More than 300 Cooperative Extension agents, some from as far away as Norway and American Samoa, converged in Atlanta May 4-7 to share ways that Extension is making an impact in the cities where they live.
Hosted this year by University of Georgia Extension, the biennial National Urban Extension Conference allows Extension agents from across the country to share the work they are doing in their communities and what can be done better.
“(Being here) is the opportunity to talk with people who have the same idea, globally, about the future of Extension.” said Keith Nathaniel, county Extension director for Los Angeles County for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “America is continuing to urbanize, and as Extension agents, we need to be there to help.”
The U.S. Congress set up Cooperative Extension Service in 1914 to provide on-demand research-based education to farmers and homesteaders, and that work is still a major part of the service’s essential mission. However, today’s Cooperative Extension System also provides valuable programs for city dwellers — from science enrichment programs for school children to water conservation strategies for the green industry and classes for beginners and advanced gardeners.
Over the course of the three-day conference, agents hosted workshops on everything from capacity building and engaging new audiences to working with county and city governments to tackle environmental issues.
“We’ve got three big categories this year, said Sheldon Hammond, district Extension director for UGA Extension’s northwest district, which serves the metro-Atlanta area. “One is making communities healthy through food and nutrition programs, through working with youth and community gardens. We also have a lot of environmental programs being highlighted, having to do with water quality and big urban issues. And of course, the third one would be working with volunteers to expand our efforts in urban communities.”
UGA Extension and faculty from the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and College of Family and Consumer Sciences presented on several topics, including:
- Outreach methods for growing diverse audiences.
- Program evaluation for those new to measuring the impact of their programs.
- Zoonosis prevention curricula for children developed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Georgia 4-H’s work combating childhood obesity and hunger.
- Working with school officials to create a wide-ranging leadership conference for students.
- Securing federal grant money to pay AmeriCorps workers.
- Teaching limited resource families to prepare healthy meals on a budget through the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
- Collaborating with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division through water-centered science curriculum for students, Project WET.
Extension agents for across the nation presented on similar topics, providing real world examples of programs that are proven to work, Hammond said.
“We have people here from 47 different states so we’re able to highlight the University of Georgia Extension programming to those folks. However, they’re also bringing in programming and expertise that our folks can learn from. So it’s a two way street that we have going on here and it’s been well worth it to host it,” he said.
Agents walked away from the conference with new ideas about what is possible for UGA Extension, said Wade Hutcheson, county Extension coordinator for Spalding County. Hutcheson presented a poster on a community garden and community revitalization project he helped start in Griffin, Georgia.
“The opportunity to share the programming that you’re proud of and get feedback from an outside perspective is really valuable,” Hutcheson said. "It can help you see an approach or strategy that you didn't before. Feedback from colleagues serves as useful evaluation."