Behind the scenes of a team: District 8 strategic connections

This month we’re highlighting the strategic connections that Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator Randy Bell grows and maintains in District 8.

Headshot of Randy Bell.

Randy Bell, MSU Extension educator, Greening Michigan Institute.

“Randy has been innovative in his programming,” district coordinator Don Lehman said. “He has built partnerships in the region that have resulted in programs that benefit individuals and organizations. He is a mentor to people within and outside of the MSU community.”

Randy has been with MSU Extension for 26 years and is a member of the community food systems team. His work builds on community and economic development practices, and he works to increase the economic impact of local and regional food in the greater Lansing area. Randy interacts with people working all along the food value chain, from producers and processors to wholesale and retail sales operations, all the way to the final consumer.

Many organizations and individuals in the Lansing area focus on foods, including the urban neighborhood centers, food bank, YMCA, land bank, food co-op and county health department. Along with MSU, all of these groups provide programming to increase food access, food quality, increased nutrition, urban gardening, food equity/justice, obesity prevention, improved child nutrition and more. Randy works with these groups to provide programming through relationships.

Volunteers put together survival kits of food for teh Weekend Survival Kit program.

Ingham County MSU Extension provides backbone support functions for a consortium of 5 community partners. In the 2015-2016 school year, the Weekend Survival Kit program provided over 10,000 free kits of supplemental, kid-friendly food to 7 elementary schools. Photo credit: Randy Bell.

Volunteers pose with bins filled with the completed survival kits.

These kits provided an estimated 40,000 to 60,000 meals to food insecure Lansing schoolchildren to eat on weekends and school holidays when they are unable to access the school breakfast and lunch meals. Photo credit: Randy Bell.

Many of these initiatives are funded by local, state and federal funds. Because of their funding, many of these organizations spend a lot of time on grant compliance, reporting and describing the actual performance of their funded projects, which can be heavily time-consuming. What remains of their time and energy can be used for collaborative programming, but someone needs to build and nurture relationships, provide cross-organization communication, offer grants information and other services of value to manage partnerships and cross-organizational programming. Randy has the ability to provide all of these services.

“To use a sports metaphor, I’m like a professional team’s general manager,” Randy said. “I’m never out front, but behind the scenes I am bringing together the right combination of team members to ensure a winning team. In order to do that, I have to know the capacity of each, their ability to perform and how they are best motivated.”

Over his career, Randy has seen the effects of his collaboration with community partners. One success has been Randy’s ability to host paid and unpaid MSU student interns who help with community initiatives. Other indicators of these successful collaborations can be seen across the Lansing area.

“We have planning and zoning master plans and ordinances that encourage, not discourage, small-scale agriculture.” Randy said. “We also have innovative food retail, reduced child hunger, policy and systems change for improved health and reduced chronic disease, diminished urban blight and youth who are engaged in their food system. We are a community working together to help provide an environment where one’s basic needs are met.”

Through his work building strategic connections and helping organizations and community members come together, Randy has experienced the power of collaboration.

“At the risk of sounding corny, there is more power in ‘we’ than there is in ‘me,’” Randy said. “Many of the challenges our communities face, especially our urban communities, seem so enormous and possibly insurmountable. No one person or organization has the ability to solve them all. But together we can and do!”

What are the organizations and individuals in your area that provide similar programming? What are some ways you could engage with them to build programs together that meet community needs?

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Filed under Food, strategic connections

Thanksgiving resources for Michigan residents

A pumpkin pie with a piece cut out and sitting on a dish.

Photo by alcinoe at Morguefile.com

I don’t know about your offices, but here in the Director’s office, we get a lot of calls in November with questions about preparing for Thanksgiving dinner and food safety. Our educators have done a great job of getting out that information and resources on our website. I thought I’d mention some here in case you get any questions in your office or even from friends and family.

In “Be Thankful for Food Safety This Thanksgiving,” Michigan State University (MSU) Extension health and nutrition educator Jane Hart guides us through all of our favorite foods – turkey, stuffing, relish and pumpkin pie – and tells us how to make sure that they are safe to eat.

Jeannie Nichols, health and nutrition educator, writes about two U.S. Department of Agriculture recommendations for preparing and cooking your Thanksgiving turkey, or any poultry for that matter. In her article, Jeannie explains why the USDA recommends that you do not rinse it before cooking it and that you do make sure it is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. She also explains how to most effectively measure it.

