Sometimes I hear comments from people who are trying to understand our emphasis on statewide programming and I realize they misunderstand our intentions. For example, some complain that we are arranging our programs and staffing plan into a one-size-fits-all collection in which the same programs are provided identically in every community, whether any particular program is needed in that community or not. It is true that we want residents from any community in the state to access the expertise of our staff and faculty associated with any particular program, whether staff who have that expertise are available in their county or elsewhere in the state. At the same time, we realize that demand for some programs is likely to be greater in some counties than in others. The demand for expertise in apple or cherry production is not uniformly distributed across the state, and we don’t expect the demand to be the same in Alpena County as it is in Newaygo County. Expertise in mentoring youth at risk of entering the juvenile justice system is available in any county, but we don’t insist that every county make use of the program equally. We simply want our county partners to know that the programs and expertise are available if they wish to engage with our staff and faculty.
As we continue to communicate Michigan State University Extension’s mission in our new structure and program emphasis, we need to find ways to help decision makers and potential clients understand that what we make available is available throughout the state, but that we respond to demand for our programs rather than setting quotas of engagement that are uniform across the state.
We have made this point recently with our “I Know MI Numbers” campaign, and particularly the Health and Nutrition Institute’s target program on adult obesity. In this, we have targeted the adult populations in Genesee and Saginaw counties, because those counties have the highest rate of obesity in the state. It’s not that we are not addressing those needs elsewhere, we are. But we are making a targeted effort in those counties as a means to document the full range of impacts our programs can have on a community level. We may emphasize impacts in other communities as we advance the “I Know MI Numbers” campaign beyond its first six months.
We don’t have an entomologist like Extension educator Duke Elsner in Huron County and we won’t. He’s in Grand Traverse BECAUSE his expertise is needed for viticulturists and northwest Michigan is one of Michigan’s key areas for wine grape production. Although there has been some interest in vineyard production in the Thumb area, it’s not likely to reach the demand that Duke experiences in northwest lower Michigan for some time.
Similarly, Steve Poindexter, senior Extension educator who specializes in sugar beet production, is located in the heart of sugar beet country, in Saginaw County. We wouldn’t place him in Houghton County, where sugar is only produced in maple trees. In other situations, we have educators who provide statewide coverage for crops that are truly grown throughout the state. Jill O’Donnell addresses the needs of Christmas tree producers from her office in Wexford County, whether the producer is in Jackson, Benzie or Mackinac County. That she is in Wexford in no way restricts her programming to only address the needs of Wexford County producers.
I suspect many of you can cite other examples that illustrate how our statewide programs actually are delivered in very location-specific ways in response to demand in those areas. It would be great to collect a sampling of other examples by sharing them as a comment on my blog site.