February 2008 -- From Jack Payne
eXtension: Houston, we have lift-off
February’s national launch of eXtension (pronounced E-extension) transports Extension from the realm of Land-Grant Universities to Cyber-Space Learning Communities. In a nutshell, eXtension is an online, interactive learning environment designed to provide the best, most researched knowledge from the land-grant university minds across America. Its mission is to connect knowledge consumers with knowledge providers. Think of it as “a catalyst for transformation of the Cooperative Extension System of the Land-Grant Universities nationwide.”
eXtension offers huge advances in collaborative research and unprecedented access to information. On the content provider’s side, it is a space where researchers can collaborate in Communities of Practice to gather and produce new education and information resources on wide-ranging topics, while continually interacting with their customers to help solve real life problems in real time. The works of faculty and other professionals in eXtension are based upon unbiased research and undergo a peer review prior to publication on the public interface.
From the client’s standpoint, it is a place where a group of individuals interested in a particular topic or subject matter area may form a Community of Interest. As that Community of Interest grows, professional educators with expertise in that topic or subject matter area join together and form a Community of Practice. These learning communities are typically multi-institutional, multi-state and multi-disciplinary, bringing the "best of the best" educational resources to you.
Unlike most other resources on the Web, eXtension has experts from universities around the country ready to answer questions. Within each resource or topic area there is a section, “Didn't find what you were looking for? Try asking one of our Experts.” You can submit your question directly to eXtension. Or, enter your zip code in the “find an extension office” search field to be linked to your own land-grant university and local Cooperative Extension office. Chances are, they will be able to help you immediately, or they can alert eXtension to what you need.
To be a test pilot, simply log on to http://www.extension.org/.
No matter what it’s made of, landscape mulch needs to look like mulch to be acceptable to consumers. It also must be safe. So when Tire Environmental of Muscatine wanted to improve its shredded tire products to gain market ground in the landscape mulch arena, the company called upon ISU Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS). With CIRAS’ connections, better metal detection and some new coloring technology, what once rolled down the highway is now beautifully underfoot on playgrounds and in landscaped spaces.
To be safe for playgrounds and landscapes, products made from shredded tires can’t contain exposed wire or entrapped steel bits. CIRAS’ Paul Gormley brought in Iowa State’s Institute for Physical Research and Technology (IPRT) to review the company’s process. IPRT helped the company improve metal detection and sorting capabilities to remove the wire and steel.
As a result, the company’s black shredded tire material “had all the positive characteristics it needed to be sold, except it didn’t look like the products it was supposed to replace,” said Tire Environmental’s general manager Dennis Froehlich.
Once again, enter Gormley. “I knew of two Iowa companies that work in the colored wood mulch industry — Becker-Underwood and Marion Mixers — that could help Tire Environmental make their ideas real. So I set up some phone calls, and they took it from there. Sometimes it’s just about putting the right people together.”
In 2007 Tire Environmental implemented the new coloring technology and sold 50 tons of the colored, shredded tire material and 200 tons of black ground cover. Froehlich said. “We have had nothing but good comments from our dealers and customers; sales are increasing as more and more people are exposed to our mulch.”
The 24 graduates of ISU Extension’s Winegrape 101 class in Page County are the latest addition to the growth of Iowa’s wine and grape industry. Participants came from several southwest Iowa counties and two Missouri counties, said ISU Extension Viticulture Specialist Mike White. Iowans are attending these classes throughout the state, as well as ISU Extension field days, conferences, wine-tastings and other events — helping Iowa gain an edge in an industry that stimulates economic activity in rural areas.
At the end of 2007, Iowa had 71 licensed wineries and more than 384 growers and 875 acres of commercial vineyards, and produced 267,075 gallons of wine, White said. That’s a considerable jump from 2002 when the state had only 18 licensed wineries, about 175 growers and 350 acres of commercial vineyards, and produced 54,527 gallons of wine.
According to ISU Extension Value Added Agriculture and the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute, winery respondents in a recent survey indicated their estimated 2008 wine sales to be more than $22 million. More than 400,000 people have visited Iowa wineries during the past two years. Those visitors spend additional dollars in areas surrounding wineries, according to Craig Tordsen, of the Value Added Agriculture program.
Iowa currently ranks 14th in the Midwest in number of wineries, said Murli Dharmadhikari, director of the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute. As Iowa wine establishes a regional identity and reputation for quality, it will be even more competitive in the Midwest and nationally, he said.
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 requires that after people file for bankruptcy, they must complete a personal financial management course. In January the U.S. Department of Justice reapproved ISU Extension to provide this personal financial management education in Iowa. According to Cynthia Needles Fletcher, ISU Extension family resource management specialist, Extension’s course, called Planning to Stay Ahead, helps people take control of their money and rebuild their financial lives post bankruptcy.
