By Patrick Cudney
We can all be proud of the work being done to enhance the Michigan State University Extension presence in southeastern Michigan. More than 112,000 visitors attended the fair this year, so the event created the opportunity to build awareness of our programs to a huge audience. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources was fully engaged with us in the marketing effort.
Julie Chapin, Children and Youth Institute director, and I attended a VIP pre-opening event, which gave us a firsthand look at our giant 60-foot by 40-foot exhibit space that was free to MSU Extension. Credit for obtaining the free space goes to Debra (“Debbie”) Morgan, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator, who has been coordinating a 4-H presence at other expos at the Suburban Collection Showplace since 2005. This is the first year we’ve had a coordinated presence from all of Extension. Debbie helped us to build on the base that she created through her previous work at the fair.
Debbie said, “In 2014, I was invited to the press conference where Oakland County and District 11 were offered space at the 2014 Michigan State Fair. When I was invited in 2015, I asked if we could have a larger space to include all of MSU Extension and they said ‘absolutely – what do you need?’ It is a win-win situation and the folks with the Michigan State Fair and Suburban Collection Showplace have been super accommodating and so easy to work with. I believe we have created a mutually beneficial relationship and a great opportunity to showcase all the services MSU Extension has to offer to the public.”
She added that when Extension educator Alan Jaros, who is director of the MSU Tollgate Education Center and Farm just miles down the road from the Suburban Collection Showcase, attended the press conference with her this year, she knew then we were going to do something bigger and better this year.
Tollgate is Extension’s 160-acre learning laboratory visited annually by 12,000 people who explore food systems, agriculture and horticulture, and experience a greater connection to our natural resources.
“With Tollgate’s strong roots in Novi and the surrounding area, our partners and the local community have come to expect high-quality, unbiased, research-based and interactive educational opportunities from MSU Extension. When we were approached to have a stronger presence at the fair, it was an obvious chance to build a greater awareness of MSU Extension’s impact beyond Tollgate,” said Alan.
The fair provides the perfect opportunity for our 4-H youth to showcase their projects and apply for the scholarships offered to youth exhibitors. In fact, this year scholarships totaled $40,000.
It would be impossible to list everyone involved in our success. The following people were involved in coordinating the event. Besides Alan and Debbie, they included Fran Adelaja, Megghan Honke, Betsy Braid, Mindy Tape, Jake DeDecker, Kristine Hahn, Kristi Evans and Mary Wilson.
Others contributing to the event’s success included Beth Stuever, Kittie Butcher, Carol Lenchek, Mary Gerstenberger, Margaret Stockert, Glenda Weiss, Karen Craig, Jason Scott, Ed Scott and Mary Blumka.
In addition, approximately 80 staff and volunteers signed up to help set up, tear down and work the booth throughout the weekend. It really was a team effort!
The large space was well utilized by each institute. The Children and Youth Institute supplied hands-on activities including crafts, hoverball archery (yep, I tried it, it’s fun), the 4-H Commodity Carnival interactive game, Legos, an early childhood sensory table and the 4-H Life Skills Wheel. 4-H Tech Wizards provided Rockets to the Rescue. The Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute Master Gardeners presented Smart Gardening daily, and the Health and Nutrition Institute provided information and a nutrition and health wheel game. Greening Michigan staffed a resource table with information on foreclosure counseling, Sea Grant and the Michigan Fresh program.
I appreciate all of your efforts in moving our organization visibility forward. This is an excellent example of how MSU Extension can improve our engagement and understanding of the work we do in fulfilling our mission. Strategic connections at the finest!