Much more than 4-H
EAGLE COUNTY ” Tucked away in a corner of the old county courthouse is a treasure trove of information.
That information comes from the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office, a small band of women who run the local 4-H program, run food and nutrition programs for families, and provide advice on high-elevation gardening and baking.
The extension office is a popular spot in counties where agriculture still rules. But cooperative extension agents everywhere try to answer questions about virtually anything, from canning to gardening to cleaning up household messes.
“The hardest thing is that people will call while they’re in the middle of something,” said Glenda Wentworth, director of the local extension office. “They should call before they start.”
Calling first is especially important if the subject isn’t something in which one of the three extension agents specialize. The other key before calling for help, at least when kitchen projects are involved, is using what Wentworth called a “scientific recipe,” meaning one that’s been tested in kitchen laboratories and documented, so step-by-step advice is available.
“If people aren’t using scientific recipes, we can’t give them much help,” Wentworth said. “We don’t know what recipes they’re following.”
The recipes extension agents can help with come from research, and research is the core of the knowlege cooperative extension offices share with each other. Much of that research is done at Colorado State University and other colleges around the country with agricultural programs. The colleges share that information with each other, and books and pamphlets then filter down to county offices and the Internet.
Wentworth and the other agents at the office also run the county’s Master Gardener program, in which locals learn the fine points of gardening, then share that knowledge with others.
Sharon Balius took her first Master Gardener class in 2000. She’s still involved in the program. In a way, she considers it her second career.
A retired librarian from Michigan, Balius loves answering questions and helping people find information. The Master Gardener program lets her keep doing just that, but on her own terms.
Balius found the local program on the Internet. Since then, she’s tried to get more attention for the master gardeners, especially at the Minturn Market in the summers.
“The Minturn Market is our major outreach,” Balius said. “The Eagle office is a little remote for a lot of people.”
While gardeners in the eastern valley might have to travel a bit to the county seat, the kids in 4-H know just where to go.
The 4-H program still draws quite a few local kids, and draws them from the county’s corners.
Rena and Dale Horn are raising their family north of McCoy. All the Horns’ kids have been involved in 4-H, and Rena has been a volunteer for the local chapter.
“It’s such an important program for us,” Horn said. “You learn a lot of life skills from 4-H. It’s a wonderful group, and we’ve made good friends from it. I learn a lot from teaching to kids, too.”
Extension agents give classes in food and nutrition to just about anyone who wants.
The office got a grant to give classes to Spanish-speaking families. An agent also gave nutrition classes to the mostly Spanish-speaking kids in the Eagle Valley Youth Foundation’s “academic soccer” after-school program.
“We’ve had to put people on waiting lists for the family programs,” Wentworth said.
The office’s free programs aren’t permanent, though.
Because of the way the office is paid for, programs have to essentially pay their own way.
“We try to get grants to do programs or else we have to charge for them,” Wentworth said.
While funding isn’t available for everything, Wentworth said she feels fortunate to work in an office with three extension agents.
“Pitkin and Lake counties choose not to have offices,” she said. “And Garfield County only has one agent.”
Wentworth and the agents stay busy, working on grants, answering questions and running programs. Still, she said, it would be nice if her office was a little better known.
“We’re not as well known as we used to be, especially with so many new people in the valley,” Wentworth said. “But we stay busy.”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or email@example.com.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado