Tag Archives: jill o’donnell

Making a difference in MSU Extension District 6: Recap of the state council visit

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel north to District 6 along with our Michigan State University (MSU) Extension and AgBioResearch State Council. Shari Spoelman, district coordinator, and the crew in MSU Extension District 6 worked hard to give us a great overview of the programming, research and outreach going on in the district, and arranged for us to spend time with the people they serve.

For those of you who are new to Extension or unfamiliar with the council, we have members from all over the state who serve as a liaison between us and our county councils, field station advisory groups, and state agencies and organizations. The members come from various backgrounds: commodity group leaders, county commissioners, 4-H volunteers and farmers. We even have a meteorologist. The more they know about the work we do and the difference we make around the state, the better they can share the Extension story with our local and state decision-makers.

We began our trip with a chance to see the Kettunen Center, a conference facility owned by the Michigan 4-H Foundation. We heard about how 4-H and Extension use the center to connect with youth and volunteers. Chris Gentry, Kettunen Center director, provided us with a tour. We heard from Sara Keinath, youth development educator, and Jake Stieg, 4-H program coordinator, on the work they do with 4-H such as Mock Interview Day and 4-H Winterfest.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next, we traveled to B & B Farms, owned by Dan and Bonnie Blackledge, and heard about how MSU Extension and the MSU Product Center has helped them grow and market their canola seed and oil products. Jerry Lindquist, grazing and field crops educator, met us there to talk more about the relationships that MSU Extension has with specialty crop growers.

Dan and Kathy Blackledge talk about working with MSU Extension and the MSU Product Center to grow and market their canola products. Everyone stands by their house and barn.

Dan and Kathy Blackledge talk about working with MSU Extension and the MSU Product Center to grow and market their canola products.

Afterward, we visited Hidden Hills Dairy with Kathy Lee, senior dairy educator, and saw modern technology and the results of MSU Extension input at work on the farm.

State council members tour below the milking parlor where the machines send the milk.

State council members tour the milk machines below the milking parlor at Hidden Hills Dairy.

We ended the day in downtown Cadillac with Marcus Peccia, the city manager, and Carla Filkins, the mayor, to hear about their partnership with the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction; MSU Extension and the Michigan Municipal League to create a successful placemaking plan. Marcus gave us a tour to see some of the new efforts to make downtown Cadillac a place for the community to gather as part of the Heritage Plaza PlacePlan. We saw the new amphitheater, the outdoor fireplace, the park and the future location of the Cadillac farmers market.

State Council members and administrators pose for a group photograph in downtown Cadillac.

State Council members and administrators in downtown Cadillac.

On Wednesday, Jill O’Donnell, a senior agriculture and agribusiness educator who has worked with the Michigan Christmas tree industry for over 32 years, joined us as we visited the Dutchman Tree Farm in Manton. We met with Steve VanderWeide, the owner, as he shared about farm operations and his connection with MSU Extension. We learned about the soil, tree growth process and market changes that characterize this area of the state.

Next we met up with Erin Lizotte, integrated pest management educator, at Arlene Hops to learn about hops as a re-emerging specialty crop in Michigan and MSU Extension’s efforts to provide research and support. Brian Tennis from the Michigan Hop Alliance answered questions about growing hops as well as the importance of having Extension as a valuable resource in moving forward.

State Council members stand in a hops field and listen to Erin Lizotte talk about Michigan hops.

State Council members get a chance to hear from Erin Lizotte about hop growing in Michigan.

We ended our tour at the Lake City Research Center with Jason Rowntree, Kable Thurlow and Jerry for a tour of the center and a chance to learn more about their research on forage-based livestock, potato production and bioenergy crop production. Jason is an MSU faculty member and Kable is a beef educator who conduct research and outreach at the center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Many council members expressed how important it was to learn more about the work we’re doing in this area of the state. It was an extremely successful trip, and I’d like to send a huge “Thank you!” out to everyone who made our visit possible.

You know, the most meaningful part for me is when we meet community members and hear how MSU Extension made a difference in their lives. Nothing beats that.

Comments Off on Making a difference in MSU Extension District 6: Recap of the state council visit

Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, Children and Youth, Economic development, Parks, Partnerships

MSU Christmas tree resources abound

If you’re a procrastinator and you haven’t purchased your Christmas tree yet or even if you’ve had it up and decorated for weeks, you’ll want to listen to a conversation on WKAR. Kirk Heinze, host of Greening of the Great Lakes, interviews Bert Cregg, Michigan State University Extension specialist and associate professor of horticulture and forestry, on how to pick out, care for and dispose of a live Christmas tree: http://www.mlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/11/michigans_christmas_tree_indus.html

(After clicking on the above link, scroll down for the link to the conversation.)

Dr. Cregg mentions that many people have never had a real Christmas tree. To allay their doubts and fears, he and his team have developed programs and educational resources. One such resource is an MSU Extension article on first-time tree buying by Dr. Cregg and senior Extension educator Jill O’Donnell:


Scroll down on the same page to find more articles, a Michigan Fresh fact sheet Michigan Christmas Trees (written by Jill O’Donnell, Bert Cregg and Extension educator Erin Lizotte) and videos produced by Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications on selecting and caring for your tree.

