Tag Archives: kendra wills

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

5 things to know to celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, and I thought it would be a chance to highlight some great programs MSU Extension offers as well as some helpful resources that you can use with your families. Here are five things to know to celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month.

  1. MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh campaign helps people explore the state’s bounty of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. The cross-institute team of Agriculture and Agribusiness, Heath and Nutrition and Greening Michigan staff provide fact sheets with recipes, gardening tips and preservation techniques for over 80 Michigan-grown foods available for free online at MSU Extension offices and in over 20 farmers markets across the state. The Michigan Fresh team also has a series of newspaper articles available at this link on Sharepoint for customization and distribution to local media outlets by MSU Extension offices.


  1. Be sure to follow Michigan Fresh on Facebook, Instagram and check out over 1,800 recipes on our Michigan Fresh Pinterest Thanks to Health and Nutrition Institute team member Ellen Darnall, we have a new series of recipe videos. Check them out online at the MI Health Matters Facebook page. Recipes include Michigan asparagus guacamole, Michigan blueberry muffins, Michigan berry yogurt parfait, Michigan maple syrup balsamic vinaigrette, Michigan broccoli salad, and more! If you would like more information about Michigan Fresh or would like to join the team, please contact Kendra Wills.


  1. Where is your local farmers market? Planning on traveling around Michigan and want to find one during your trip? The Michigan Farmers Market Association has a comprehensive list and map of all of the markets in Michigan. Find your local farmers market and bring fresh, locally produced fruits and vegetables into your kitchen.


  1. Interested in planning your own vegetable garden? MSU Extension has a webpage dedicated to providing resources on when and where to plant. It also covers building garden soil, managing pests, planning your garden and harvesting vegetables. The site also contains growing tip sheets A to Z, from asparagus to turnips.
  1. Hoping to find ways to add more vegetables and fruits into your eating habits? In her article, “June Is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month,” Zelda Felix-Mottley helps us take an inventory of our eating habits and gives us tips on increasing our fruit and vegetable consumption.

I hope this information let you know a bit more about our wide range of resources that help our communities and can also help you. Have a happy fruits and veggies month!

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Extension educators talk business

It’s always great to be able to tell our story and get the word out about Michigan State University Extension’s contributions to the state’s residents. One method of communication is radio.

 Andy Hayes, MSU Extension educator in the Greening Michigan Institute and president of the Northern Lakes Economic Alliance, does a weekly Internet-based radio show on the Michigan Business Network called “Around the State.”

 His program airs every Thursday at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. It can be downloaded afterward anytime online as a podcast. Each session, Andy focuses on a theme and all six interviews that hour tie to that theme.

 On the May 8 broadcast, the theme was MSU Extension. Andy interviewed six MSU Extension educators including:

  • Mark Breederland on the importance of educating to advance entrepreneurship
  • Frank Gublo on emerging farm management
  • Mark Hitchcock on the importance of supporting our own food systems to in turn support our economy
  • Kathy Jamison on the importance of educating future entrepreneurs for overall career success
  • Mark Thomas on the MSU Product Center
  • Kendra Wills on the Grand Rapids Downtown Market

 Click on the following link below to listen to each 6-minute session: http://michiganbusinessnetwork.com/radio/Around_the_State

 Check out the Michigan Business Network website to listen to more shows that include MSU Extension educators.

 If you have a business-related topic you’d like to discuss on the air, contact Andy at ANDY@NORTHERNLAKES.NET.

 We’re grateful for the opportunity to communicate our message.

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Michigan Fresh has even more to offer

In a March 27 Spotlight, I mentioned how our Michigan State University Extension Michigan Fresh program educates on fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals as well as food safety, food storage, food preservation and gardening. In addition to this long list of important subjects, the Michigan Fresh work team is also busy on many other projects.

Extension educator Eileen Haraminac took over the coordination of the Michigan Fresh team upon Kathe Hale’s retirement.

Extension educator Joyce McGarry is busy heading up new fact sheet development. The team consists of Mary Dunckel, Michelle Jarvie, Ronald E. Kinnunen, Amanda Knox, Laurie Messing, Jeannie Nichols, Jeannine Schweihofer and Rob Weber. Team members arecompiling information on meats: pork, lamb, poultry, beef and fish. In the future, they will compile information for fact sheets on dairy products. Michigan Fresh fact sheets have been available at many of the farmers markets throughout the state as well as online. The fact sheets are also available in Arabic and Spanish. Find them on the Michigan Fresh website: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/program/info/mi_fresh

Other future fact sheets will focus on Michigan chestnuts (Erin Lizotte, Extension educator in the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute) and growing hops (Greening Michigan Institute Extension educator Rob Sirrine).

