Extension has been teaching leadership to kids through 4-H for decades. In the 1980s and '90s, Extension saw that Minnesota communities needed more informed adult leaders. Believing that anyone who cares about a community issue can learn to lead, Extension recruited local leaders to attend programs such as Family Community Leadership, Supporting Community Diversity, Building Common Ground and Northwest Emerging Leadership. In two decades, 700 Emerging Leadership and U-Lead program graduates have boosted their skills in leadership, citizen involvement and the legislative process. Today, many of those participants are senators, legislators, mayors or board presidents. Extension educators now teach more than 25 different leadership programs every year.
Farmers need good soil drainage to grow productive crops, but it's a challenge to achieve this while protecting the environment. With help from Extension, producers are learning how to install new systems to drain runoff from fields. One system, for example, features wood chips that remove nitrogen from water before it empties into nearby lakes or streams.
In 2008, Extension also began teaching landowners and others involved in agricultural drainage water management about a "conservation drainage"? approach that uses controlled drainage systems to keep water where it will do the most good.
"Don't bag it,"? the catchphrase for leaving grass clippings on your lawn, was coined in the 1980s by Extension horticulturists. Since then, Extension educators have taught thousands of Minnesotans to "green up"? their lawns with fewer pesticides, less water and less work. Decades of turfgrass research by University agronomists backs up Extension's information. Lawn-service businesses and the government benefit, as well. An added bonus is research-based information about composting. Thanks to Extension, Minnesotans are making more informed choices and protecting other natural resources such as lakes and streams by caring responsibly for their lawns and green spaces.
Young people are the future users and stewards of Minnesota's lakes and streams. Extension's Water Resources Center involves boys and girls early through programs they can enjoy. Through fishing, learning how to restore water resources and volunteering as water monitors, kids gain skills and knowledge they can use throughout their lives. In the Twin Cities area, Extension obtained grants from the Metropolitan Council and the McKnight Foundation for the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Partnership (VSMP). This shoreland education program teaches high school students to use bioengineering techniques to stabilize stream banks and keep them from eroding.
Extension has always worked to manage invasive species in agriculture. But in the late 1980s, Extension also led the way in addressing threats to Minnesota's water recreation and economy from aquatic invasive species. Educators moved fast to get information out to the public about zebra mussels, which can clog pipes and cost millions of dollars for clean-up. Educators also helped Minnesotans curtail other major threats--purple loosestrife, Eurasian water milfoil, curly leaf pondweed--saving the state from untold numbers of dollars in clean-up and landowners from heavy loss to property values. Today, Extension educates about the benefits of prevention, containment and minimizing impacts to keep new species from spreading.
Minnesotans have long relied on Extension in times of disaster. When the St. Peter tornado and the floods of 1997 struck, for example, Extension educators were there in the communities, helping residents pick up the pieces. Ready with research-based information, Extension showed people how to dry out their homes and belongings, prevent mold and keep their food from spoiling. People also called on Extension to help them deal with insurance, cope with stress and address tough financial questions. From pulling together the agencies needed to helping with long-term recovery, Extension educators are prepared to help people get their lives and communities back on track.
In the late 1970s, after the United States withdrew from the Southeast Asian conflict, more than 10,500 Southeast Asian refugee families settled in the Twin Cities area. In 1983, Extension launched an intensive program to help these families support themselves by growing, processing and marketing vegetables. After four years of training and Extension's help in setting up an agricultural business cooperative, Hmong farmers set off on their own.
Today, many people of Southeast Asian descent sell produce through Minnesota's agricultural specialty markets and farmers markets. Extension's early work with banks, businesses, agencies and communities also created the current network of resources for Hmong and other immigrant farmers across Minnesota.
In the 1980s, a devastating financial crisis forced thousands of Minnesota farmers into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Family ties also unraveled under deteriorating financial situations. In 1984, Extension agricultural economists developed farm financial software (FINPACK) to help farmers analyze their businesses, and educators trained more than 33,000 people to help families reduce stress and manage their resources. In 1986, Extension developed a state-requested farmer-lender mediation program to facilitate discussions about credit problems. By the early 1990s, Extension had worked with 85 of Minnesota's 87 counties. Since then, FINPACK has been used by tens of thousands of farmers nationwide.
From showing kids how to grow vegetables to teaching homeowners about composting, Extension's Master Gardeners have served thousands of Minnesotans every year since the program began in 1977. Master Gardeners are volunteers trained by Extension professionals to share their knowledge in their communities. In 2007, 1,550 Master Gardeners across Minnesota contributed nearly $2.1 million in volunteer service. The combined 106,549 hours they worked equaled more than 51 full-time staff positions. The program has expanded from its early days of answering home gardener questions. Today's Master Gardeners help build rain gardens, combat invasive species in lakes, involve kids in plant science programs, work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity, and much more.