Need some help with thawing times for turkey? Laurie Messing, health and nutrition educator, shares the safe ways to thaw food in her article “Thawing the Thanksgiving Turkey.”

If you won’t have time to thaw your turkey, Jeannie writes about how to safely roast a frozen one in her “Frozen Turkey for Thanksgiving” article.

Learn from health and nutrition educator Beth Waitrovich why the USDA recommends cooking stuffing outside of your turkey.

After the last forkful of pumpkin pie, many of us have leftovers to save – another important moment in food safety. Laurie explains how to properly store and use leftover turkey.

Looking for a new recipe to try with your turkey leftovers? Beth has a quick and easy turkey soup with vegetables that will be perfect for those chilly couple of days after the holiday.

Need help in a pinch on Thanksgiving Day? Thankfully, Laurie shares with us that the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, staffed by food safety specialists, will be answering food safety questions on Thanksgiving Day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Eastern Time. The phone number is 1-888-674-6854.

Lastly, to refer people to safe food and water experts in their area, visit our MSU Extension website.

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Filed under Food, Food safety, Uncategorized

Let’s talk about gratitude

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so I wanted to take a moment to share some great Michigan State University (MSU) Extension resources on gratitude.

Pumpkins in a field.

Photo by tinah at Morguefile.com.

 

Health and nutrition educator Shannon Lindquist writes that people who practice gratitude are more proactive in taking care of their physical and mental health, exercise on a regular basis, make healthy food choices, make and keep yearly health appointments, develop positive coping methods for stress, and have a sense of happiness and optimism. Those sound like great benefits to me.

What are ways that we can show gratitude? Children and youth educator Makena Schultz lists seven ways to practice gratitude in her article “‘Tis the Season of Giving Thanks: Why Gratitude Is Important in Leadership.” She describes creating a gratitude letter, a gratitude list or journal, or a gratitude jar; engaging with a gratitude partner or in grateful contemplation; and making a gratitude visit to a deserving person. Learn more about leadership and gratitude by reading her article.

Photo of a table set with Thanksgiving dinner: squash, mashed potatos, ham, desert and flowers.

Photo by earl53 at Morgueufile.com.

Health and nutrition educator Tracie Abram encourages people to “slow down and notice the foods you are eating and how your body communicates and reacts to the food.” She also shares to “cultivate gratitude for the simple things and you will see more positives. You can be that person who helps create a joyful food memory for another by sharing your love for food and a grateful attitude.” She shares more about how to cultivate a food gratitude attitude in her article “Cultivate a Food Gratitude Attitude.”

Mother a daughter sit and look at pond.

Photo by Scott Liddle at Morguefile.com

Gail Innis, health and nutrition educator, shares the importance of modeling thankfulness and gratitude with your children. Gail encourages us to discuss with our kids the gifts that they received from a family member and have them draw a picture or write a note to thank them. Make a phone call to a long-distance relative with your child to say thank you. Volunteer with your children in local charitable events. Tell and read stories about generous people, characters or events. Take time each day to talk about at least one thing you each are grateful for. Gail includes more in her article about teaching an attitude of gratitude to young children.

I am grateful for my wife; my daughters; my dog, Cocoa; and our home in the U.P. I’m also grateful to work with all of you to further the mission of MSU Extension and the opportunity to make a difference in Michigan. What are you thankful for? Let’s remember as we continue forward in the month all the blessings we have in our lives.

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Filed under Health and Nutrition, Social and emotional health

Reflections on Fall Extension Conference

I hope that you found this year’s Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Fall Extension Conference (FEC) exciting and inspiring and that you had a chance to meet new colleagues. I enjoyed my chance to connect with you on Tuesday morning. I hope that you were encouraged. Saying “yes” and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone in times of need will open doors and build trust in your communities. Reaching out and finding out what your colleagues are doing across your district and across the state will build a foundation of collaboration that you can tap into in times of need.

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What did you think about our Extension celebration? We were so honored to have our Friend of Extension and Key Partner recipients with us, as well as special guests from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It was great to have the MSU PomponTeam kick off the event with high energy and Spartan spirit. After dinner, we had the unique opportunity to learn about the life of Temple Grandin through a performance of pieces from the new musical “Temple.” Dr. Grandin is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a world-renowned autism spokesperson and a livestock industry consultant. The performance showcased  the talent of Michigan high school students along with musical theatre and dance students from the MSU Department of Theatre.

