Tag Archives: julia darnton

Tools for employees having controversial conversations surrounding GMOs

corn field

According to a Pew Research Center report, “the way Americans eat has become a source of potential social, economic and political friction as people follow personal preferences reflecting their beliefs about how foods connect with their health and ailments.”

As Michigan State University’s (MSU) connection with Michigan residents, MSU Extension professionals are increasingly engaged in conversations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). But in a survey conducted by our program evaluation specialist Cheryl Eschbach, only 37 percent of Extension survey respondents felt capable of replying to GMO-related questions with science-based information, and only 1 percent felt extremely capable.

Recognizing a need, Ron Bates, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute (AABI) director, brought together a cross-institute committee to develop a training for MSU Extension professionals. The result was a two-day training, “Getting your GMO Questions Answered 101,” offered January 8-9, 2018. MSU faculty and Extension professionals shared presentations on research and technology as well as communicating with clientele about GMOs with over 100 Extension staff members.

“It was a really great workshop,” Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator Jeannine Schweihofer said. “I think it helped me to hear viewpoints from different aspects and concerns that people have about GMOs. Getting the right information out there so people have it is really important.”

“The GMO workshop increased my understanding, and that will help me to confidently answer consumer questions about GMO foods that arise during my food safety programs,” MSU Extension health and nutrition educator Beth Waitrovich said.

Ron Goldy, MSU Extension agriculture and agribusiness educator and event committee chair, felt the event was successful in opening up dialogue and providing tools to talk to MSU Extension clientele, especially during the interactive activities.

This workshop was designed to be the first of many opportunities to provide MSU Extension professionals with resources and to open up dialogues.

“We’re hoping that people from other institutes will take the idea back, and that institute will develop a program with their clientele’s concerns in mind,” Ron said. “There will be further trainings within AABI, and we’re trying to figure that out as well. As soon as we hear back from the event evaluations, we’ll decide on the next steps.”

Additionally, the committee is working on creating an online space to make the documents and presentations from the workshop available to all Extension employees.

I would like to thank the team of people who made the event possible: Ron Bates, Betsy Braid, Erin Carter, Julia Darnton, James DeDecker, Mary Dunckel, Cheryl Eschbach, Theodore Ferris, Elizabeth Ferry, Ron Goldy, Rebecca Grumet, Courtney Hollender, Rebecca Krans, Joyce McGarry, George Silva, Lisa Treiber, Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler. I’d also like to thank all of the speakers and presenters throughout the event.

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Filed under Agriculture, Agriculture and Agribusiness, communication, Events, Farming, Food, health, Health and Nutrition, professional development, Resources

Update on Flint

MSU Extension is right in the middle of the efforts to reach the people of Flint with the resources they need. Our response there shows how nimble and responsive our team is in times of crisis. For example, HNI and CYI teams have developed fact sheets on how to Fight Lead With Nutrition and Fight Lead Affects With Learning and Play. These resources, and others, are not only valuable in Flint, but also in other areas of the state that have high lead levels.

In addition to these and other very specific lead-related resources, your colleagues have modified other programming to fit the needs of residents as they deal with lead exposure.

Some highlights of what your colleagues accomplished in January alone follow. MSU Extension has helped more than 2,100 people through programs, participation in events and partnerships.

Jennifer Skornicka and her team put on a 4-H information display at a Family Fun Night and Lead Testing event at Eisenhower Elementary that reached 400 young people and 285 adults. At this event, families received Molina Foundation books and the new Nutrition & Lead recipe information booklets. These booklets have become an important resource, and we’ve distributed more than 6,000 copies to 23 organizations that will further distribute of them. Hurley Children’s Hospital has an additional 2,500 booklets to distribute to their patients. Julia Darnton, Terry McLean and Erin Powell are working with ongoing programs in growing and accessing healthy food.

Photo of a Cooking demonstration at the Eastern Market using ingredients that are high in iron, calcium and Vitamin D.

Cooking demonstration at the Eastern Market using ingredients that are high in iron, calcium and Vitamin C. Photo credit: ANR Communications.

102 people have attended food and nutrition demonstrations featuring recipes that block lead absorption at the Flint Farmers’ Market. These are in addition to many other programs designed to meet needs in the community.

Because all eyes are on Flint and our work there, we’ve been getting a lot of attention from MSU President Simon and others. In her February 10, 2016, State of the University speech, President Simon was very complimentary about the work of MSU Extension in Flint. Everything we do to help the people of Flint elevates our reputation throughout the state and on campus. People are becoming aware of the importance of having Extension folks rooted in the communities that they serve. Every day is a reminder for me of how fortunate I am to be part of the MSU Extension team.

