Grassroots meeting seeks important feedback on strategic plan

Published 4:14 pm Friday, July 1, 2022

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

The Crenshaw County Extension Office reached out to the community last week looking for feedback on what services are needed in Crenshaw County and how they can better serve the needs of the community in the coming years.

The annual Strategic Plan and Grassroots Meeting was held on Tuesday, June 21, at 11:30 a.m. in Furman C. Mitchell Multi-Purpose Center. The meeting provided a way for the community to learn about Extension’s Strategic Plan, discuss Extension programs that address the county’s needs, and offer feedback. Prior to the meeting, a link to the grassroots survey was sent out to attendees.

Amanda Evans, Crenshaw County Extension Coordinator, discussed the agency’s effort to collect and consolidate this feedback at the meeting.

“For our Extension office to deliver relevant programming, we must be able to assess the issues encountered by the citizens of Crenshaw County. Today is just a group discussion. We have a good mixture of people here from different backgrounds and I want to hear your opinions on the plan, and I want you all to share your thoughts and ideas. In addition to assessing issues, we want to also evaluate any potential opportunities that would be beneficial to the county,” Evans told the attendees.

The six Strategic Plan Action Priorities are educational programming, marketing, stewardship of resources, cooperation, employee workforce development, technology and diversity, equity and inclusion. A slide show provided an overview of the 2022-2026 strategic plan that was followed by discussion and suggestions regarding the plan.

Dusty Bagentsowner of Countryside Gardens in Rutledge,said that Crenshaw County Extension is on the right track.

“I can’t say enough good things about extension, and the work they do for our community. They have so many great 4-H programs that get my kids involved. They provide wonderful resources like the years of research done by Auburn University that we have used in our business. They have revived the Farmers Market and they promote our business and do an excellent job of promoting agriculture in our county as a whole,” Bagents said.

Bagents said she feels the current administration at the Crenshaw County Extension Office is much more involved than in the past. She told those gathered that if the strategic plan is followed, it will work out well for everyone involved.

“Getting the word out about the resources extension offers will get citizens pointed back toward you all (Extension Office),” Bagents said.

Garrett Lloyd, USDA‐NRCS Soil Conservationist, agreed with Bagent’s regarding Crenshaw Extension’s involvement in the community.

“I think Dusty is spot on. I work in other counties, but you guys have the most outreach and are the most driven group I have seen. I know it takes a lot of effort to get out into the community and make things accessible to landowners, but it means a lot to me and a lot to them,” Lloyd said.

One concern raised was how to connect more with area schools and with the community.
Blair Till. Luverne Elementary principal, said she would like the schools to work more closely with Extension.

“I want to be able to share with parents more about what the Extension Office does in our school. Some parents might not even know about the Extension but as students begin to work more with them in the classroom, parents will begin to get more familiar with the resources Extension has available. We could have a station set up on parent night, when the parents come to visit the classrooms at the beginning of the school year where we can hand out pamphlets and have someone there to answer questions.”

Till suggested partnering with Alabama Ag Credit, First South Farm Credit, or other banks that finance farms in Crenshaw County, to have flyers with pertinent information, announcements of meetings, etc. placed into customer statements.

Evans said that teamwork, strengthening existing relationships and making new ones, will help to better meet the needs of people in our county.

“Regional Extension Agents (REAs) are the backbone to what we do and having them as good partners, that are willing to work together for the good of the state, makes things easy. If a forestry question comes to me, I often send them to Jeremy Lowery (management specialist with the Alabama Forestry Commission) if I think he can handle the issue better.I have had people I’ve helped with one thing, pass my contact info along to someone that needs help and access to other resources. I think building relationships has really helped me as far as me being new to extension. I think that building these relationships amongst agents and members of the community will help us get to where we want to be,” Evans said.

Evans also discussed upcoming 4-H plans and introduced the new 4-H agent, Heather Sanders.

“We have not had a full time 4-H agent in the county in several years. Having an agent from the start of the school year to finish is going to help with interest in 4-H. Heather already has several things planned and we are hoping to cover kindergarten all the way through high school in the coming year. We hope that this stronger and more consistent presence in the schools will encourage questions about what it is we offer,” Evans said.