Here’s a link to 14 new 15-second videos produced by ANR Communications giving species-specific information regarding Christmas trees: http://bit.ly/1ORVlc4. Retailers can use QR codes that link to the videos on tree tags to help consumers optimize tree quality and longevity.

In addition to educating the public, MSU Extension and AgBioResearch specialists and scientists are busy doing research that will assist growers with fertilization management. They’re also working with genetic selection, finding and identifying the species and types of trees that adapt best to Michigan growing conditions.

Watch this ANR Communications-produced video on Christmas tree research, part of the Did You Know? video series:

The video will be shown on WKAR on the following dates and times:

  • WKAR HD: Sat., Dec. 19, 4:57 p.m.
  • WKAR HD: Mon., Dec. 21, 12:27 a.m.
  • WKAR HD: Tues., Dec. 22, 10:57 p.m.
  • WKAR CRT (Create): Tues., Dec. 22, 3:56 p.m.

Comments Off on MSU Christmas tree resources abound

Filed under Resources

Snow sculpture packs on fun in Wexford County

Staff members of the Wexford County Michigan State University Extension Office have donated many hours over the past two weeks to design and create a 4-H snow sculpture to enter into the North American Snow Festival Snow Sculpture Contest. Leading the team was Tracy Trautner, 4-H program coordinator in Wexford County, who thought that entering the sculpture into the competition would be a great way to participate in the community, as well as increase awareness of local MSU Extension services. The sculpture took second place out of four entries.

Snow Sculpture in Wexford County “I think the main goal of this project was initially to build a snow sculpture for our first time. As it evolved, it turned out to be much more than that – it is located right outside of one of our larger school buildings, so it gets quite a bit of visibility on a daily basis,” Tracy said, “More than that, the snow festival will bring thousands of people to town and increase visibility for 4-H. In the end, it was a great team-building experience for our office, and I’m impressed with how everyone jumped in and donated a lot of time and effort to make our snow sculpture a success.”

The process took some time and required the dedication of the entire office as well as members of their families, but the team was dedicated to completing their project. In addition to Tracy, staff members who participated included Jill O’Donnell, Shari Spoelman, Erin Lizotte, JoAnne Benthem, Sara Keinath and Carol Blake as well as 4-H leader Dan Valley and family members.


The North American Snow Festival takes place during the first weekend of February every year in Cadillac, Michigan. In fact, it has been held in the Cadillac area for more than 30 years. This is a great way for the Wexford County staff to collaborate with the larger community, to participate and to give back. Congratulations to all of them for a job well done!

Comments Off on Snow sculpture packs on fun in Wexford County

Filed under Accomplishments

The Christmas tree season is all year long

Since the holiday season is over, it may be easy to put the idea of Christmas trees behind you. However, our Michigan State University Extension specialists and educators are working with Christmas tree producers year-round to ensure that their trees are ready to sit in our living rooms at the end of the year. This was clearly highlighted in this quarter’s Great Lakes Christmas Tree Journal, published by the Michigan Christmas Tree Association in January 2015, in which MSU Extension specialists and educators demonstrated their expertise on almost every page.

Of the columns that were featured, the authors from MSU Extension included Extension educator Christina Curell and senior Extension educator Jill O’Donnell as well as Extension specialists Bert Cregg and Pascal Nzokou.

The content that is published in the Great Lakes Christmas Tree Journal is received by four regions: Ontario, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. I’m very proud to see the amount of scholastic effort that was put into this publication by our staff members, and how active they are in sharing the resources of Michigan State University. Keep up the great work!

Comments Off on The Christmas tree season is all year long

Filed under Agriculture

Senior Extension educators receive distinguished university awards

Michigan State University senior Extension educators Jill O’Donnell and Dean Solomon each received Distinguished Academic Staff Awards Feb. 11 at the annual Founders Day and Awards Convocation in the Pasant Theatre in the Wharton Center. The awards presentation followed President Lou Anna K. Simon’s State of the University Address.

Jill O'Donnell, senior Michigan State University Extension educator, received a Distinguished Academic Staff award on Feb. 11, 2014.

Jill O’Donnell, senior Michigan State University Extension educator, received a Distinguished Academic Staff award on Feb. 11, 2014.

The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) honored the awardees with a reception in the Centennial Room of the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center just prior to the Awards Convocation.

They are two of four academic staff who will receive the award this year.

Jill O’Donnell of the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute is a nationally recognized expert in Christmas tree production with an emphasis on early pest identification and management. With Jill, it’s all about relationships. Because of Jill’s dedication to growers as well as her commitment to quality and sustainability, Christmas tree producers know that they can trust her to help them deal with significant issues in the industry. She does it all professionally, working with MSU researchers as well as specialists in other states. Her efforts have helped growers increase yields and reduce or even eliminate pesticide applications, leading to additional profits for the growers and benefits to the environment. Of course, all of her efforts are based on scientific research. With her involvement, Michigan remains a national leader in the Christmas tree industry.