You might be wondering how you can help and what resources we have developed. You also might be getting calls from concerned residents in your communities. Links to several important resources for you and anyone else who is concerned about Flint and about nutrition and the water in their own communities follow.

  • Fight Lead Exposure The new MSU Extension page with links to MSU Extension news articles and educational resources about lead.
  • MSU Pediatric Public Health Fund  This MSU fund will support a new effort to find and evaluate interventions for the children of Flint affected by lead exposure.
  • Flint Volunteer Reception Center The center is designed as a central point of contact for all volunteers and those needing volunteers in Flint.

When people call your office looking for a place to get their drinking water tested, direct them to the county health department first. (The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services provides a Local Health Department Map.) If the health department doesn’t offer that service, callers can order a water test kit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for $18 by calling 517-335-8184.

To learn more about Flint and what people are coming together to achieve there, visit one of the pages listed here:

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Filed under 4-H, Children and Youth, Flint Water, Food, Health and Nutrition, Nutrition

When the president comes for a visit …

On February 7, Michigan State University was part of a historic moment when President Barack Obama visited the MSU campus to sign the Farm Bill. Many of our colleagues were at work behind the scenes, helping the event run smoothly. Others got to be part of the action front and center. And still others have been lending their expertise to the bill’s foundation.

Thanks to Doug Buhler, director of MSU AgBioResearch and senior associate dean for research for the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, who was part of the advance team from MSU. The event cost Doug a week, with the myriad security, program and planning meetings beginning on Friday, January 31. But because this was the Farm Bill, CANR was front and center, and Doug did a great job of making sure President Obama learned about the role we all play in turning federal policy into improvements in agricultural production, environmental management, food safety, bioenergy innovation, and community and youth development. Thanks to Doug for all he did to represent us so well.

A big shout-out to Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications and in particular Beth Stuever. In a Michigan Farmer story on Jennifer Vincent Kiel, the magazine’s editor, Jennifer acknowledges the vast contacts and deep understanding of the communications manager. Jennifer said she enjoys working with “the many, many great people at MSU Extension. Beth Stuever is priceless there. I’m always calling on her for help, and she’s always there.” Read the story here: http://magissues.farmprogress.com/mif/MF02Feb14/mif013.pdf

Then there’s Greening Michigan Institute Extension educator Julia Darnton. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee invited Julia to be his guest at the signing of the Farm Bill. Julia was asked to come because she helped the congressman promote his bill “Local Food for Healthy Families,” which is designed to expand SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) incentive programs such as Double Up Food Bucks. Mark Tower of the Saginaw News featured Julia in an MLive article: http://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw/index.ssf/2014/02/obama_in_east_lansing_saginaw.html

We’ve had other media mentions related to our work. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero mentioned the contributions of Extension and the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems to the support of Lansing area food hubs and markets in a Lansing State Journal editorial:


MSU student Domonique Clemons experienced what may be the highlight of his life. Invited to attend the Farm Bill signing, the former 4-H’er from Flint got to shake President Obama’s hand. Domonique is a public policy major who helps organize the 4-H Capitol Experience event coming up in March.

But how did we finally get to this moment in the first place? It happened because of people like Dave Schweikhardt, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics, who studies farm policy, providing Extension programming on that policy. Dr. Schweikhardt is one of a number of MSU faculty who were tapped as experts by Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s staffers as they worked through the policy changes in the bill.

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Filed under Accomplishments

Genesee County voters approve millage to fund MSU Extension

The Genesee County Board of Commissioners voted in August to ask voters to approve a property tax millage dedicated to the support of Michigan State University Extension programs in their county. They had held a similar vote in November 2012, and that proposal, the last item on a very long ballot, failed. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, voters had another opportunity to decide this issue, and this time the proposal passed by a 55 percent majority. Funding for MSU Extension has been an issue for many years, and this five-year plan gives us greater certainty for staffing and program planning than we’ve had since 2005.

Many staff and stakeholders helped to inform voters about our programs and let them know how the millage would ensure ongoing availability of those programs. I’d like to thank and congratulate district coordinator Deanna East and Extension educators Darren Bagley, Julia Darnton, Terry McLean and Bob Tritten, 4-H coordinator Heidi Sovis, and the Friends of Extension group in Genesee County, led by volunteers Dee Godfrey and Ken and Diane Turland. County clerk John Gleason and State Senator Jim Ananich also provided valuable guidance and assistance.

Read more in this MLive article: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2013/11/genesee_county_voters_were_gen.html

In addition, find more information in this Davison Index article: http://davisonindex.mihomepaper.com/news/2013-11-07/News/Michigan_State_Extension_millage_passes.html

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Filed under Funding