Make Your Voice Count: Extension Program Builds on Citizen Feedback

— Written By

It is a fact that “any business with customers is in the ‘people’ business”. The author of this quote is unknown; however, he or she embodies the work of Cooperative Extension. Since 1914 and the activation of the Smith-Lever Act, Cooperative Extension has applied research and education to some of our economy’s most complex problems.

During that time, most of our economy (nearly 50%) lived in rural areas, which resulted in a nearly 30% farming workforce. According to the US Census Bureau, today, over 80% of our population lives in urban areas. Not only does this give voice to Urban Extension and its need, but it also informs the way in which we work in Extension and an ever-evolving society. We are set apart in that we bridge the gap between research conducted at our land-grant universities and the communities we serve. With offices in 100 counties and Eastern Band of Cherokee (ECBI), Extension staff provides solutions to problems.

Yet, in order to provide a solution, you must first identify a problem. While research informs much of our efforts, we should never discount the power of our relationships with the communities we serve. As educators, we have an opportunity to dialogue with citizens about the issues that affect them most. From agriculture to family life to building a food business, Extension professionals glean information from the frontlines. It has always been our professional responsibility to translate the voices and needs of citizens into educational programming and resources that provide solutions.

Voices birth solutions

Extension Master Food Volunteers learn about harvesting vegetables.

The Sustainable Living Series in Mecklenburg County was birthed from this veryconcept. In 2014, Kristin Davis, the County Extension Agent, noticed an increased desire for an educational approach that merged food preparation and gardening. The program launched with a series of workshops centered around beginner gardening and home food preservation. In 2017, the program now offers online and in-person workshops on topics that include composting, understanding the food system and yogurt making.

Each year, the program shifts and changes based on citizen feedback provided through evaluations, year-end surveys, dialogues with community members and trends within the local community. Why? Because we recognize that it is not enough to make assumptions about our customers’ needs when our relationships lend us the opportunity to not only to learn from them but to simply ask.

If you want to make your voice count, and inform our programming for 2018 in the areas of local food and family in consumer sciences in Mecklenburg County, we invite you to complete our annual survey at go.ncsu.edu/annualsurveymecklenburg.

Your voice makes the difference.