For a chance to hear Temple Grandin speak and learn more about her work, listen to her TED Talk. The theme of her talk is that the world needs all kinds of minds and that it is important that our society value each person’s mind. This is true in our work with families, youth and communities. This is also true in MSU Extension: each of us has a unique mind and set of skills we bring to the table every day, and our organization needs every one of us. We need each of our minds, especially when our communities face a crisis, such as the water emergency in Flint. It is important that we realize the importance of collaboration and the strengths that our colleagues have to offer, and bring everyone together to create a multidimensional response.

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Congratulations and thank you again to all of our key partners and staff award winners. It is important that we take time to honor the work our colleagues and partners are doing to advance our mission and outreach across the state. Our fantastic MSU Extension Communications Team is working on press releases for our Friend of Extension and Key Partner award winners, and I’ll update this post with a link to each once they’re published.

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Thank you to our FEC committee, volunteers and the MSU Extension Events Management Team for all of their hard work to put together a meaningful conference.

Photo of everyone on the Fall Extension Conference Committee.

Thanks to our Fall Extension Conference Planning Committee!

We hope to continue to make improvements and incorporate your feedback into designing FEC. Please make sure you fill out our FEC survey by Wednesday, November 9, so that your voice is heard about what to keep and what to improve.

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Filed under Awards, Fall Extension Conference, professional development

An apple a day, brought to you by strategic connections

With fall in full swing, hopefully you’ve had a chance to pick up some Michigan apples from your local farmers market, orchard or grocery store. Did you know that Michigan is our country’s third largest producer of apples with more than 11.3 million apple trees on over 35,000 acres (according to the Michigan Apple Committee)? That’s 825 family-run farms that produce our juicy and delicious Pure Michigan apples. Who can bring the apple industry groups and families to the table with the university to problem-solve specific needs? Michigan State University (MSU) Extension agriculture and agribusiness educators Amy Irish-Brown and Phil Schwallier.

Through their strategic connections, Amy and Phil facilitated the creation of the lab on the Ridge near Sparta to measure apple maturity indices. The Ridge is Michigan’s major apple-producing region that is located in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. This region has the topography, soil, elevation and microclimate that are perfect for growing apples. The idea for a lab grew from a conversation Amy and Phil had on the way to a meeting about the need to closely monitor Honeycrisp and Fuji apples that had been experiencing some serious quality issues. When they pitched the idea to the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, they received an outstanding response from the entire apple industry.

The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission responded with $50,000 in funding for the project, the Michigan Apple Committee with $15,000, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society with $20,000. Storage Control Systems responded by donating space for the lab at a value of $5,000. AgroFresh donated an automatic firmness tester (valued at $5,000) and Riveridge Produce Marketing donated the use of a quality database ($2,000). Dr. Randy Beaudry, from the MSU Department of Horticulture, donated use of a gas chromatograph ($3,000) and served as MSU specialist for this effort. When local apple growers donated fruit for testing, the lab was ready for action.

Why was there such an overwhelming response? Because Amy and Phil had formed strategic connections and relationships with the people involved in the apple industry from growers, to businesses, to campus connections.

“It’s really been a lifetime of connections that have developed and continue to develop.” Amy said. “We work with a great group of producers – they are supportive and fun. We treat everyone with respect and listen to their issues. The one-on-one connections lead to an insight into the bigger issues facing the apple industry as a whole, which best helps us help growers. Growers often just want to be growers, so sometimes, we have to make connections with media, state and federal agencies and services, commodity groups, and others to represent the interests of the apple industry for them.”

The lab has been up and running since 2015, and it provides critical real-time information to Michigan apple producers from pre-harvest through the harvest season and in post-harvest storage. Amy and Phil are able to integrate, summarize and deliver information to Michigan apple growers in concise weekly reports on apple pruning indices, nutritional impact, maturity indices for appropriate harvest, and storage indices. These reports help growers make the best real-time decisions and grow high-quality apples at a profit. Using this technology, they identify what is working well for the current year apple crop and where growers can make decisions to improve this year’s harvest outcomes.

