees and parents of students. The FFF CoP was used as an online social support tool for participants in the face-to-face Mississippi In Motion program.
Ashley is currently the coordinator of the Office of Nutrition Education (EFNEP and SNAP-Ed, FNP) at Mississippi State University. As coordinator, she leads efforts to improve health and well-being through enhanced nutrition and physical activity among Mississippi’s most vulnerable populations. Each year EFNEP and FNP work with thousands of Mississippi’s limited-resource families to teach them the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy choices.
As a wife and mother, Ashley realizes the challenges faced by parents to provide healthy meals to their families. She hopes that through her involvement with the Mississippi State Extension Service and eXtension's Families, Food and Fitness, she can help others overcome those challenges and enjoy food as a means to lead a rich, fulfilling life.
Ashley Fondren, MS, CHES
Mississippi State University Extension Service, Office of Nutrition Education Coordinator