The decline of Extension and the increased need for science-based information

I hate to be the downer this week, given Bert and Holly’s inspired posts, but reality continues to hit – or bite.  The budget crises in Washington state continues to gut higher education, and one of the hardest hit areas at WSU is Extension.  Land-grant institutions have a federal mandate to provide Extension services, and this sets WSU and similar universities apart from other state schools.  Unfortunately, Extension generates relatively little in terms of outside grants and contracts.  Land-grant universities like WSU tend to put their dwindling faculty resources into hiring those who can bring in multi-million dollar grants.  And as we’ve bemoaned in past posts, that isn’t in gardening or urban horticulture or arboriculture or any of those great topics that you all love to hear more about.

Let’s look what’s happened with Extension specialists at WSU.  Before I came in 2004, the Extension plant pathology specialist had retired.  The position was refilled with someone else.  The Extension entomology specialist retired last year.  His position will be refilled with someone to work with the structural pest control industry (there is some money there).  The questions that come from the public are shuffled around among other faculty, who may or may not have some partial appointment in Extension.  In any case, the public outreach and education aspect of land grant universities everywhere is taking the back seat to bringing in grant dollars and teaching college students.  That means fewer Extension Bulletins published or updated and more reliance on well-funded companies to provide their versions – good or bad – of agricultural sciences.

I’m not going to rail about the idiocy of letting public higher education fail in this country through lack of state funding – I’m sure you can see that for yourselves wherever you live.  Instead, I want to point out an effort to gather the remnant state forces to have a national impact. 

This year I’ve become associated with eXtension (a national group of Extension personnel) in the Community Horticulture Community of Practice.  This is a fledgling effort to construct a national web presence containing relevant, current, science-based information on all things horticultural.  If you check out the link above, you can click on Garden Myths, where you’ll find information from…Jeff Gillman and myself.

It’s going to take a long time to get this web resource organized and populated with good information – but it’s a start.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in helping, be sure to post a comment or email Karen Jeannette, our intrepid coordinator in Minnesota.  (I can provide her email if you are interested.)

7 thoughts on “The decline of Extension and the increased need for science-based information”

  1. It would seem that we are more in need of ext. services than ever. More newcomers to growing their own food. More people interested in local and organic food sources provided by CSAs and farmers markets.

  2. The link in the eXtension post

    http://www.extension.org/pages/Garden_Myths

    to a Virginia Tech fact sheet on Garden Myths is wrong – VT having moved, or discontinued it. I’ve been unsuccessful trying to find it on-line. Maybe Holly or Karen can find it and fix. Timely post – we’re having a “Lunch and Learn” with fellow MG’s on “Gardening Myths” this Wednesday, 12/1, and can use the data. We’re also using Jeff’s “Truth about Garden Remedies”, and Linda’s “Sustainable Landscapes and Gardens” as sources for the discussion. FWIW, the eXtension site comes across a bit bureaucratic and a little too carefully “non-confrontational” for my tastes (that may be necessary, and I may be in the minority on this), and I’d recommend less use of “edu-speak” about “Community of Practice” and “Stakeholder” vocabulary, also, if the target audience is to be the general public.

  3. Thanks for looking into the garden myths broken link, Ray. I looked too, and could not find it. Unless Holly knows the whereabouts of the bulletin I will take that link down on the Garden Myths page.

    If any of you know other ‘garden myths’ pubs we missed from other states publications, please let me know.

    Ray, thank you for your comments regarding communities of practice and the web site. The really great thing is as members of a community of practice (or ‘insert better name here’), individuals can participate to help change the dynamic or the look and feel of the interaction, but of course, it will take time.

    We are just in the beginning stages of building the connections between community members, and are also just beginning to explore new plans to move forward with new ideas and materials (many thanks to Linda and several others on our new content steering team).

    As Linda mentioned in her blog post, if you are interested in helping, there are many opportunities to do so, some big, some small. I find that people tend to want to get involved doing what they are already doing (often sharing their best information/program), or contributing in an area they are particularly passionate about…. What would be this area for you? Is there a science-based gardening topic that you think needs to be addressed nationally?

  4. I couldn’t find it either (I do not have administrator access to the VCE intranet since I don’t have an extension appointment) My guess is it was 20 years old anyway. We haven’t had any sort of consumer horticulturist in years – since Diane Relf retired. Most of VT lawn/garden extension pubs are by faculty in Turf, Entomology, Plant Path, etc. Boo.

    Ray, the edu-speak you speak of (ha!) is so annoyingly pervasive now and absolutely required on any kind of grant proposal that includes outreach.I always wonder if the stakeholders know that they’re… stakeholders. I can’t sit through a single meeting without the word coming up. I tend to visualize someone fending off a vampire; or holding a New York Strip…Zzzz…

  5. I should add also, that I’m glad Linda and the rest of the Garden Profs are involved in the eXtension project, and I believe it has the potential to be a great resource, so I hope it succeeds. And Holly – yes, buzz-words are such a buzz-kill, although now I’ll be able to visualize a group of Buffy’s when I next hear the term and smile, instead of being annoyed. Cheers!

    Karen – my personal hobby horse that I’d love to see better addressed nationally is the excess hyperbole associated with pesticides and their use without the corresponding, objective, science-based perspective (there goes my EPA grant). Jeff’s post on caffeine, for example, is a great place to start. Extrapolate to aspirin, Tylenol, rhubarb, solanine, nicotine, copper, etc. Synthetic compounds can be and in some cases are better (less toxic, less persistent, safer, etc.) than natural ones. Why is a 5% solution of permethrin a valuable medicine (applied and left on the skin for 8+ hours – even for children!) in the treatment of scabies, but a 1% solution is a dangerous neurotoxin that kills cats (according to Wikipedia)? Any work that can make IPM more generally understood and accepted by the public (the ultimate stakeholder) would be great.

  6. Ray, that’s not a bad idea. Many of us are constrained by state laws on what we can and can’t say about pesticides. But on a national forum, that becomes a non-issue. As long as we aren’t making recommendations, I think that “Pesticides for Dummies” might not be a bad idea.

  7. Thanks for checking into the link Holly. Since it’s inactive I’ve taken it down from the Garden Myths page, http://www.extension.org/pages/Garden_Myths

    Ray, Linda, these are interesting ideas. There is definitely room to do something like this…and I have a few people that might be interested in helping or are working towards similar projects already… Let me know how seriously you’d like to explore this…

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