Dear Local Readers,
You’ve heard me go on at considerable length about my volunteer work with Lane County Extension, a branch of the Oregon State University Extension system.
Without the passage of the bond measure on the Lane County ballot that was mailed out today, Extension’s future is jeopardy.
In the past few decades, the service has weathered fiscal crises on the local, state, and federal levels. It has managed to stay alive and continue to offer a hotline and walk-in service for local farmers and gardeners; year-round garden and food preservation classes; a food safety and preservation hotline each summer and fall, 4-H services for children; and a host of activities educating and sharing with local farmers, foresters, neighborhoods, businesses, and non-profit organizations.
And these services are necessary at a time of growing self-sufficiency and interest in local cooking and gardening. Folks that you rely on for your organic vegetables at our weekly farmer’s market and horticultural knowledge at places like Down to Earth and Coastal Farm & Ranch are often educated by Extension programs — and rely on the service continuing for questions and referrals. It serves low-income people in programs like the food pantry education demos. It serves seniors in homemaker training groups. It serves middle-class people who grow food and raise chickens in their backyard. It serves suburban mothers, rural kids, academics, truck drivers, lawyers, bakers, and homeless people.
Extension serves as a sturdy hub in the network that makes up the Willamette Valley food shed. We respond to questions that are local to our area. This is a service that is not available anywhere else: not online, not in books, not in magazines. I say this as someone who is very internet-savvy and specializes in culinary literature and history. When I discovered Extension in Lane County a few years ago, I realized that we had an unbelievably rare resource right here in Eugene: a place where knowledge about local food and horticulture is centralized. It offers the community a place to exchange information and organize programming.
If Extension in Lane County were to disappear, a vast store of irreplaceable local knowledge and organized outreach would go with it. It would be foolhardy in good times to squander this resource. In challenging economic times, however, when people are growing their own food and cooking locally now more than ever, allowing Extension to dissolve without allowing the public to voice its support would be irresponsible.
Lane County Extension has been serving the community since 1914, and now serves about 65,000 residents. It is so interwoven into the fabric of our local systems that service the food and horticulture needs of our community, it would be nearly impossible for any new organization to fill these shoes. It’s much more cost-efficient to keep the organization alive at a reduced level than to realize, a couple of years down the road, that we really did need and value the services it provided.
Nonsense about these services being better provided elsewhere has been circulating by a group described in this week’s Eugene Weekly article on Extension. I’m frankly disappointed that the writer didn’t investigate the issues at stake more deeply, but perhaps it is indicative that no alternative plan is reported. I have been unable to find any information on viable “better solutions” than Extension, other than vague gestures about how non-profit organizations could be models for private fundraising. Um, no. I heard two Extension staff members discussing the 15-hour days they’ve been working because of personnel and other funding reductions. Who would build and maintain the fundraising infrastructure? Even though there is a big volunteer base (650 committed souls), an organization can’t depend on volunteers to conduct sophisticated capital and operations campaigns. (Oregon State University responds to more of the claims and misinformation being spread by the opposition here.)
Please join me in saving Lane Extension. The Register-Guard has endorsed the bond measure, and we hope the Eugene Weekly will, as well, in its voter guide next week.
For those of you who have never used an Extension service, I challenge you to see for yourself if it’s worthwhile.
Next week, call the Master Gardener hotline (541-682-4247) during opening hours for free, research-based, local advice about a plant you bought at the market. Sign up for a $5 Kitchen Quickies class on savory pies, nuts, pasta-making, summer sausage, or sauerkraut. Drop by the office during opening hours (M-Th 10-5:00 with 1-2:00 closed for lunch) to have a weed identified. Check out the evolving local garden calendar or events at Lane County Extension on Facebook and learn when to plant and what pests to look out for in Lane County.
For those of you who have benefitted from the services, please consider donating to the Save Lane Extension political action committee. You are invited to attend the second Taste of the Vine wine tasting party at a great winery, Pfeiffer Vineyards.
Pfeiffer has delicious, unusual wines, including a spry viognier and a fantastic pinot gris. The two pinot noirs are wonderful, and the merlot has the faintest hint of smoky bacon. If it’s like the event I attended a few weeks ago, you’ll come away from the event with a complementary Riedel Oregon pinot noir glass, too. I won’t go so far as saying you’ll be able to ‘evaluate wine like the pros,’ as the poster says, but you will have a great time with warm, charming people who will teach you the basics in tasting red and white wine.
If you are unable to attend the event and would like to donate, the Save Lane Extension political action committee is looking for any donations for advertisements and other campaign-related costs. Now is the time to donate to let others know about Extension. Please see more information about donating here.
Thank you for your support.
A proud Lane County Extension volunteer,
Jennifer Levin, Sole Proprietor and Editorial Muscle, Culinaria Eugenius