Cass County program highlights 2017

Michigan State University Extension in Cass County encourages residents to eat healthy, empower youth through 4-H, support the pork industry, and much more.

Eating healthy & changing habits

When it comes to eating and drinking, making the healthier choice means choosing food and drinks from a range of food groups that are full of nutrients. Making healthy food choices also includes planning ahead, cooking, budgeting and food safety. MSU Extension brings healthy eating education to those who need it most in Cass County, specifically students, adults receiving supplemental nutrition assistance and seniors. In 2018, 61 adults and 231 students completed a series of programs designed to help participants change habits and eat healthy. A total of 332 adults and 276 youth were present for one-time presentations where physical activity and nutrition lessons were provided.

Changing environments for good nutrition decisions

It isn’t enough to work only on changing individual behavior for health living, it is also important to work on changing the policies, systems and environments within which we live, work and play. In 2018, MSU Extension offered coaching and technical assistance, encouraging strategic changes to promote healthy decision making in the Cassopolis schools with the Smarter Lunchroom initiative. Technical assessment and advice was provided to food service managers who implemented easy, no-cost and low-cost changes to encourage students to select, eat, and enjoy.

4-H in Cass County

The Cass County 4-H Program Coordinator provides management to 213 adult volunteers who mentor and lead 27 clubs and 860 youth enrolled in the 4-H program. One Cass youth attended the Citizen Washington Focus trip and 45 attended Exploration Days at Michigan State University in June 2018.

A strong partnership with the Cass County Youth Fair provides 4-H youth with an opportunity to showcase 4-H projects worked on throughout the year. Projects range from large livestock, to pets, to crafts and cooking. Each project comes with a story and an experience of hands-on learning, building responsibility, discipline and pride along the way.

With the help of a fun and engaging learning activity called the Commodity Carnival, 155 adults and children at the Cass County Fair’s Kiddie’s Day were exposed to the real-world challenges farmers face in order to successfully bring commodities, such as hogs or a bushel of corn, to market. Through fun and interactive games, the Commodity Carnival helped young people look at agriculture as a business and better understand the risks farmers and ranchers in Michigan face in bringing our food to market.

Support the pork industry

Cass County is home to almost 400,000 pigs, making a significant contribution to the U.S. food supply. Pork production in Cass is uniquely diverse in the species raised and types of farms - including traditional commercial production, direct farm and specialty sales, and a large number of youth pork producers. The MSU Extension Pork Team is continuously assessing the needs of each of these groups and is the principal provider of quality assurance programing (QAP) for this diverse group of producers. Quality assurance verification is a requirement for marketing pigs to most processing companies. Producers must have documentation of completion of education and on-farm site assessments provide by MSU Extension.

In 2017-18, the team completed studies and provided education to ‘move the needle’ on consumer acceptance and attitudes towards pork production, giving participating farmers a better understanding of what is driving the market for the 90,000+ pigs per year they are selling.

With the onset of new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules in the past year, MSU Extension has assisted farmers and food animal veterinarians gain a better understanding of the new regulations, how to best adapt to this new system, and build methods in their production to meet these new parameters. This work has helped farms follow the new VFD rules, while being able to provide adequate care to the animals and address health concerns. As the pork industry in Cass County continues to grow and flourish, MSU Extension will continue to work hand-in-hand with farmers to address needs, implement new technology and troubleshoot issues that may arise.

Shining a light on ag solar

In December 2017, policy changes by the Michigan Public Service Commission made utility-scale solar projects more profitable. This triggered aggressive solicitation by solar developers to lease or buy land owned by farmers for solar projects. In response, a multidisciplinary team of MSU Extension Educators provided training to 452 participants, including six from Cass County, during seven workshops held around the state. The program focused on policy, community planning and zoning, legal contract land leasing, tax issues, and the integration of solar with existing agricultural systems using evidenced based practices. In addition to the positive outcomes of knowledge and confidence, the program series resulted in new partnerships with agencies and associations involved in the solar industry. Overall, the program series provided Michigan residents and leaders with a unique opportunity to better understand the solar industry, its impact on local landscapes, personal finances, and the economy, as well as the role of local policy development in helping shape the state’s energy future while balancing competing interests


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