Extension program instructor Stephanie Bruno heads up the team that’s developing recipe cards. The team consists of Jennifer Berkey, Becky Henne and Connie Kurple. These new recipe cards will be distributed at several farmers markets to encourage consumers to purchase Michigan-grown food to use as simple ingredients.

 Kristine Hahn and Eileen Haraminac as well as Sean Corp and other MSU Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Communications staff are collaborating with the Eastern Market Corporation to promote a new product ‒ Michigan Fresh Frozen fruits and vegetables. The group is working on recipe cards to be distributed at Detroit Eastern Market and through the Peaches & Greens mobile produce trucks. The cards will promote both the Michigan Fresh program and the new Eastern Market Corporation Michigan Fresh Frozen products.

Eileen said, “We want to encourage people to choose nutrient-packed frozen fruits and vegetables when fresh are unavailable. Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing are processed at their peak ripeness ‒ time when, as a general rule, they are most nutrient packed.

Extension associate program leader Becky Henne heads up the social media team. Team members are busy working to build a smartphone app and to develop additional videos. They hope to have the app ready to roll out for the 2015 season. This group is working with Dr. Dru Montri, executive director of Michigan Farmers Market Association; Colleen Matts, farm to institution outreach specialist with the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems; and Dr. Norm Lownds, curator of the 4-H Children’s Garden. Additional team members from both the Health and Nutrition Institute and the Greening Michigan Institute include Julie Darnton, Joanne Davidhizar, Dawn Earnesty, Kristine Hahn, Sheilah Hebert, Maggie Kantola and Kendra Wills.

Dr. Cheryl Peters, Maggie Kantola and Kendra Wills have been working with the Michigan Fresh team to develop a common evaluation tool for Michigan Fresh cooking demonstrations offered at the Detroit Eastern Market and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. These cooking demonstrations benefit the promotion of the Michigan Fresh fact sheets and videos. The free, public demonstrations are designed to inspire people to purchase and consume more Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables. The evaluation tool will gather information from cooking demonstration observers. Recipes used in the cooking demonstrations come from the Michigan Fresh fact sheets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With coordination from Extension educator Terry McLean, MSU Extension will staff a kiosk at the Flint Farmers Market this spring.

Michigan Fresh is a great collaboration not only between our own institutes but between local organizations and farmers markets as well.

If you are interested in promoting the Michigan Fresh campaign materials at your community farmers market, please contact Eileen Haraminac (haramin2@anr.msu.edu) for more information.

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4-H experience leads to the Olympics

Patrick Cudney, Michigan State University Extension District 3 coordinator, recently let me know about a tour he and members of the District 3 Extension Council took. They visited the Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Mich., following their council meeting Jan. 20. What’s so special about that? The mill prepared the yarn for the sweaters and hats designed by Ralph Lauren that Team U.S.A. will wear in the 2014 Winter Olympics closing ceremonies. Not only that, the fiber mill has its beginnings in a 4-H experience.

On Jan. 20, 2014, Debbie McDermott of Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Mich,, holds up one of the sweaters to be worn by Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The mill prepared the yarn for the Olympic sweaters and hats designed by Ralph Lauren.

On Jan. 20, 2014, Debbie McDermott of Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Mich,, holds up one of the sweaters to be worn by Team USA in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The mill prepared the yarn for the Olympic sweaters and hats designed by Ralph Lauren. Photo credit: Michael Krauch, District 5 coordinator

Members of the District 3 Extension council toured the Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Mich., following their council meeting Jan. 20, 2014.

Members of the District 3 Extension council toured the Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan, Mich., following their council meeting Jan. 20, 2014.
Front row (left to right): LuAnn Doriot, MSU Extension District 3 (D3) support staff member; Debbie McDermott, owner of Stonehedge Fiber Mill
Second row: Douglas Craven, natural resources director, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians; Bernard Ware, Ware Farm organic producer and CSA Farm operator; Mary Faculak, East Jordan Chamber of Commerce director, D3 MSU Extension Council chair and MSUE/ABR state council member
Back row: Patrick Cudney, D3 coordinator; Brian Matchett, CANR/IAT regional program coordinator; Bruce Gauthier, Cheboygan County commissioner
Photo credit: Michael Krauch, District 5 coordinator

When Debbie McDermott, the mill’s owner, learned to knit at the age of 7 from her grandmother and continued knitting and sewing as a 4-H’er in Hillsdale County, it sparked an interest in fiber. Then in 1989, her daughter began raising two sheep as a 4-H project. The experience with the two sheep led to what is now a company that employs 14 people including family members. Debbie later served as a 4-H leader in Charlevoix County, continuing the 4-H legacy.