Rickey Hudson, REA for Animal Sciences & Forages, also spoke on 4-H and youth development programs, mentioning that agents have been spread thin in the recent past, but added that the future of 4-H in the area is looking much brighter.

Greg and Faith Bassett, owners of Bassett Family Farms located on Quail Tower Road, discussed how 4-H operated in their home state of Florida and provided input and suggestions on how to build Crenshaw County 4-H.

Others present at the meeting not mentioned above were Lisa Wood- regional agent assistant II, Michael Kilpatrick-Luverne High School principal, Sedrick Mack-Agronomic Crops REA, Luis Colon-intern for NRCS, and Kristen Sanders- Extension administrative assistant

A report outlining various activities offered through Extension over the last year, following last year’s grassroots meeting, was available for viewing at the meeting.

• The Farmers Market-Extension helps vendors receive their grower’s permits, oversees the Ag Center side of the farmers market, and is actively involved by providing information, free items, and activities to promote programs throughout the market season.
• Bridegette Brannon, Food Safety regional agent, hosted a class to inform Farmers Market participants of the best safety practices to get their items from the farm to the market fresh and safe. This class also included an extra workshop to educate on the best ways to safely sell eggs.
• Farmers and Friends Ag Center Benefit-The inaugural benefit to raise money for the Tom Harbin Ag Center was held on Saturday, May 14. At the event were numerous animals including a small petting zoo, Farmers Market vendors, local and out of town vendors, a silent auction, bounce house, pet costume contest,cow train rides, Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Alabama Nature Center’s interactive exhibit, and more. Lisa Wood, agent with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), handed out informational pamphlets and freebies. The Alabama Forestry Commission provided education and pamphlets about the value of our forests and how to carry out responsible land and forest management. Free items for kids were given out. Approximately 250 people attended and more than $2,000 was raised to help with building maintenance, updates and repairs. Plans are in the works for an even bigger and better Farmers and Friends event next year.
• Canning Workshop- A class was held to teach locals how to safely store produce by canning vegetables using the water bath method.
• Weeds Walk-Amanda Evans, Crenshaw County Extension Coordinator along with REAs Jessica Kelton and Bence Carter met at the Crenshaw County lake to offer education, through a walking tour, about how to ID invasive plants.
• Learn and Burn-Amanda Evans and REAs hosted a demonstration on proper burning techniques that aid wildlife and forest management.
• Senior May Day-The inaugural event was held on May 5 at the Tom Harbin Ag Center where Senior citizens from around the county participated in games and activities such as an egg-and- spoon race, bingo, dancing, cake walk, and more.

• BodyQuest- Monthly visits to schools by REA Lisa Woods, the innovative childhood obesity prevention program, empowers third graders and their parents to make healthier choices.
• Forestry Planning Workshops- Hosted by the Forestry Planning Committee, a joint panel consisting of the Crenshaw County Extension, TREASURE Forest, NRCS, and the Alabama Forestry Commission, held two workshops providing information on how to prepare for timber sale and how to prep a site for planting and thinning pines.
Wildlife Back to School Bash

4-H programs and clubs: (offered for 4th-6th grade with plans to work with 7th and 8th graders during the upcoming school year): Your Money, Your Life—A financial simulation for grades 7-12 that aids students in learning personal financial management. By partnering with Career Academy,participants pretend to be young adults with occupations, salaries, and often have a family. They move through the simulation with volunteers role-playing various scenarios. Garden Club- The mission of the club is to give back to the community. Youth active in the club are learning Junior Master Gardener curriculum and gaining first hand experience growing a variety of produce. Aside from a small portion used for cooking demos for club members, produce will be donated to people in need in the community. Archery Club, Horse Club, Chick Chain and Pig Pen animal projects where participants show at the Peanut Festivalin Dothan
The extension agency partnered with the Luverne Public Library to offer Cooking, and STEAM programs that focus on the fields of science, engineering, the arts and math.
• Annual Farm City Day for k-5 students
• Groundwater Festival for 4th graders
• Farm Safety Day for for 6th graders
• Classroom in the Forest for 5th graders.

The strategic plan survey will be open until July 8 and can be accessed at https://auburn.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6WiuHFAT6SUbWjY
The grassroots survey is open until July 31 and can be accessed at https://www.aces.edu/go/grassroots

For more information call the Crenshaw County Extension Office at 334-335-6312.