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An apple a day, brought to you by strategic connections

With fall in full swing, hopefully you’ve had a chance to pick up some Michigan apples from your local farmers market, orchard or grocery store. Did you know that Michigan is our country’s third largest producer of apples with more than 11.3 million apple trees on over 35,000 acres (according to the Michigan Apple Committee)? That’s 825 family-run farms that produce our juicy and delicious Pure Michigan apples. Who can bring the apple industry groups and families to the table with the university to problem-solve specific needs? Michigan State University (MSU) Extension agriculture and agribusiness educators Amy Irish-Brown and Phil Schwallier.

Through their strategic connections, Amy and Phil facilitated the creation of the lab on the Ridge near Sparta to measure apple maturity indices. The Ridge is Michigan’s major apple-producing region that is located in Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties. This region has the topography, soil, elevation and microclimate that are perfect for growing apples. The idea for a lab grew from a conversation Amy and Phil had on the way to a meeting about the need to closely monitor Honeycrisp and Fuji apples that had been experiencing some serious quality issues. When they pitched the idea to the Michigan Tree Fruit Commission, they received an outstanding response from the entire apple industry.

The Michigan Tree Fruit Commission responded with $50,000 in funding for the project, the Michigan Apple Committee with $15,000, and the Michigan State Horticulture Society with $20,000. Storage Control Systems responded by donating space for the lab at a value of $5,000. AgroFresh donated an automatic firmness tester (valued at $5,000) and Riveridge Produce Marketing donated the use of a quality database ($2,000). Dr. Randy Beaudry, from the MSU Department of Horticulture, donated use of a gas chromatograph ($3,000) and served as MSU specialist for this effort. When local apple growers donated fruit for testing, the lab was ready for action.

Why was there such an overwhelming response? Because Amy and Phil had formed strategic connections and relationships with the people involved in the apple industry from growers, to businesses, to campus connections.

“It’s really been a lifetime of connections that have developed and continue to develop.” Amy said. “We work with a great group of producers – they are supportive and fun. We treat everyone with respect and listen to their issues. The one-on-one connections lead to an insight into the bigger issues facing the apple industry as a whole, which best helps us help growers. Growers often just want to be growers, so sometimes, we have to make connections with media, state and federal agencies and services, commodity groups, and others to represent the interests of the apple industry for them.”

The lab has been up and running since 2015, and it provides critical real-time information to Michigan apple producers from pre-harvest through the harvest season and in post-harvest storage. Amy and Phil are able to integrate, summarize and deliver information to Michigan apple growers in concise weekly reports on apple pruning indices, nutritional impact, maturity indices for appropriate harvest, and storage indices. These reports help growers make the best real-time decisions and grow high-quality apples at a profit. Using this technology, they identify what is working well for the current year apple crop and where growers can make decisions to improve this year’s harvest outcomes.

“We have the fruit industry’s issues at heart; it is our passion.” Phil said. “To be valued, successful and admired requires knowing the people, performing tasks that address their most pressing issues, and the persistence to complete the work the growers and industry define as important. This means that ‘people skills’ is the most important characteristic an Extension person needs to have; but fruit knowledge, hard work, self-motivation and job dedication are also important. We work for the fruit industry and thus the fruit industry works for us, MSU and Michigan.”

Check out this great video created by the Michigan Apple Committee that describes growers’ relationship with MSU Extension.

Amy and Phil are a great example of strategic connections and building relationships. Have you thought about connecting with committees in your area or faculty specialists on campus? What needs to do you see in your communities that could be met by a collaboration with local businesses, companies and governmental groups?

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Honoring our retirees as they begin new chapters

It’s the time of year when we honor and say goodbye to all of our retirees during the Michigan State University (MSU) retirement reception and banquet on Tuesday, April 12. I want to give one final shout-out to our MSU Extension colleagues who have made their marks on our organization and Michigan.

Elaine Bush joined MSU Extension in 1987 as a 4-H program assistant in Benzie County, and then spent many years in Manistee County as a 4-H agent, county Extension director and finally, as an Extension educator. Throughout her career, she enjoyed working with clientele, local government officials and organizational leaders. Coordinating the MSU Extension Firewise outreach program was one of her career highlights. Elaine enjoyed working with national Extension staff involved in disaster education as the point of contact for Extension Disaster Education Network.