Debbie and her husband, Chuck, along with Mary Faculak, District 3 Council chair and state council member, met with Gov. Snyder in December 2013. The McDermotts gave the governor an Olympic sweater for his work and support of agriculture in Michigan.

Read this MSU Extension news article that MSU Extension educator Kendra Wills wrote about Debbie, her Olympic wool and the 4-H connection: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/michigan_wool_at_the_2014_winter_olympic_games

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Moving into the possibilities at Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Sometimes we have a good idea, it works out well so we branch out and use that same idea elsewhere. Actively promoting our Michigan State University Extension programs at the Detroit Eastern Market proved successful. We had a great reaction and so when the opportunity came to join the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, we were ready and excited to be a part of it.

In the June13 Spotlight, I mentioned plans to house MSU Extension staff in office space in the new indoor market. The plans are now a reality. Community food systems educators Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler are officially moved in as of Sept. 1 and are working on site full time. Diane Smith, innovation counselor from the MSU Product Center Food-Ag-Bio, joins them one to two days a week.

Our presence at the market is a great opportunity to educate the public and establish relationships with people who produce local food as well as those who buy it. The way I think of it is although market shoppers may not expect to see MSU Extension at the market, when they do see us, they immediately “get it.” In a way, it’s a place where we belong because it’s a place where people are seeking information along with their food, and we can help them whether it’s in providing nutrition, cooking, food safety or gardening information and education. And we want them to associate us with receiving access to dependable, unbiased, research-based information concerning food as well as other issues that affect their families and their communities.

The market has both an indoor market open every day and an outdoor market open two mornings and one evening a week. The indoor market officially opened on Labor Day, Sept. 2. According to WZZM ABC News, nearly 30,000 people showed up for the grand opening.

 We’ve already been active in the outdoor market since it opened May 4, promoting our Michigan Fresh campaign and educating about healthy eating, and safe food preparation and preservation.

In addition, we’ve used the indoor facilities for educational sessions. In the Aug. 15 Spotlight, I wrote about two health and nutrition educators, Jeannie Nichols and Rita Klavinski, who facilitated a ServSafe class to 23 participants.

We intend to continue offering educational programs using the indoor facilities, which include demonstration and teaching kitchens, greenhouses and a commercial kitchen incubator.

Jeannie will hold a Cooking for Crowds session on Oct. 9. Cooking for Crowds is an educational program focusing on food safety for nonprofit groups who prepare food for their members or for the public as fundraisers.

Jeannie and Diane will co-teach “Starting a Successful Cottage Food Business in Michigan” on Nov. 7. The program combines the business and food safety aspects of preparing and selling cottage foods safely and successfully.

Extension educator Glenda Kilpatrick reports that Kent County 4-H program coordinators Kristi Bowers and Christine Mickelson have been offering youth programs on Tuesdays at the market as well.

Expect many more programs to come.

Read more here: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/extension_moves_into_new_grand_rapids_downtown_market

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MSU Extension programs inaugurate Grand Rapids Downtown Market

Previously, I wrote a Spotlight article about the plans of Michigan State University Extension to house staff in a new office at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. This will be an addition to our footprint in Kent County, complementing our county office location. Community food systems educators Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler will be based in our new office when the market opens officially in September. In addition to serving clients directly with their efforts to expand access to locally grown foods in institutional settings, they will help to connect clients with other programs MSU Extension offers as well.

MSU Extension educator Jeannie Nichols presents a ServSafe class at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Aug. 14, 2013.

MSU Extension educator Jeannie Nichols presents a ServSafe class at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Aug. 14, 2013.

On August 14, health and nutrition educators Jeannie Nichols and Rita Klavinski held our first official class in the Downtown Market, a ServSafe class that served 23 participants. Some of the participants were vendors with food businesses in the market. They also had several school food service workers and a few participants from the kitchens of local breweries.

Kendra reports that Jeannie and Rita did an excellent job working through the logistics of the new space and working around the ongoing construction. You can view a few photos on my blog that Kendra provided from the class. This was the first class for adults held in the new, state-of-the-art teaching kitchen space. Thanks to Kendra, Garrett, Jeannie and Rita for putting our footprints in the drying concrete.

