Extension always had the answer

From the posts of my friends, it seems that the last 60 days or so of this COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a tremendous amount of learning new skills and refining or reconnecting with ones they’d forgotten.

Many of my friends have been baking and cooking whole meals from scratch in home kitchens that have been rarely used for more than boxed dinners and pre-made party platters from the deli section. They’re dusting off expensive appliances from their wedding registries and researching how to make sourdough starters from scratch now that they have added time at home. Necessity has them researching how to prepare chuck roasts or debone chicken breasts since that’s all they can find at the local store when they venture forth from their homes.

The individually portioned, heat-and-eat items either aren’t available to them, or they’re finding they can save more money by prepping their food at home themselves.

The pandemic has given rise to a crop of home seamstresses, dusting off inherited sewing machines to whip up batches of homemade masks. The last garments those machines saw were drop waist Laura Ashley print collared dresses for a 4-H fashion review 30 years ago. Actually, some of those masks are re-purposed fabric from those same 4-H projects found in their inherited fabric stashes in cabinets and plastic tubs. Still, everyone must pitch in and do his or her part.

My friends who are parents are now suddenly thrust into a changing role as homeschool teachers. They find themselves needing childhood education enrichment exercises to complement the online education that their kids’ teachers are providing via Zoom. They need solid advice for questions that were once answered by their children’s childcare providers or teachers.

I’m seeing more friends using their forced home stays to turn random Pinterest dreams into reality with more gardens planted, new chicken coops being built and new home DIY projects started and finished.

It’s ironic though that many turn to YouTube instructional videos from strangers to find the answers, when the answers were always a phone call away at their county Cooperative Extension Service offices.

For more than 100 years, Extension agents have been providing advice and knowledge for home, family and farm. No other country has such a fount of knowledge like that collected under our Extension Service’s umbrella. Farmers rely on it for research into seed variety performances and crop input recommendations. Families rely on Extension agents for advice on nutritional guidelines, food preparation, childcare and safety trainings. Gardeners rely on their agents for advice on soils and amendments and how to preserve the bounty once it’s harvested.

And the crown jewel has been the 4-H program, which since its inception has gathered all of this collected knowledge and passed it along through active learning to youth members and their families. By reaching young people at the start, and including parents and siblings in the project learning, the knowledge gets disseminated faster and further.

It’s why in the 1950s post-war America we had a surge in rural American prosperity—4-H taught youth how to harness the new technologies available to them and their families through project work and competitions. From tractors to home electrical appliances, they were able to improve the quality of life on the farm and in the home.

It’s why in the 1990s 4-H expanded to include STEM projects like rocketry and computer science—to better prepare our youth for the fields of tomorrow and the betterment of our nation as a whole. Some of today’s astronauts researching how to grow food in space for extended space travel started out as 4-H members planting gardens or building rockets for the county fair.

This was all done through pamphlets, in-person seminars, field days, and 4-H project learning, long before there were TikTok videos and HGTV. And this education is provided to the public for free or at minimal cost, because it’s financially supported by tax dollars.

So, if there’s one thing to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic, let it be a renewed appreciation for the staff at our county, district and state Extension offices who share the answers we all need each and every day.

Who else do you trust to have the reliable answers to why your sourdough starter died or patterns for that homemade face mask you’re seeking?

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].