The need for and importance of strong local relationships, ongoing communication and a mutual understanding of the value of Cooperative Extension (CE) were key conclusions of a national two-day meeting of officials from NACo and CE held in Kansas City, Mo. May 3–4.
The meeting was convened by NACo and the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP). Its purpose was to discuss the mission, goals and priorities of both organizations, to identify mutual interests, needs and resources, and to consider ways to collaborate at the national, state and local levels. The meeting was arranged following NACo’s decision not to fund the Ralph L. Tabor Extension fellow position in 2012.
Determining local needs — and figuring out how best to meet them — were quickly identified by the group as keys to strong county-CE relations. In a facilitated dialogue, participants outlined issues of mutual interest such as rural-urban interdependence; education about civic engagement, especially for youth; education to address obesity and to encourage healthy living; assuring ongoing sustainable food systems and strength in agriculture; and achieving excellence in education and service delivery.
Recognizing that strained county and CE finances are likely to continue, attention also was paid to strategies that maximize efficiency and economy, such as sharing information about model programs, using electronic technology more broadly, encouraging partnerships at the local and state levels, and recognizing excellence through joint awards.
One example cited as a way to enhance counties’ and CE’s mutual interests is Georgia’s use of a state liaison position. Meeting attendees Ross King, executive director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, and Beverly Sparks, University of Georgia associate dean for Extension, said that the county government and CE partnership in Georgia could serve as a model for other states. Dennis Calvin, director, Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension, reviewed a similar arrangement in his state.
NACo President Lenny Eliason and Donald Larson, chair of NACo’s Agricultural and Rural Affairs Steering Committee, both expressed how demographic changes and fiscal realities require CE to clearly articulate what value it adds to the health and well-being of local citizens. Most counties provide a significant portion of the funding for local CE programming, especially for 4-H youth development efforts.
Daryl Buchholz, associate extension director, Kansas State University, and Robin Shepard, executive director, North Central Cooperative Extension Association, agreed to encourage similar dialogues at state levels between CE and county officials. The purpose is to create efficiencies in the way CE and county governments work together to increase awareness of existing CE programs, and to listen to the needs of local citizens to create new programs of high value.
Other county officials in attendance were Lu Barron, supervisor, Linn County, Iowa and chair of NACo’s Rural Action Caucus, and Keith Langenhahn, field representative, Wisconsin Counties Association. NACo Deputy Executive Director Ed Ferguson and Associate Legislative Director Erik Johnston also represented NACo.
Other CE representatives at the meeting included Mark Latimore, administrator, Fort Valley State University in Georgia; Lyla Houglum, executive director, Western Extension Directors Association; and Jane Schuchardt, executive director, ECOP.
A complete report of the NACo-Cooperative Extension dialogue outlining additional action strategies is in process and will be posted on the NACo website when it is available.