MSU Extension educator Rita Klavinski presents a ServSafe class at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Aug. 14, 2013.

MSU Extension educator Rita Klavinski presents a ServSafe class at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market Aug. 14, 2013.

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Market space will lead to learning

We’ll be part of the excitement when the Grand Rapids Downtown Market indoor section, currently under construction on Ionia Avenue in Grand Rapids, will open later this summer. The market will promote healthy lifestyles and serve as a community gathering space.

We’ve leased office space for two Michigan State University Extension educators Kendra Wills and Garrett Ziegler. Additionally, Extension and MSU Product Center – Food, Ag, Bio staff members will be presenting workshops and demonstrations at the location throughout the year. We’ll share expertise with growers and business owners.

We have a similar agreement with Detroit Eastern Market. The popularity of that program encouraged us to look at other venues that could help connect people with our experts. The Downtown Market presents a perfect opportunity to be in the middle of a growing, thriving regional food system.

The current outdoor market boasts fresh food grown and prepared in Michigan. In the past, MSU Extension had an information kiosk at the market with staff members available at the market to provide information about Michigan Fresh, our educational program that helps people explore our state’s fresh, locally grown fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals.

Read more in this ANR Communications article: http://anrcom.msu.edu/anrcom/news/item/msu_extension_teams_with_grand_rapids_downtown_market

Also check out this June 11 MLive article: http://www.mlive.com/business/west-michigan/index.ssf/2013/06/downtown_market_to_provide_hom.html

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Extension colleagues take part in leadership session

Several of our Michigan State University Extension colleagues took part in a session of the North Central National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) workshop held in Chicago Jan. 23–26. The session, “Understanding Our Roles as Leaders,” was the first of four sessions scheduled for 2013 exploring leadership and facilitated by the University of Minnesota Extension.

NELD’s mission is “to build leaders in Cooperative Extension at all levels and provide them with the vision, courage, and tools to lead in a changing world.”

The program helps the participant to develop leadership skills on a personal level and then use those skills to improve the effectiveness of extension programming.

The first session, an intense introduction to leadership, included developing facilitation skills and techniques, and working on team and consensus building.

Each participant did a self-assessment of emotional intelligence, which evaluated the leadership style each feels most comfortable using. In times of stress, people default to this style. When facing a difficult situation, people are less likely to use the leadership style they tend to be weak in. The program concentrates on getting participants to strengthen the weak areas so they have a variety of strengths to use in various situations.

Each participant also developed a personal philosophy of leadership and a plan of work in the leadership field to learn and implement in the upcoming year.

Participant Kelley Hiemstra, MSU Extension District 4 coordinator, had this to say about the experience: “The first session of NELD was fantastic. I look forward to the entire program and I am sure that it will assist me in my leadership roles.”

Besides Kelley, other participants from MSU Extension included Extension educators Eileen Haraminac, Erin Lizotte, Kendra Moyses and Kendra Wills.

Each are assigned to core groups of four to continue the work between sessions and act as mentors and coaches to each other. Each group consists of Extension employees from North Central Region states.

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Study while you work: Colleagues who can do it all

Fifteen Michigan State University Extension academic staff members have made use of the tuition assistance program initiated in 2007 to help them complete a master’s degree while working for MSU Extension. In October 2006, MSUE changed the criteria for employment as an MSUE academic staff member (educator, specialist or program leader) to include a minimum educational requirement of a master’s degree. Staff members already employed by MSUE who did not have a master’s degree were not required to complete a degree, but MSUE initiated a tuition benefit program for those who decided they did want to complete a master’s degree while working full time for MSUE. Staff members are free to choose any accredited institution and graduate program that aligns with their role with MSUE, and many have found online or hybrid online and face-to-face programs that adapted to their work and family responsibilities. The first graduates completed their degrees in 2009, and we still have colleagues making use of the program. Listed below are those taking part in the program, grouped by the year in which they have or will complete degrees:

2009: Lisa Bottomley, Kendra Moyses, Jodi Schulz

2010: Beth Clawson, Diane Smith, Donna Turner, Janice Zerbe

2011: Laura Anderson, Eileen Haraminac, Rebecca Henne, Gail Innis, Stephanie Marino, Jackelyn Martin

2012: Janis Brinn, Kendra Wills

For more information on the tuition benefit program, please contact MSUE HR manager Nancy Axtell. You can find more information on the program in our administrative handbook at http://www.msue.msu.edu/objects/content_revision/download.cfm/revision_id.595847/workspace_id.282708/Tuition%20Asst%20Procedures_01_2011.doc/

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