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NDSU Extension Transforms Lives Through Education

Extension uses an educational approach called transformational education, which serves as a catalyst for individual and community change.

Six years ago, about the time Vawnita Best gave up a 15-year career involving extensive travel to stay at home to raise her then-2-year-old son and help her husband build their registered Angus herd, she was accepted into the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s Rural Leadership North Dakota program.

“I was excited to find a leadership program structured for people with a passion for North Dakota, agriculture and community,” the Watford City rancher says.

The 18-month leadership development program helps participants think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, do strategic planning and manage conflict. They also learn about agricultural and rural policy, economic trends that could affect North Dakota, innovative ways to fund local and regional development projects, civic engagement, the value of coalitions and partnerships, and industry and community advocacy.

Best says that knowledge has been valuable on the ranch, where her family raises Quarter horses as well as cattle. It helped her family develop effective marketing plans and gain a better understanding of how to have a voice in policy decisions that affect rural American, natural resources management, and food and fiber production.

She feels that Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) also shaped her decision to run for public office and how she approaches her role as a McKenzie County commissioner.

“It is important to develop policy from a place of objectivity,” she says. “RLND has helped with the awareness to better gauge and feel that place of responsibility where empathy and objectivity intersect.”

RLND is one of many examples of NDSU Extension’s educational approach that provides North Dakota citizens with the information they need to make changes in their life and community. The concept is called transformational education.

“In transformational education, Extension staff make a conscious and continued effort to provide information in a way that will serve as a catalyst for individual and community change,” says Lynette Flage, director of Extension’s Center for Community Vitality. “It’s really getting people to make that step to transform themselves.”

This is what sets Extension apart from other information sources, such as Google.

“We’re local,” Flage says. “We have the expertise. We’re also neutral.” Transformational education incorporates elements of Extension’s other educational processes:

  • Information - Extension personnel provide information or a service, such as insect identification or soil testing.
  • Facilitation - Extension personnel serve as nonpartisan facilitators and organize an event or meeting about a particular topic of concern.
  • Content transmission - Extension personnel provide answers to people’s problems in person, on the phone or through newsletters, radio programs, media interviews, publications and social media.
  • High-impact programs - Extension provides programs that help people solve identified, multifaceted problems.

Here are some ways Extension extends knowledge and helps North Dakotans change their life:

  • East-central North Dakota beef producers were losing cows because the animals couldn’t digest the plastic net wrapping on hay bales, so Angie Johnson, the agriculture and natural resources agent in Steele County, held presentations on the importance of removing the plastic wrapping before grinding the hay and feeding it to cattle, or wrapping the bales with sisal (fiber-based) twine.

“By using sisal twine, it degrades away by the time I need to feed it, so all I have to do is remove the plastic twine, which is just enough to keep the bale held together and there’s not very much I have to pull off in the winter,” producer Mike Johnson says.

  • This year, livestock face a higher risk of nitrate poisoning from eating drought-stressed crops and forages. Drought conditions can cause crops and forages to accumulate nitrates. Craig Askim, agriculture and natural resources agent in Extension’s Mercer County office, and his counterparts in other counties are testing producers’ crops and forages for nitrates.

“It is giving ranchers and crop producers an idea of what they are dealing with in a more timely manner than having to wait on lab reports,” Askim says. “With drought, many producers are in stress mode and looking at how they can find enough hay for winter, but they forget about the hidden dangers sometimes, so this tells them where to put their resources (labor). They don’t need to spend time haying a field that is high in nitrate, or at least they know how to manage it and feed it in the future if the nitrates are present.”

  • Judith Larson of Adams County is all too aware that retirement can be a frightening prospect for farmers and ranchers. She and her husband come from multigenerational farm families, and both have parents who are near retirement age. So when she heard about NDSU Extension’s Design Your Succession Plan (DYSP) program, she and a friend attended the workshops.

One goal of DYSP is to help families start on their succession planning and determine their vision for the farm or ranch, whether that’s transferring a viable business to the next generation or deciding how to divide the farm or ranch assets.

“I guess my expectation was to find out what Extension had to offer to bring back to my dad and my in-laws and my husband,” Larson says. “I got so much more out of it.”

She found the workbook, which each participant receives to help him or her gather the necessary information to develop a succession plan, was invaluable, and the speakers were excellent.

“I think it really helped me,” she says. “It gave me some talking points, as far as family is concerned.”

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Sept. 29, 2017

Source:Lynette Flage, 701-231-7782, lynette.flage@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu


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