Gerald (“Jerry”) May’s educational programs included environmental issues relating to livestock production concentrating on air quality concerns for livestock producers, rural residents and agency staff who work directly with livestock producers. He focused on odor issues related to livestock production, selecting sites for livestock facilities and the National Air Quality Site Assessment Tool. He also provided quality assurance education programs for pork producers on a regional basis. Jerry’s greatest pride and enjoyment came from relationships he developed working with farm employees and owners, state agency staff, 4-H youth and his Extension colleagues.

Jane Herbert joined Extension in 1996 as a water quality educator responsible for design, development, coordination, promotion, teaching, evaluation and budgeting of regional and statewide water quality programs and activities. In 2008, she became the lead educator for the MSU Extension inland lake shoreline restoration programing and was a founding member of the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership that developed the Certified Natural Shoreline Professional program. She provided leadership for a series of natural shoreline workshops and train-the-trainer sessions to equip natural resource professionals to educate lakefront property owners.

Patricia (“Pat”) Dignum began her career as a 4-H educator in Kent County and later moved to Montcalm County. In Kent and Montcalm counties, she provided educational programming and oversight of 4-H Youth Development, along with volunteer and leadership trainings for community partners. In Kent County, she also developed afterschool programs in science and nutrition for urban elementary schools and at-risk secondary students. In recent years, as a supervising educator, she provided support to the 4-H staff in 10 counties.

Theresa Silm has devoted her life to 4-H and youth. After graduating with a B.A. in child development and elementary education from Michigan State University, she accepted a position as a 4-H program associate in Clinton County in 1977. She later became the 4-H youth agent. She has provided both youth programming and family education, and has worked with community partners to develop programs, curriculum and trainings for children and teens.

Wanda Roberts began as the Grand Traverse County 4-H Extension agent in 1990. In her role, Wanda facilitated meaningful partnerships with community organizations to provide educational programming for community members, especially youth. As supervisor of local 4-H program coordinators, she was also dedicated to mentoring and helping her colleagues be successful. Following her passion for financial literacy, Ms. Roberts served for five years as a financial educator with the Financial and Homeownership Education Team. She was instrumental in creating a partnership with Michigan’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services in investor education. She also served as the co-chair of the national Financial Security for All eXtension Community of Practice. She is a member of the Michigan Association of Extension 4-H Youth Staff and the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents.

I also want to take time to honor and remember Thomas (“Tom”) Schneider who unexpectedly passed away in Laos earlier this year while doing what he loved. For the past 13 years, he would travel to Laos to train local indigenous hill tribe members who in turn provide an education to the local children as a step in helping build a sustainable local economy. He joined Extension in 1977 as an Extension 4-H youth agent in Oakland County. In 1988, he became an Extension program leader responsible for developing the new property donation to MSU and managing the Tollgate Extension Center located in the heart of Novi, Michigan. Throughout his career, Tom committed himself to helping young people and adults achieve success in their lives. Tom was a strong advocate for the staff he supported and worked with, serving on numerous committees related to staff development and leadership. As a co-creator of the MSU Extension Facilitator Excellence training, he was instrumental in helping professionals across Michigan and the country improve their group facilitation skills in support of community and youth development efforts. Tom is survived by his wife, Brenda, and daughter, Jennifer. We join them in remembering how he changed our lives.

To all of our retirees, thank you again for all of the important work that you’ve done for Michigan residents and your service to our organization. You have made a difference in all of our lives.

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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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National 4-H Council honors Nate Seese with Youth in Action Award

Imagine a 15-year old youth who gets called out to New York City to receive a national award for doing what came pretty naturally to him. Then imagine being that youth on the stage with other honorees, including a famous country singer (Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland) and the executive vice president of a major international corporation (Jim Borel of DuPont). I would have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be that youth, but I got to see Kent County 4‑H member Nate Seese have that experience on Tuesday night when he received the 2012 4‑H Youth in Action Award at the third annual 4-H Legacy Awards Gala hosted by National 4-H Council.

 I’ve told Nate’s story on several occasions in Spotlight, so today I’d like to spread the spotlight a bit further to tell you a bit about Nate’s family, parents Christine and Kevin Seese and grandparents Jeanne and Louis Kiesling.