Planning to Stay Ahead covers budget development, money management tips, wise use of credit and other consumer information, Fletcher said. The course meets the debtor education requirement of the new law. Course participants receive a certificate that verifies that they have completed this requirement of the bankruptcy process. The certificate must be presented before debts can be discharged.
ISU Extension has been providing personal financial management education to Iowa bankruptcy filers since 2006, Fletcher said. “Offering the course is an excellent match with ISU Extension. Our Extension educators have extensive experience teaching practical money management skills to adult audiences. Evaluations of the course reflect this. During the past year, 100 percent of the participants in the ISU Extension course reported that the teacher was well prepared and the learning materials were helpful, relevant and easy to understand.”
ISU Extension staff members teach the two-hour course throughout Iowa. It features videos, short exercises and ways to apply sound money management practices. The $20 fee (per individual or household) includes a 16-page workbook and all class materials. Course dates, times and locations are posted online.
Key community leaders will be meeting with ISU Extension staff in every county over the next few months to take a closer look at Program Builder, an ISU Extension Web site that connects Iowans with community and economic development resources. They’ll get a better idea of how to make the most of this resource that offers access to services for leadership, landscape revitalization, community visualizing, downtown restoration, parks, transportation, local government, geographic information systems, nonprofit agencies and management.
The sessions have a two-fold purpose, said Susan Erickson, a program coordinator with ISU Extension Community and Economic Development. First, the sessions demonstrate the Program Builder tools, and second, the sessions bring together local community and economic development leaders.
Mahaska County Agricultural and Rural Development Director Miranda Johnson knew the participants in her county’s Program Builder session. “They are all strong leaders within our county,” she said.
“I work with towns in Mahaska County in attracting new businesses to come to our area, as well as write grants for various organizations. Just knowing what is out there from ISU will be helpful for a variety of projects. Putting all of the programs together on one Web site will save me a lot of time,” Johnson said.
For more information about Program Builder, contact Erickson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
When historic barn quilts merge with futuristic geospatial technologies, the result is a high-tech take on a new tourist attraction. Northwest Iowa 4-H Technology Team youth are using their newfound skills in global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) to map Sac County’s historic barn quilts. According to ISU Extension 4-H Youth Field Specialist Carol Ehlers, “The goal was to develop a geospatial technologies project that would provide useful information for a community and might impact economic growth.”
ISU Extension GIS Specialist Alan Jensen taught the technology savvy 4-H’ers to use Garmin eTrex GPS receivers to collect the latitude and longitude positions of more than 50 historic barns sporting colorful painted wooden quilt blocks. A barn quilt driving team guided the youth in collecting GPS data points both at the road sign and at the barn. The 4-H’ers and drivers returned to a computer lab to download the data into Google Earth files with help from a GISCorps volunteer, Brandon Haas of NewCom Technologies Inc. in Des Moines. GISCorps is a program of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA), and coordinates short term, volunteer GIS services to communities worldwide.
“This is a fantastic example of how a group of dedicated volunteers can help 4-H clubs all over the country,” said Shoreh Elhami, GISCorps co-founder, who is publicizing the project on the organization’s Web site.
Ehlers said 4-H families and volunteers already have invested more than 180 hours in preparing and using GPS technology to secure each barn’s data point. The youth also were instructed in using GIS software to develop an Internet-based driving tour of the historic barns. Because of the 4-H Technology Team’s work, what has been a paper map will soon come to life on the project’s web site.
Rural economies are regional economies. That’s why local leaders from five counties gathered three times in January to build long-term success in northwest Iowa. During the Regional Economic Leadership Forum they learned about leading with vision for their changing communities and about the benefits of philanthropy, entrepreneurism and working together in the region. It’s another example of ISU Extension bringing the right players to the table to build multi-county partnerships for economic growth in Iowa.
The participants hailed from Calhoun, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Kossuth and Palo Alto counties. They included a business owner; city and county officials; banking, finance and insurance professionals; farmers; an agronomist; and marketing and rural development specialists.
“It was great to meet people in the area and get ideas for our community,” according to one participant’s evaluation. Others said, “I think this group should continue to meet and share and give feedback on each community,” and “Make this annual or semi annual for new people to help create a whole regional network.”
According to Nancy Jenson, ISU Extension education director for Pocahontas County, the participants have decided to meet in August or September to share what they have accomplished in their communities and to help plan the 2009 program.
Sponsors included ISU Extension and economic developers in all five counties along with Farm Bureau, Corn Belt Power Cooperative, Humboldt County REC and Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative. For more information contact the ISU Extension county education directors in Calhoun, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Kossuth or Palo Alto counties.