April 2009 -- From Jack Payne
Changing Our Methods, Not Our Mission
In an e-mail message on March 10, President Geoffroy addressed the many millions of dollars in budget reduction for the university from the Iowa Legislature. For Extension, this means that millions of dollars must be cut from our budget. A budget cut this large for Extension means that we must change the way we do business.
People have asked me if I’m optimistic about the future of Extension, and my answer is a resounding, “No.” That doesn’t mean that I’m pessimistic, however. Right now, what I am, and what we all need to be, is realistic. Extension was formed more than a hundred years ago out of necessity, and necessity -- AKA relevance -- is what will save it. That doesn’t mean that we are going to sacrifice our ideals and our principles. Our mission is very much in sync with Iowa and the world. But the reality is that we are going to have to sacrifice certain things in order to survive.
And the first thing that we must give up is the status quo. We have to shed that time-honored credo, “That’s how we’ve always done things.” It only serves to prevent true relevance, and it hampers our ability to make necessary changes. Instead, we must substitute it with a new doctrine, one that will take us out of our comfort zones and have us saying, “This is how we can do things better.” Times like these require unconventional thinking. We have to get past all our paradigms. If restructuring is required, then not only will we restructure, we will revitalize Extension so that we can continue to provide strong educational programs and keep Extension relevant for all Iowans.
They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. However, I prefer a variation for Extension -- when the going gets tough, the tough think smarter … and they do things differently. That’s how we will build a model for Extension that can meet the needs of our clients today and tomorrow. That model must be flexible, far more flexible than we are now. The vision must be appropriate and must meet the financial reality of today’s brave new budget world.
No doubt this will be a difficult time for the university and for Extension, but let us all be realists as we find solutions and work together to change our methods, not our mission.
When we lead, there’s no telling how far we can go — particularly when WE-LEAD means West Liberty Economic Area Development. WE-LEAD formed to help West Liberty attract new business, retain and expand existing business and create leadership opportunities. Executive director Karen Lathrop, who also is an ISU Extension community and economic development field specialist, is glad to share the nonprofit organization’s success story with other Iowa communities.
“We are growing as a community in population,” Lathrop said. “We’ve had some new business startups. With the current economy, we have had a downturn of only about 15 jobs in recent months, but overall we are maintaining and growing our existing businesses.”
What’s their secret? Lathrop said, “We believe that what we think about, we attract. So we are going to trudge forward and make plans for what we would like to see in our community.”
She added, “I think what kills many towns is that they think, ‘oh the economy’s bad so we’re going to wait and see what happens.’ We’re not. We are creating our future.”
WE-LEAD has existed for three years, with Lathrop at the helm for two. Her position is funded 75 percent by WE-LEAD and 25 percent by ISU Extension. She embodies the partnership, bringing Iowa State expertise to local issues and applying lessons from West Liberty to other Iowa communities.
“Economic development is long term and it’s a lot of groundwork … we haven’t landed a company with 100 employees. On the other hand, we are really trying to make a difference with who we have in our community,” Lathrop said. “We have implemented a Well-Business Visit program to assist our local businesses, connect them to resources and provide them with business coaching to keep them in our community. Our work with entrepreneurs is growing as the word gets out. We had a new online business launch in March.”
WE-LEAD receives funding from the city council, several local businesses and the county, Lathrop said. “Our partnership with ISU Extension has provided us with resources and knowledge that have been extremely beneficial to our rural community. That broad-based support has been the key to our success.”
For more information about WE-LEAD, contact Lathrop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Think of it as a marriage at the meat locker: small Iowa meat processors keep track of who is interested in a quarter of beef or a naturally raised hog and then match that customer with a producer. As these “perfect matches” and consumer interest in locally raised meats increase, small Iowa meat processors are gaining support from ISU Extension and the Small Meat Processor Working Group.
“We are the matchmakers,” said Clint Smith, owner and operator of Stanhope Locker. “We are developing that relationship between the customer interested in locally raised meat products and the producer. It is a steadily increasing market.”
But the market has a lot to learn. Iowa Meat and Poultry Inspection Bureau Chief Dr. Gary Johnson reports his department receives calls from consumers who have questions about cuts of meat and the amount to expect from an animal. “There is a whole new clientele to educate, and great opportunities for Iowa’s small meat processors to satisfy the growing demand. Iowa State University Extension educational resources are valuable to our department as we address these questions, build awareness among consumers and work with processors.”
Extension’s Small Meat Processor Working Group brings processors, regulators, educators and business consultants together to identify processor needs and the resources to address those needs. Working group discussions also have prompted ISU Meat Science Extension to team with Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) and Value Added Agriculture program to offer trainings on business sustainability, as well as educational sessions that are expanding the meat processors’ business savvy — helping them understand customer preferences, product marketing and succession planning, and develop and use accounting systems.
ISU rural sociology graduate student Arion Thiboumery, who helped organize the working group three years ago, said ISU Extension has broadened the scope of its interaction with meat processors – by expanding the education on meat product, processing and food safety to include issues of business development and sustainability. This is helping small meat processors like Clint Smith work smarter, not harder, as they make “marriages” between niche meat and traditional meat producers and consumers wanting to buy Iowa-raised meat products.