 Youth like Nate don’t just happen, and no one should think that 4-H is what made him special. Obviously it begins at home, and I was honored to meet Nate’s parents and grandparents at the National 4-H Gala. His mother, Christine, was born and raised on a farm in New Jersey. His father, Kevin, has worked in agribusiness on an international stage for much of his career. They actually chose to move to Michigan and to realign their careers so that their children, Nate and Nate’s older sister Hannah, could have a childhood more connected to community, church and the land than they had previously, a childhood much like their parents experienced. It was heartwarming to see that commitment rewarded with their son’s recognition in New York. And then to meet the grandparents who drove up from New Jersey to see their grandson honored was a special treat. Grandfather Louis was a 4-H’er 56 years ago. Jeanne has a wealth of stories about raising kids on the farm. Christine and her siblings grew up working on the farm, and she had some colorful stories to share about planting strawberry seedlings and treating city folk to a rural experience when they visited the family farm.

 Kevin grew up as a youth active in 4-H. He and Christine specifically sought out 4-H as a program that they thought would help them to raise their children with the values and skills they acquired from their own experiences. And Glenda Kilpatrick, Michigan State University Extension children and youth educator, who has worked with Nate and his club and their leaders, was able to witness the impact of Nate’s choices and actions on others who hear his story.

 Nate’s a special young man. And I recognize that Michigan 4-H has thousands of young people equally committed to contribute to their communities. Nate has received a great deal of well-deserved attention for his work and each of the other youth in 4-H deserve that recognition as well. I like telling his story because it captures people’s attention so well. I think the only dry eyes in the room when Nate accepted his award were his own. There’s nothing too haughty about this young man. He represents many more youth and I hope to shine the spotlight on others as well. Michigan has a promising future with youth like Nate Seese and the thousands of others we serve through Michigan 4-H.

 You can read more about the award Nate received at this summary of the National 4-H Gala.

Nate tells his own story here and on the following video:

 

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Kent County 4-H’er joins the Revolution of Responsibility

In a recent Spotlight article, I talked about the 4-H Revolution of Responsibility, National 4‑H Council’s movement for positive change, challenging kids to make a difference and take responsibility for community problems and issues.

 Nate Seese, a 4-H’er from Byron Center in Kent County, is taking on responsibility in a big way right in his own community. Nate raises and shows sheep and hogs as a 4-H project. Usually, a 4-H’er involved in this type of project would auction off the animals at fair and then keep the profits. But Nate saw a need to help hungry people in his community and stepped up to do something about it. He put together a buying group consisting of local business owners and community members to buy the animals at auction. The group lets Nate keep the animals so he can donate the meat to the Buist Community Assistance Center, a local food pantry. After taking the animals to Byron Center Meats (the company donates its time and services to process the meat), Nate was able to donate 500 pounds of lamb and pork to the center this year.

 Nate says, “4-H has taught me that we can’t just sit back and wait for somebody to take the lead. We have to take the lead if we want to make a change.”

 Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development is also taking the lead in the revolution, developing responsible leaders for the future.

 Agriculture and Natural Resources Communications staff members Kraig Ehm, Steve Evans and Michelle Lavra created a video featuring Nate’s story. View the video:

 The video was shared at the 2011 NAE4-HA (National Association of Extension 4-H Agents) Conference held Oct. 24–28 in Nebraska. The video will be posted on the National 4-H Revolution of Responsibility site.

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MSUE Kent County Junior Master Gardener Program gets kids active, educated and outdoors

In an age when childhood obesity is a real concern and when children are pulled indoors by the attraction of video and computer games, gardening can be a welcome solution. Gardening can not only get kids active and outdoors, it can get them excited about eating healthy food that they’ve grown themselves. Growing a garden can become a lifelong activity that can lead to a healthy, active life.

 Michigan State University Extension Kent County coordinated the Junior Master Gardener (JMG) Program in Grand Rapids and Lowell during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The once-a-week 10- to 12-week program involved Kent County fourth through sixth graders with 11 to 22 children participating depending on the year and location.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden.

Grand Rapids Junior Master Gardener students and parents plant an herb garden at the MSU Extension Kent County Office at a May 21, 2011, planting party. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Besides getting a lot of exercise by working in the garden, kids participated in a garden-related craft activity and learned about nutrition while making a healthy snack. The children went on field trips to various locations including a local greenhouse, a food pantry, an apiary and a daylily garden where they learned how to pollinate daylilies. Amy Irish-Brown, Extension educator, was their tour guide when they visited Clarksville Research Center, part of MSU’s AgBioResearch. They even operated a farm stand at a local farmers market and learned from two local chefs how to properly cut fruits, vegetables and herbs from their garden for cooking and eating.

