MSU Extension makes a difference in Allegan County in 2019

Highlights of the MSU Extension programs in 2019 that are helping Allegan County residents improve their lives and communities.

Over the past year, MSU Extension has continued to provide exceptional programming in Allegan County. MSU Extension works to meet community needs by partnering with local organizations to bring programming that directly impacts county residents’ lives. The following are some program highlights from 2019. 


Jan Brinn, Children & Youth Extension Educator, created the “Art of Origami” program and delivered it to the Allegan County Rotary Club and at the Allegan County STEM Family Night. The program elegantly incorporates the four H’s in it’s teaching – head, heart, hands and health. Participants learned the connection of origami with STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and about the Japanese culture. Some participants challenged themselves to learn how to make the origami crane and learned about the “Sadako and 1000 Paper Cranes” story.  


For over 25 years, Michigan children, grades K-6th have been communicating with children their own age in China through the 4-H Children’s Art Exchange. Communication is done by creating ‘visual letters’. A ‘visual letter’ is like a written letter in that both tell stories, share important ideas and feelings, and connect children on two sides of the globe. The medium however is different in that visual letters use images and written letters use words. Clearly, the written letter is limited with the language differences. Thus, visual letters took shape as the primary means of communicating. Allegan County had 40 children participate. 


MSU Extension Children & Youth Educators, Janis Brinn and Janelle Stewart were asked by Camp Kidwell Director, K.J. Kelly, to facilitate staff development trainings during the week of the Allegan and Van Buren County 4-H Camp Kidwell Staff and Counselor Leadership Training. Jan and Janelle worked with staff to become aware of the importance of icebreakers and team building not only with each other, but also with the campers they would be working with during the summer. They were also trained to recognize their leadership strengths and challenges and to appreciate those of others. 


Approximately 19 youth were involved in Livestock Judging in Allegan County. The group met once a week beginning in March and attended several contests. Judging livestock includes giving reasons for why you placed the class the way you placed them. The club skillset involves public speaking and knowing animal condition scores and how to tell the difference. An exhibitor is judged on their reasons and how they present themselves. Giving oral reasons sounds like an actual Livestock judge that is judging a class. The team placed 5th at the National Livestock Judging contest! 


Allegan 4-H Dairy Teams spent four months preparing for state level competitions in Dairy Judging, Dairy Quiz Bowl, Dairy Management and showing their cattle at the state Dairy Days event held at the Michigan State University Pavilion for Livestock and Agriculture July 15-19, 2019. Allegan County 4-H’ers have represented the county for more than twenty years at the annual event celebrating all things dairy in Michigan. The teams are coached by Bev Berens, Robyn Wixom, Jennie Orantes, Christina Ybema, Shelby Berens and Allie Elzinga. Orantes, Ybema, Berens and Elzinga are all 4-H team graduates who enjoy helping and watching students grow and achieve through 4-H.


Each winter, MSU Extension and the 4-H Camp Kidwell board turn camp into a “Winter Wonderland” featuring beautifully decorated trees and wreaths. The money raised at the Festival of Trees goes to finance the operational side of 4-H Camp Kidwell. People come from all over the county for a chance to visit with Santa, make cookies with Mrs. Claus and have a meal with family and friends!  This year, the Festival of Trees raised over $45,000 for camp and  scholarships for kids. A huge thank you to all those who volunteered and attended!


In 2019, MSU Extension was awarded a USDA/MDHHS grant for Veteran Outreach. Steve Whittington joined the MSU Extension team in May as a Program Instructor for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Outreach to Veterans. He participated in the Allegan County Homeless Veteran Stand Down where he reached 100 veteran service providers and veterans that were in attendance. Steve is dedicated to working with veterans and veteran families to help them determine their benefit eligibility, evaluate their options and learn about additional support services.


This year, the District 7 MSU Extension Advisory Council chose to showcase Allegan County programs with a tour through the County. The first stop, 4-H Camp Kidwell, participants were able to channel their inner child by competing in a robotics competition. The next stop showcased the research being conducted at Trevor Nichols AgBio Research Center. The primary objective of TNRC is to find the best ways to keep fruit pest-free in Michigan while preserving the environment and ensuring economic viability for the state’s fruit growers. After a delicious lunch at the famous Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant and Vineyard, participants headed to Walters Gardens to learn about nematode research being conducted by MSU’s Dr. Marisol Quintanilla Tornel.


MSU Extension co-hosted a March Garden Day with the West Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association. The event was held at the Grand Haven Community Center. Consumer Horticulture Educator, Rebecca Finneran, delivered the keynote presentation entitled, “Romantic, Inspiring, Educational—Public Gardens of Today". This lecture brought together a historic look at public gardening throughout the centuries to emphasize the importance of research-based learning at university gardens and other noted gardens. There were 161 people in attendance, of which 17 were from Allegan County.


The MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program is a long-standing program that trains Michigan residents to share science-based, environmentally-sound gardening knowledge. Additionally, Extension Master Gardeners share environmentally responsible gardening practices, ideas for improving food security, and are committed to improving the quality of life in Michigan through horticulture-based volunteerism. In Allegan County, there are 32 certified Extension Master Gardeners. Additionally, 50 Allegan residents took advantage of the EMG promoted soil testing.


