Extension offices experience renewed interest in learning

Published 6:54 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2023

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s county offices witnessed a renewed interest in their services, when community members began inquiring about ways to improve their quality of life and economic well-being.

The system serves communities to grow a better Alabama and a better world by transforming lives through science-based information, practical solutions, and meaningful experiences.

Many new inquiries have come from people who, for the first time, wanted to know about gardening, food preservation, forestry, and a host of other topics.

“Once the pandemic started, many people were home more with their families,” said Sharlean Briggs, Butler County Extension Coordinator. “They wanted things they could do together as a family or things they could do to increase their health and build up their immune systems with fresh fruits and vegetables. So, there was an increased interest in starting a small home garden or what we call container gardening. There was also an increase in families going to the farmers market and buying fresh produce.”

This heightened interest has continued even as the pandemic began to subside, and local extension offices put programs in place to meet the growing demand and pointed citizens to existing programs already in place.

“We’ve had a couple of people who bought or inherited land and wanted to know what they could do with it,” Briggs said. “Extension does offer forestry programs, which cover types of trees which work best in areas, which ones not to grow, what to do with invasive species, and other topics. People want to know what to do after harvest to ensure they will have another harvest later. People are looking for different things to do with the land.”

Tana Shealey, Lowndes County Extension Coordinator, said she has witnessed a renewed interest in gardening programs among all generations, especially school-aged children who operate raised bed gardens at school, bake and sell products, and learn to raise cattle.

“Because we’re a food desert, having locations where children can work, either by themselves or alongside adults and growing crops year-round, is exciting,” Shealey said. “They’re getting in touch with their cultures. They’re getting in touch with nature and making a connection between education and actual living, so we love that they’re taking that knowledge into the garden.”

In Crenshaw County, Extension Coordinator Amanda Evans noted increased interest in extension programs which still continues among all age ranges.

“We’ve had a wide range of people coming into the office who want to do their own gardening now for the first time,” Evans said. “I would say those range from really young to senior citizens. We’ve also had several who moved into the area and come in to inquire.”

Along with gardening, extension office coordinators witnessed new interest in food preservation.

“During COVID people seemed to have extra time to get back to gardening and other home projects,” Evans said. “We’ve had a lot of interest in canning and preserving different types of fruits and vegetables. We’re actually doing a workshop this season on canning and preserving because we’ve had so many requests for it. We try to base upcoming events on different things we’re asked about.”

Beth Fair, a 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent serving both Lowndes and Butler counties, works with students in school and after school and helps them learn things “their grandparents did.”

“One girl was interested in rabbits,” Fair said. “I have other kids who are really interested in gardening. They have a wide variety of interests.”

Extension offices offer virtual and in-person workshops on topics like cattle farming, SERVSAFE certification, pest management, forestry, gardening, cooking, economics and a host of other interests.

For more information visit aces.edu or call a local Extension Office.