Extension’s Future: A Community Meeting
Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Oregon State University Extension Service officials are seeking local support to help keep educational programs such as 4-H Youth Development, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers and Compost Specialists in Lane County. Extension lost most of its county-based funding one year ago and is working to survive the current budget year.
A discussion of Extension’s future, including ways that people can help, is scheduled for Thursday, July 16 at 7 p.m., in the Lane County Fairgrounds Livestock Arena.
The above snippet is an announcement from the OSU Extension – Lane County calendar of events. Extension provides many, many services to our community, including the education I received to be able to write posts on preservation and food safety for this blog, and the classes I and many others give at extremely discounted prices, often donating our own materials as well as time.
Quite frankly, the future doesn’t look so bright. I don’t know what they’re going to say at the meeting, but it doesn’t look good. They’re trying to put a brave face on it, but as a community member and dedicated volunteer at a place that has — hands down — the best community programming system I’ve ever seen, I feel obligated to share my sadness and helplessness over the whole thing, the end of an era.
The OSU, as a federal land grant university, is mandated in its charter to have an outreach “extension” program for education in agricultural-based fields (I’m simplifying, but you get the picture) in all Oregon counties. The system was set up over a hundred years ago to ensure cooperative funds from the federal, state, and county level would keep the university and Extension operating. Technically, Extension as an entity is one of the main missions of OSU and other land grant universities. Over the years and budget problems, this mission has become blurred or forgotten, and funds have been diverted to other necessary (and perhaps not so necessary) areas. Many Oregon counties have lost or drastically minimized their Extension programs. In Lane County, we’ve managed to keep Extension alive even through budget crises in the past.
With the loss of county funding and the risk of losing state funding, however, Lane County Extension can’t survive as it is operating, even with its curtailed hours and decimated staff. Worse yet, it risks losing its volunteers. What you see on paper is only part of the true cost of losing or severely curtailing Extension programming.There is a huge corps of longstanding (10, 20 years or more) volunteers who lovingly give their time to help the community use its agricultural and horticultural resources, pumping thousands of hours into these programs. I’m sure someone has figured out the true cost of radically altering Extension, assigning dollars to the hours committed by hundreds (thousands?) of people in Lane County who staff programs, hotlines, demos, classes, and events for free. It would be a major loss to dissipate all the volunteer energy that goes into that ramshackle little building north of the Fairgrounds, a place I’ve come to love.
If you’re as heartbroken as I am, come to the meeting and hear what’s been decided for the near future. Perhaps they’ve come up with a workable plan. I’m hoping, anyway. But in any case, it would be very nice to have your support, both there and at our classes this year.