A tip from a friend led Wayne Morgan to ISU Extension, a government contract and increased business for his new company.
Morgan, owner of Mid Iowa Satellite, sells Direct TV, Dish Network and various brands of affordable high-end TVs. He gives credit to ISU Extension and the Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) for his success: “They really gave me some good pointers on how to start a business and what to look for … it was invaluable and it was free.”
In particular, CIRAS put Morgan on the road to government contracting through the Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), a national program administered by the Defense Logistics Agency for the Department of Defense.
According to CIRAS program manager David Bogaczyk, CIRAS provides customized assistance to help Iowa companies win government contracts at the federal, state and local level. CIRAS helps them find and respond to appropriate bids, market their products and services to government agencies and contractors, and increase their sales in the government marketplace — steps that can prove critical to success in uncertain economic times.
“CIRAS pointed me in a direction to help me get some business,” Morgan said. CIRAS guided him through registering with Central Contractor Registration (CCR), a required step for doing business with the federal government. CIRAS also hosted a networking seminar and recommended that Morgan attend. This event connected him to Iowa Prison Industries, which led to a business presentation and eventual government contract to convert the Iowa prison system from analog to digital TV.
“The business with the prison system lends itself to my company having credibility, which has been able to lead to other work,” Morgan added.
Providing opportunity for Iowa business is one way ISU Extension is helping Iowans manage tough times. Extension’s Managing Tough Times website links to experts, websites and current programs from CIRAS and other sources that can make a difference for Iowa business any time, but especially right now. Iowans also can learn more about ISU Extension programs that develop business and community leaders.
Iowa 4-H’ers are gaining something significant from participating in 4-H clubs —something statistically significant, ISU Extension research shows. According to Keli Tallman, an ISU Extension 4-H youth development state specialist, a new study shows that Iowa youth credit their 4-H clubs with making them better citizens, leaders and communicators.
The 2008 study examined self-reported changes in 4-H club members’ citizenship, leadership and communication knowledge/skills and behavior/practices. Using a five-point scale, the youth compared their skills in each area after participating in 4-H with their skill level before participating in 4-H, Tallman said.
“4-H club members’ ‘after’ 4-H scores were higher than their ‘before’ scores, and the differences were statistically significant for every indicator of citizenship, leadership and communication knowledge/skills, as well as behavior/practices,” she explained.
Tallman said 508 randomly selected 4-H club members from 25 counties completed the Iowa 4-H Youth Citizenship, Leadership and Communication Self-Assessment Tool in fall 2008. Results showed, on average, that after participating in 4-H clubs, 80 percent of the youth indicated their citizenship skills had increased, and nearly 74 percent indicated their citizenship practices had improved. About 67 percent indicated their leadership skills had increased, and 72 percent indicated their leadership practices had improved. In addition, 73 percent of the youth indicated their communication skills increased, and 72 percent indicated their communication practices had improved.
“The results are phenomenal,” Tallman said. “When they look at citizenship, leadership and communication, Iowa youth say they have been able to gain the skills and demonstrate the behaviors because of their participation in 4-H clubs.”
One 4-H’er put it this way: “4-H has unique opportunities that allow you to become a leader, to become a role model, to become an effective communicator and to become active in your community. It has given me the ability to see my own potential. I discovered the pathway to my future through 4-H.”
For more information contact Tallman, email@example.com.
A little help, a little luck and a 20-by-20-foot plot of land will make a difference for some 28 Sioux County families. They are the stewards who will be tending the Garden of ARC, a new community garden project in Orange City. The American Reformed Church (ARC), the Holland Chapter FFA, ISU Extension in Sioux County and other partners are cooperating in this effort to help local families raise a portion of their food supply.
Last September, a committee from the church contacted the FFA and Sioux County Extension to ask for help in transforming an alfalfa field next to the church into garden plots, explained Cheryl Heronemus, the county’s ISU Extension education director.
The church had the land, the FFA had the labor and ISU Extension had Master Gardeners and other resources.
“We’re anticipating that a lot of the families won’t be experienced gardeners,” Heronemus said. So Master Gardeners will be “on call” at the garden on Saturday mornings to answer questions and serve as mentors. ISU Extension staff also will teach families about food preservation and the health benefits of increasing fruits and vegetables in their daily diet.
In addition, Heronemus secured a $1,000 Helen LeBaron Hilton grant from Iowa State to combine with other grants, private donations and church funds to pay for seeds, fencing, a tool shed and other supplies.
“All the costs for a community garden are startup costs,” said Garden of ARC representative Carolyn Yoder.
After that, Heronemus added, “it will be very sustainable.”
Sustainability fits perfectly with the Garden of ARC’s mission — to cultivate community through gardening, to provide for the needs of community members and to model and educate care for creation.
As Yoder said, “It’s not just about the food. It’s about getting to know the people.”
“This would not have happened without ISU Extension,” Yoder said, citing the help from Heronemus and the Master Gardeners, the grant-writing assistance and the overall morale boost.
For more information, contact Heronemus, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Yoder at (712) 707-3890.