 The kids did homework. Homework in the summer? That’s right. But I’m told this was homework that the kids got excited about. Kids read from their Junior Master Gardener workbooks (Texas A&M 4-H curricula) and cooked with produce from their JMG gardens. At the last class, a recipe book of all the students’ recipes was compiled and printed for everyone to take home.

 Extension educator Kendra Wills coordinated both the Grand Rapids and Lowell programs this summer. Extension educator Rebecca Finneran lent her help and expertise in Grand Rapids with the support of the MSU Extension Kent County Master Gardener Program. The Lowell Area Schools, Lowell Community Wellness and the Lowell Area Community Fund supported the Lowell program.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011.

Grand Rapids Junior Master student shows off a flower at a Kent County Master Gardener's home daylily garden in July 2011. The participants learned how to pollinate daylilies and create their own cross breeds. Photo by Kendra Wills.

 Although this effort technically falls under the MSU Extension Greening Michigan Institute, it really connects all the institutes because it provides education on agriculture to children and youth, promotes health and nutrition, and supports the creation of local food systems.

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Kent County 4-H’ers discover veterinary science

To address increased demand for science and technology professionals, 4-H is working nationwide to reach a bold goal of engaging one million new young people in science programs by 2013. Currently, 4-H science programs reach more than 5 million youth across the country with hands-on learning experiences to ensure global competitiveness and prepare the next generation of science, engineering and technology leaders.

 To help meet that goal, Michigan State University Extension Kent County 4-H Youth Development educator Glenda Kilpatrick encourages 4-H clubs to participate in activities that emphasize science. With that in mind, a group of 50 4-H’ers, aged 6 to 19, accompanied by 14 adult volunteers and family members attended a hands-on learning event for Kent County 4‑H’ers at Family Friends Veterinary Hospital in Grand Rapids in March.

 Veterinarians and vet technicians, two of whom are 4-H leaders, hosted the event that began at the pharmacy where participants learned about the importance of routine health care through a game format. They engaged participants in a number of creative learning opportunities that provided exposure to microscopic inspection of parasites, dental care, birth, surgery, x-ray images, grooming and behavioral observation. At the end of the tour, the 4-H visitors were able to chat with veterinary technicians on veterinary careers.

 After the event, both youth and adults took a survey about their experience. Of the young people who answered the survey, 77 percent reported that they would like to do some outside reading in science, and 63 percent of the youth agreed that they had a real desire to learn science because of 4-H experiences like this one at the veterinary hospital. Will they all become scientists? Perhaps they will, but even if they don’t, they’ve benefited from an enhanced understanding of the role that science plays in managing animal health.

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Extension educator empowers grower to achieve

Sometimes it’s the small successes, achieved one person or project at a time, that give the clearest examples of our value to the state. Betty Blase, District 7 coordinator, feels that Kent County Michigan State University Extension educator Carlos Garcia-Salazar’s work with one Sparta blueberry grower is an example of that value. The grower inherited a 3-acre U-pick blueberry farm neglected for many years. He had no idea how to raise blueberries much less run a successful business selling them. However, after three years of training and technical assistance from Carlos, this part-time business owner has seen his profits grow, increasing blueberry production and income from $1,000 in 2008 to $9,000 in 2010. This is just one great example of how MSUE continues to empower people to achieve success. Although one-one-one training isn’t our predominant approach to programming, in some situations it is needed to help equip clients with basic skills so they can benefit from our other education programs. Thanks to Carlos for his willingness to reach out in this way.

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Junior Master Gardeners receive heart-warming gift

I usually reserve this Spotlight to talk about awards, events and accomplishments of MSU Extension professionals. But sometimes I hear a story that says a lot about the people we serve and I have to share. Take, for example, this experience from Rebecca Finneran, horticulture educator in Kent County.

Each year Kent County Master Gardener Volunteers sponsor a public garden tour, the proceeds of which go toward the Junior Master Gardener program. This year a family living across the street from one of the host gardens decided to sell lemonade. And though they had no previous experience with the Master Gardener program, the three children, with mom in tow, stopped in our MSUE office with a check for $40—their total two-day profit—and asked that it be used to provide a scholarship for a child in the Junior Master Gardener Program.

Rebecca put it best: “It just goes to show, it’s not the size of the gift but the effort behind it!”

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