On October 10th, 2019, students and adults alike participated in the annual Farm-to-School month event that helps raise awareness for Michigan Apples. Statewide, over 850 institutions participated (schools, hospitals, early childhood centers, non-profits, businesses, colleges/universities). MSU Extension Educators collaborated on this project to provide support for development of the registration page, crunch resource guides, local apple sourcing support, promotion of the event through Facebook, and participation in Crunch events in our region. In Allegan County, there were 2562 apple crunchers!


2019 saw the revival of the MSU Extension Master Naturalist Program. The mission of the MIMN is to educate and involve diverse communities of individuals in environmental and conservation issues in Michigan. As a certified Michigan Master Naturalist, participants are encouraged to share their knowledge gained through enhancing their professional abilities, direct practice on their properties, and volunteer activities in their home communities. Participants experienced hands-on learning at two locations in Allegan County – Trevor Nichols Research Center and Allegan Pine Plains Natural Area. There were 31 graduates from the program. 


MSU Extension Disease Prevention Educator, Christi Demitz, participated in the MOKA Foundation’s Allegan Life Skills event. Participants are adults with developmental disabilities, some of whom are living with diabetes and not managing it well. Christi delivered a one-time presentation on the Diabetes Plate Method, which is part of the Dining with Diabetes Curriculum. Dining with Diabetes is typically a five-session series conducted by MSU Extension and community health partners. Participants have the opportunity to explore and taste foods prepared from diabetes-friendly recipes.


In 2019, Sue Elwell, Community Nutrition Instructor, cumulatively reached 358 youth and 62 adults with nutrition education. Sue shares that “during my Show Me Nutrition series with 3rd graders at Brandon Elementary, a young gal shared that after sharing what she learned during our class, she and her mom started walking together every day. It was fun together time for them and they both feel
better. They have increased their fruit and vegetables and have made a few smoothies. They are now reading the nutrition labels, paying more attention to the ingredients as well as the good and bad fats.”


Small fruit Educators, Carlos Garcia-Salazar and Mark Longstroth, hosted various workshops on in the fruit belt (Van Buren, Allegan, Ottawa) to equip farmers with the knowledge needed for successful harvests. Topics included advances in pest and disease control in blueberries that resulted in trials conducted at MSU Extension. Additionally, there were two special trainings for Hispanic blueberry growers that covered spotted winged drosophila and integrated pest management. The small-fruit team continues to look for innovative ways to protect one of Michigan’s most treasured crops. 


Sea Grant Educator, Daniel O’Keefe, works with Steelheaders and Great Lakes Anglers from along the Southwest Michigan coast line. O’Keefe regularly updates the groups on Sea Grant citizen science and updates on the status of Lake Michigan fisheries and stocking rates. In April, O’Keefe presented at the South Haven Moose Lodge to attendants from Van Buren, Allegan and Kalamazoo Counties. Michigan Sea Grant is a partnership between Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.


Allegan County Soybean Educator, Mike Staton, hosted an educational session on the 2018 SMaRT on-farm research results and recommendations for managing soybean cyst nematodes that was attended by 17 Allegan County growers. Turning point and open-ended questions were used to gather input form the participants regarding research topics for 2019 and recruited new trial cooperators. Production topics evaluated in 2019 were planting rates, seed treatments, row spacing, fertilizer, fungicide, spring tillage, cover crops and planting date.


Selecting high-yielding and pest-resistant soybean varieties is one of the most important decisions made by producers. Allegan County producers are fortunate to have one of eight MSU soybean variety performance trials conducted in the county. To increase awareness about, and showcase the quality of the trial, MSU Extension cooperated with four local agribusinesses and a local producer to plan and conduct a tour of the MSU Soybean Variety Performance Trial in Wayland. Nearly 60 soybean producers and agronomists participated in the trial tour and learned new information. The participants asked many questions of the presenters and expressed interest in receiving and examining the trial results.


MSU Extension is an organization co mprised of individuals with broad knowledge of subject matters related a particular discipline, such as field crops, nutrition, or youth development. Having four MSU Extension Institutes gives the ability to bring together cross-disciplinary expertise to address issues that are multifaceted and complex. For example, MSU Extension Educators and Program Instructors have worked together on physical and financial health issues, agricultural and stress issues, economic and community development and conservation issues, and issues that span generations.

Your local office is housed with experts in particular fields. Individuals may serve in the Agricultural and Agribusiness Institute, the Children and Youth Institute, the Health and Nutrition Institute or our Community, Food & Environment Institute. However, even if you do not have a local expert for the Extension issue that you need addressed, MSU Extension has the unique functionality of drawing from a statewide pool of experts to make sure that you have the information that you need. In addition, the MSU Extension website is maintained and updated on a regular basis. We are always looking for ways to collaborate with each other to apply knowledge to the critical issues you face. 


Through successful partnership and collaboration with Allegan County, MSU Extension is able to continue its local presence and to provide vital educational resources and programming in such areas as community and economic development, agriculture, land use, health and nutrition, and youth development. 

Thank you, Allegan County!


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