On January 18, I was in a meeting with Ken Nobis, president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association (MMPA). Because it was our first time in the same room, we began with some informal conversation about the big news item of the day ‒ the Flint water crisis. When I mentioned that our staff members were working with residents to ensure they have access to foods high in calcium and iron, both of which block the absorption of lead, Ken was quick to point out that milk is high in calcium and 96 hours later, 12,000 gallons of nutritious milk was delivered to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. About 2,000 dairy farm families from the MMPA donated the milk, Kroger Co. of Michigan led the processing of the milk and packaging into gallon jugs, and Quickway provided the transportation of the milk to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan for distribution. Shortly after that, it was distributed to Flint residents.
That’s the power of Michigan State University Extension. We bring the right people together to help solve complex problems. In this case, I did very little. But it got the wheels turning. In fact, on National Ag Day, March 15, a second delivery of 12,000 gallons of 2 percent milk was delivered to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan for distribution among families affected by the Flint water crisis. This time, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan joined the MMPA, and Kroger and banded together to help a city in need.
Good nutrition is important to everyone but it is especially important for families affected by lead contamination. Our health and nutrition team has been vigilant in demonstrating the need for good nutrition during this public health crisis. Making sure that nutritious foods, such as milk, are available to the residents of Flint is key to recovery. We are proud that our partners in agriculture, including the MMPA, are helping in that recovery.
Michigan State University (MSU) Extension is providing adaptable programming to meet the specific and urgent needs of the people of Flint. Through cooking demonstrations and instruction from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ‒ Education (SNAP-Ed) on purchasing and preparing healthy foods, we have been disseminating nutrition information to help block lead absorption. Through our Master Gardeners and edible flint, we’ve taught about growing healthy food in lead-contaminated soils and water. Through the 4-H dog, rabbit and cavy clubs, we’ve led discussions in caring for animals exposed to lead. Through early childhood development education, we’ve identified the importance of using play to combat lead effects. We have also developed the Fight Lead Exposure site to provide important resources and information to the people of Flint and the state at large.
We have been facilitating partnerships with those wanting to pitch in and help. We appreciate the resource donations from the Michigan Milk Producers and the Michigan Vegetable Growers. We are also grateful to MSU Athletics and MSU students, faculty and alumni that have donated their time volunteering. The Food Bank Council of Michigan and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan have been an essential partner in our efforts.
Why does Extension have such an important role to play? We have been serving the people of Flint since 1913 and have built an essential level of trust. MSU Extension has strong partnerships with county government, health and nutrition, agriculture, 4-H and early childhood development, which makes us a presence that can adapt to specific and urgent needs in the community. Not just in Flint, but across Michigan.
Now, more than ever, MSU Extension is in the state and national spotlight. For example, everyone who received the email invitation to the Democratic Debate on Sunday, March 6, received the MSU Extension “Fight Lead With Nutrition” handout attached by the Democratic National Committee Debate Team. Our work was recognized by the national debate team putting the event together. The effects and range of our outreach are growing. Remember that it is important that each link in our organization be strong and ready to respond to the next crisis or need in our communities.
The focus on Flint in recent weeks and the need to address important nutrition, child development, public health and community infrastructure issues has given us the opportunity to remind folks that MSU Extension has been in Flint for 100 years. We will be there for the next 100 years, and can be an important part of developing and implementing solutions that change lives. Your colleagues are making a difference. Deanna East is helping to coordinate the Michigan State University response in Flint. Eric Scorsone and the recently announced MSU Extension Center for Local Government Finance and Policy are engaging local officials and testifying before the State Legislature. Erin Powell, Cathy Newkirk and many others are addressing nutrition issues on the ground. Terry McLean and the Edible Flint crew are working closely with the Food Bank Council of Michigan, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and state officials to ensure that food is distributed in areas of greatest need. This is important work that underscores the breadth of our collective experience, the ability to respond quickly and the importance of partnerships that you have built over decades.
The critical role that MSU Extension is playing in Flint is replicated in every community throughout Michigan. But, seven weeks into my new job as part of your team, it is already clear that not enough people know who we are. Moreover, those who do know us well are not always familiar with the breadth and depth of MSU Extension programming. I met recently with an agricultural commodity CEO, for example, who indicated that labor force issues were among his biggest industry concerns. As we talked, it became clear that, although his interactions over many years had been primarily with our Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute (for obvious reasons), many programs in the Greening Michigan, Children and Youth, and Health and Nutrition Institutes would be potentially valuable resources to him in recruiting and retaining valued employees.
We often use a slide when describing “Who is MSU Extension?” that includes the following bullets:
- Faculty and Academic Staff on Campus
- Extension Educators and Senior Extension Educators
- 4-H Program Coordinators
- Program Instructors, Program Associates, Program Assistants
- Support Staff Members, on and off campus; MSU or county employees
- Funded by County, State and Federal Resources
While these statements are accurate and descriptive, what if, instead, we said things like:
- Unparalleled statewide health education delivery system.
- Business start-up, tech transfer and product development expertise.
- Serve schools statewide; capable of gathering more than 2,000 kids and their families for a single event.
- Rapid response for agriculture, human health and other emergencies, such as the current Flint water crisis.
- Future funding growth to come from building partnerships!
You can help me in at least two important ways.
- Don’t hesitate to tell people about the great work you do, and add in a bit about what your colleagues do in many areas across the entire state. If you aren’t aware of all MSU Extension programs, the website is a good place to start.
- Help us to find even more creative ways to describe what we do and outlets for sharing that information with the world. What descriptive statements would you add to this list to describe “Who is MSU Extension?”
Consider browsing through our public value statements occasionally to refresh your memory about how all of your colleagues’ work makes a difference in Michigan. We work for an amazing organization. By working together we can ensure that more people understand how we can help positively change their lives, communities and businesses.
Filed under Agriculture and Agribusiness, Children and Youth, Economic development, Financial education, Flint Water, Food, health, Health and Nutrition, Nutrition, Resources, Youth development