Thursday, July 29, 1999

Ag Ambassadors: Extension service program promotes understanding, The Ann Arbor News

The Ann Arbor News
Ag Ambassadors: Extension service program promotes understanding
By Pamela Appea

The Washtenaw County Michigan State University Extension Service is launching an “Ag Ambassadors” program this fall so that farmers and nonfarmers can better understand each other.

Due to perceived tension and miscommunication between the two groups, the Washtenaw-area Agricultural Advisory Council--a group of farmers and MSU agricultural administrators--decided to start a program to promote better understanding of local agricultural practices.

Also, because of the low use of locally produced Washtenaw agricultural products—most Washtenaw County grains or meat are exported out of the county—“mutually beneficial” business opportunities could be an additional perk of the program, MSU administrators said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Nancy Thelan, MSU Extension Director.

The extension office is looking for 10 county residents, including business professionals and local community leaders, to participate in the federally funded program and then pass on the information they learn to others, said Mike Score, the local Extension agricultural agent.

The program, which runs for a year and is funded with a grant of about $3,000, starts Sept. 18 with a Rural Community Appreciation Tour orientation.

The agricultural ambassadors, who will be selected for community involvement and interest in agricultural issues, will tour Way-lene Acres Dairy Farm, Shady Hills Farm and Plymouth Orchard during four meetings in 1999-2000.

“By educating 10 people, they become ambassadors to other nonfarmers, and they will let nonfarmers know what local agricultural concerns are,” said Score.

The “Ag ambassadors” program won’t just be quaint farm tours, Score said. The program will emphasize difficulties in farming and ambassadors will do some hands-on work, including milking cows and baling hay, in addition to talking to farmers. The group will meet at different points in the year to educate the ambassadors about the weather-related difficulties farmers may face.

Currently, there are 200 full-time farmers in Washtenaw County, said Score.

Although Washtenaw County farms have dwindled in numbers in the past 30 years, 160,000 acres of land are still farmed, Thelen and Score said.

Score, who works with farmers on educational program, said many have expressed concerns that nonfarmers don’t care where Washtenaw County corn goes or that farming land in developing areas are not seen as relevant to the entire community.

Score said that he hopes the program will also get business-minded “Ag Ambassadors” aware and excited about agribusiness opportunities.

Although some Washtenaw County residents do make a habit of buying locally produced fruits and vegetables, Score said, there is no medium for selling other Washtenaw county grains and agricultural products, including corn, soybeans, wheat, beef and pork—which local farms ship out of the county.

Buying locally produced grains or other food does not guarantee that the price will be lower. However, Score said, one benefit of supporting Washtenaw county agriculture might be better product quality.

The “Ag Ambassador” outreach program may expand and become an annual program in the next several years, MSU agricultural administrators said.

Anyone interested in the Ag Ambassadors program should contact Mike Score at (734) 971-0079, extension 2619, by Aug. 20.

Originally published Thursday, July 29, 1999