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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.