“Is University of Minnesota Extension something we still need?” ask friends and family occasionally. To answer, it takes some reflection.
    Extension has a deep history with agricultural progress in this country and around the world. What began in 1909 in Minnesota to help farmers become more productive and profitable has made several pivots. You can easily learn about Extension’s history online. It is quite amazing to see how it has changed through the decades as detailed with many examples.
    What I remember while growing up on our farm is that Extension agents were held in high regard. When my father began his farming career he took a U of M Extension short-course on operating a diversified farm. The aid of Extension was needed to take the knowledge from the university’s research and teaching arms and apply it to what was actually needed to help the farmers throughout the state learn new methods to aid in farming success. The Extension agent communicated, reached out and made farm visits to impart the knowledge. Now this is the job of the Extension educator and means of communication have transformed.
    A quick Google search for “University of Minnesota Extension” today yields a variety of diverse online courses you can take that range from “The Successful Beekeeper” to “The Science of Manure Management.” Information on master gardening, human nutrition, community development and household finances are topics any family could use. You can find answers to any garden or food-related questions you have through a query on the website answered by Master Gardeners and educators.
    So today, “Extension provides practical education and research you can trust to help people, businesses and communities solve problems, develop skills and build a better future,” states the website www.extension.umn.edu.
    When you visit the website, for example, you can discover that the week of March 8-12 has six events scheduled. One of them is the Winter Dairy Series webinar of “Best Practices for Productive Farm Meetings” which is part of a several-week series that can be accessed by registering for the webinars.
    Another way I believe Extension is viable today is the youth programs it offers. Most of them revolve around 4-H in both rural and urban settings. I can think of many examples of youth who have used the skills and leadership learned through 4-H to pursue their lifelong goals and careers. Spending time with their project areas of interest sparked their career direction.
    My nephew spent three years carefully detailing the landscaping plans around his family’s home in his 4-H project. He is now an established landscape architect. Many youth who spent their summers involved in livestock projects have careers as veterinarians, livestock farmers or advisors in livestock and crop production. People who excelled in the small engine projects went on to be mechanics; those who perfected leadership skills are teachers; clothing construction experts have sewing businesses, and the list goes on. Youth projects today have evolved into STEAM, robotics, the 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge, environmental and community-related topics.
    Now Extension reaches into every aspect of life in Minnesota. This happened in 1990 when the law expanded Extension’s reach. This evolved into five capacity areas today. One example is food security and how Extension directs people to resources.
    A person helping in this key effort is Kathryn Draeger, statewide director, U of M Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships. She explains how Extension is relevant in 2021.
    “For example, because Extension works with food access, we were able to pivot quickly and provide support to communities around the state when COVID-19 hit last year. We hit the ground running to help communities and rural grocery stores in a number of ways. Hearing that people who were exposed or sick with COVID-19 needed to quarantine for two weeks, we developed a fact sheet for a 14-day emergency meal kit that could be created at a small town grocery store. The kit contained food that was available, affordable and easy to prepare in case someone was sick. That fact sheet has been downloaded over 7,500 times and was used by community groups to help people who were quarantined. Knowing that grocery stores are critical to keeping food access throughout our state, we created a curbside pickup and delivery plan and fact sheet based on the experiences of actual small town grocers who were doing their best to protect customers and their front line staff. And then we distributed it to over 250 stores and were able to support dozens of stores in planning in case they need to switch to curbside pickup.”
    Draeger and her Extension co-workers also developed “The Farm to Grocery Toolkit” which helps farmers who are growing and producing farm products to sell them directly to grocery stores.
    You can probably tell I am an Extension/4-H volunteer. My opinion is that Extension’s reach is different in today’s world than in past times but is very much needed.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.