Dean Solomon, senior Michigan State University Extension educator, received a Distinguished Academic Staff award on Feb. 11, 2014.

Dean Solomon, senior Michigan State University Extension educator, received a Distinguished Academic Staff award on Feb. 11, 2014.

Dean Solomon of the Greening Michigan Institute is another of our experts others rely on. He makes complicated issues involving land use policy and natural resource protection easy to understand and accessible to both landowners and local government officials. He plays a significant part in the Michigan Citizen Planner Program. The program offers land use education and training to locally appointed and elected planning officials throughout the state. He often teaches both the core and advanced sessions of the curriculum. Dean is sought out for his engaging and humorous teaching style. He is a highly respected leader both in our organization and in the national Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals.

Gary Parsons, academic specialist in the Department of Entomology, also received the Distinguished Academic Staff Award. Gary does not have an Extension appointment, but his work as manager of the Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection assists the many Extension specialists on the faculty in entomology and many Extension educators who work on pest management issues.

Congratulations to all!

Read more in this MSU Today article: http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/2014-distinguished-academic-staff-awards/



Comments Off on Senior Extension educators receive distinguished university awards

Filed under Awards

Do your homework before going Christmas tree shopping

It’s that time of year. It’s already December and before you know it, Christmas with be here. Decorating is a big part of the holiday. Many of you will go out this weekend looking for that perfect tree. And what better place than Michigan?

A recent Michigan State University Extension news article by Bert Cregg, MSU associate professor in the departments of Horticulture and Forestry, and Jill O’Donnell, senior Extension educator, says that Michigan’s climate and soils allow our Christmas tree growers to produce a wider variety of trees than almost any other state. Unfortunately, sometimes having many choices can cause shoppers to become overwhelmed and confused.

Not to worry, the article “Selecting the Perfect Christmas Tree: Tree Types” will serve as a guide to help you select the right tree for you and your family. Who doesn’t get annoyed when fallen needles cover wrapped presents under the tree? This article lets you know which trees have good needle retention. You may have furry friends that just won’t leave the tree alone. Bert and Jill will let you know which tree keeps pets at bay.

Included in the article are photos of each tree species as well as videos that give details about some of them.

Other helpful and timely MSU Extension articles are “Picking and Caring for the Perfect Christmas Tree” by Extension educator Erin Lizotte and Jill, and “Keeping Your Real Christmas Tree Fresh This Holiday Season” by Jill and Bert.

It’s great to have this expertise available to us at the click of the mouse on our MSU Extension website. And I’ve seen links to them on several social media sites in Michigan and beyond. This is a great example of using the news articles on our website to get out information that people are seeking, and answering questions from many more people than we would get just from telephone calls to county Extension offices in the past.

In addition, visit the Michigan Christmas Tree Association website for information on where to buy trees as well as other helpful tips.

Comments Off on Do your homework before going Christmas tree shopping

Filed under MSUE News

Extension educators help renew Kettunen Center’s Christmas Tree Arboretum

You may recall Christmas 2011 when the Christmas Tree Arboretum at Kettunen Center supplied the star attraction of the Detroit Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Winter Magic-Detroit that year – a beautiful Norway spruce.  Other large trees were removed from the arboretum for the center’s holiday celebration. In addition, Kettunen Center maintenance director Steve Neuman removed many trees that were getting too big for the site as well as any remaining trees damaged by deer and the harsh winter weather.

 The Norway spruce that once grew at Kettunen Center stands proudly as the main attraction at of the Detroit Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Winter Magic-Detroit during the Christmas 2011 season. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell

The Norway spruce that once grew at Kettunen Center stands proudly as the main attraction at of the Detroit Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Winter Magic-Detroit during the Christmas 2011 season. Photo credit: Jill O’Donnell

An arboretum without trees is a sad sight. However, the situation didn’t last long. Mr. Neuman continued the site cleanup by removing the stump from that huge Norway spruce and did some grading to make the area more accessible. Michigan State University senior Extension educator Jill O’Donnell drew up a plan.

Jill secured donations of trees from Dutchman Tree Farms, Northern Pines Nursery and Needlefast Evergreens and delivered them to the center. Jill and MSU Extension educator Erin Lizotte did the work of mapping and planting the new trees – 19 in all.

The arboretum now exhibits ten different varieties of trees including four species of true fir, four species of spruce as well as white pine and Douglas firs.

This fall, a soil test will determine the adjustment of the pH and result in a nutrient plan. This winter, cages will be put around the trees to prevent damage from deer and rabbits. Pruning will begin next year. Jill will oversee the project.

Next time you visit Kettunen Center, check out the Christmas Tree Arboretum and enjoy the results of their efforts.

Comments Off on Extension educators help renew Kettunen Center’s Christmas Tree Arboretum

Filed under Agriculture