PINE RIVER -- The Cass County Extension Committee set priorities for extension services in this county during a special meeting Jan. 29.
Those are: first, youth and family development programs, including 4-H; second, community development, including economic development; third, conservation and water quality related landscaping; fourth, governmental education fee-for-service system to support environmental services programs; and fifth, improved communications and promotion of extension services.
Sybil Nies, Cass County Extension Committee chair, emphasized in an interview last weekend the committee believes Cass County's current extension staff has done an exceptional job of reaching out to the county's changing population and economic base.
The full-time Cass staff includes educators Mardi Harder, Nico Cantalupo and Eleanor Burkett.
Harder develops programs for Home Extension, which includes women's clubs in area cities, plus a wide range of programs open to men and women on subjects ranging from legal advice from attorneys to gardening presented by master gardeners.
She oversees the girls' 4-H program, provides programs on parenting and planning for retirement and works with Cass County Health and Human Services to offer budget planning and home management for low-income individuals and families.
In the state extension plan to offer more services over the Internet, Nies cannot see low-income people here benefiting from budget planning on the Internet. Most of these people do not own a computer, she said, nor do they have training to use one at a library.
What has worked is Harder sitting down and helping them make a plan for their expenses and their income to make ends meet, Nies said.
Cantalupo has developed an innovative feeder cattle marketing program for Minnesota Cattlemen's Association, based in Cass County, over the Internet and has produced a promotional brochure for them under a grant. There has been a home study course for beef growers.
He was involved with Cass County Environmental Services Department in providing significant input into the state's revised feedlot regulations, Nies said.
Under another pilot program he began within the last year, Cantalupo has released flea beetles to eliminate leaf spurge. The beetles were obtained from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for a more natural alternative to chemical spraying.
Cantalupo also oversees the boys' 4-H program.
With growing emphasis on the importance of preserving lake quality here, Nies said, Burkett was added under grants to the Cass County Extension Department to provide her horticulture expertise.
She has given extensive educational programs to lake associations, home extension clubs and individuals about how to maintain and restore natural shoreline vegetation to prevent lake polluting run-off from reaching the county's lakes, Nies said.
Additionally, she manages the increasingly popular master gardener program, Nies said.
People retiring in this county have more time to spend gardening and have taken a dramatically increasing interest in obtaining the additional education to become master gardeners in the last decade, Nies said.
Those master gardeners, in turn, share their education with the public as a part of their certification.
Of greatest concern to Nies and her committee is that regionalizing or moving extension into districts will undermine the original concept of extension: to bring university education services to each local community.
There are no state or private colleges or universities in Cass County.
Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone in today's busy work and family raising world has time to drive long distances. Nies is concerned the re-organization plan will take extension's personal contact away from local communities where it originally was intended to reach.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.