“We have the fruit industry’s issues at heart; it is our passion.” Phil said. “To be valued, successful and admired requires knowing the people, performing tasks that address their most pressing issues, and the persistence to complete the work the growers and industry define as important. This means that ‘people skills’ is the most important characteristic an Extension person needs to have; but fruit knowledge, hard work, self-motivation and job dedication are also important. We work for the fruit industry and thus the fruit industry works for us, MSU and Michigan.”

Check out this great video created by the Michigan Apple Committee that describes growers’ relationship with MSU Extension.

Amy and Phil are a great example of strategic connections and building relationships. Have you thought about connecting with committees in your area or faculty specialists on campus? What needs to do you see in your communities that could be met by a collaboration with local businesses, companies and governmental groups?

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Horticulture, Partnerships, strategic connections

Why BEES are important to early childhood development

Are you wondering why an insect is important in childhood development? Well, the BEES I’m talking about don’t have anything to do with insects. BEES stands for our Building Early Emotional Skills program that is taught over eight weeks and uses hands-on activities and group discussions to help parents reduce stress, increase children’s social and emotional competencies, and increase the quality of parental modeling. The preliminary data show that it’s making a difference: participants report a positive increase in their parenting skills and functioning. We’re seeing positive results and an increase in demand for these classes.

The BEES program was developed by Holly Brophy-Herb’s team in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Human Development and Family Studies and adapted by our MSU Extension BEES team. Our team is made up of Kendra Moyses, Carrie Shrier, Maria Millett, Kylie Rymanowicz and Alan Pilkenton who all work closely with Holly.

The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) recently selected the BEES program to receive first place nationally and regionally in the Human Development and Family Relationships Award category at the NEAFCS 2016 Annual Session Awards. This influential program and these passionate educators are deserving of these awards. I hope you’ll take a moment to congratulate your colleagues in person when we all come together next week at Fall Extension Conference.

To learn more about the program and the award, read the press release on our MSU Extension website.

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Filed under Awards, Children and Youth, Social and emotional health

4-H’ers receive scholarships, Extension engages the public at the Michigan State Fair

The Michigan State Fair (MSF) was a complete success. Thanks to over 60 4-H volunteers and staff members, we had an outstanding opportunity to engage with visitors throughout the Labor Day weekend. Over 112,000 people attended the fair, and it was a great opportunity to get the word out about all Michigan State University (MSU) Extension has to offer them.

MSU Extension staff members hosted a booth to present programs and activities to the public, and our 4-H’ers and volunteers led activities for youth such as hoverball, archery, arts and crafts, and other hands-on activities.

We also received the big news that our outstanding Oakland County 4-H youth received a total of over $10,000 in urban farming and rural scholarships from the MSF. On September 22, they even got a chance to visit the State Capitol where they were welcomed by Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall and Rep. Kathy Crawford to celebrate their achievements.

Oakland County 4-H youth and leaders pose for a photograph at the State Capitol with Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall and Rep. Kathy Crawford to celebrate their achievements. Photo courtesy of Oakland County 4-H.

Oakland County 4-H visited the Capitol visit the State Capitol where they were welcomed by Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall and Rep. Kathy Crawford. Photo courtesy of Oakland County 4-H.

The 4-H relationship with the Fifth Third Bank, MSF and Suburban Collection Showplace began several years ago at the Novi Equestrian Expo 4-H Youth Activities area. Because of our reputation, MSU Extension was invited to be a participant at the 2015 MSF and given a free booth to showcase its many awesome programs. This year, the MSF gave the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) , AgBioResearch and MSU Extension a 40-foot by 70-foot booth to present programs and activities. For participating, MSU Extension gets a seat on the State Fair steering committee, free entry for all MSU Extension staff and volunteers serving at the booth, and reduced parking fees. In addition, top representatives of the CANR, AgBioResearch and MSU Extension are invited to attend the MSF VIP event for networking.

Photo of the Oakland County 4-H, MSU Extension, AgBioResearch and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources booth. Several people standing and sitting and chatting.

The MSF’s generous donation of space for Oakland County 4-H, MSU Extension, AgBioResearch and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Photo courtesy of Fran Adelaja.

This has been an amazing opportunity for our organization and our 4-H youth. Mark your calendars for next year’s fair on Labor Day weekend!

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Filed under Children and Youth, Events, michigan state fair