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You may have to drive to Lansing to catch a live Spartans football game, but Michigan State Uni­versity offers a wide-variety of invaluable resources right here in Hillsdale.

For over 100 years, Michigan State Uni­versity Extension has offered Hillsdale County res­i­dents access to knowledge and aid in a variety of areas, ranging from agri­culture to food safety, in hopes of growing the local economy and improving everyday life.

“Our job, essen­tially, is to deliver research-based infor­mation that is developed on Michigan State’s campus, as well as on other cam­puses, to the res­i­dents of each county that we serve,” said Matt Shane, who is the dis­trict coor­di­nator for dis­trict 12, which includes Hillsdale County.

Shane said Extension divides its efforts into four main insti­tutes: Children and Youth, Agri­cul­tural and Agri­cul­tural Business, Health and Nutrition, and the Green Michigan Institute, which combine to reach approx­i­mately 2,000 Hillsdale County res­i­dents.

The Children and Youth Institute is likely the most well known thrust of Extension, according to Shane, and is headed by Insa Raymond in the Hillsdale office. It includes an extensive 4-H program for youth ages 5 to 19, which is known pri­marily for its rural and agrarian skill-devel­opment oppor­tu­nities. In addition to 4-H, Extension also offers youth in the com­munity courses aimed to teach life skills, such as financial lit­eracy, lead­ership, and science skills.

The Agri­culture and Agri­cul­tural Business Institute is where the Extension program began, when Michigan State hired its first live­stock field agent in 1907, according to the official website.

Today, the institute works with local farms of all types and sizes, in order to help them become more pro­ductive, prof­itable, and sus­tainable, according to Shelby Burlew, who works as a live­stock envi­ron­mental edu­cator in the Hillsdale office.

“I could be going to a farm that just has a couple of horses or a couple of goats, or I could be working with a farm that is milking over 700 dairy cows,” Burlew said. “I want to work with farmers so that they can manage their farms in an envi­ron­men­tally sus­tainable way.”

To this end, Burlew said she works exten­sively with nutrient retention, which improves the pro­duc­tivity of farms, but also helps to lessen their envi­ron­mental impact.

Scott Ferry, who owns Ferry Farms, LLC, a fourth-gen­er­ation dairy and crop farm in Litch­field, said he started uti­lizing the resources available through Extension in 2008, when he moved back to the family farm with his wife Ali, after his father passed away.

“You have to think of the sit­u­ation of not having a pre­vious gen­er­ation to help mentor you,” Ferry said. “Being able to utilize your com­munity, local farmers, and the resources through the Uni­versity was absolutely priceless.”

Since his first contact with Extension, Ferry has deepened his involvement, even serving as the pres­ident of the MSU Extension AgBioRe­search State Council.

Part of what makes the Extension program so impactful for farmers like the Ferry’s, is the local placement of Extension offices.

“The most important com­ponent is that we’re local,” Shane said. “Many of the people in the Hillsdale office reside in Hillsdale County, so they’re a part of the com­munity, and they’re invested in wanting the com­munity to be suc­cessful.”

Beyond the farms of Hillsdale, Extension works through its Health and Nutrition institute to educate local stu­dents and fam­ilies on the ins-and-outs of food safety and the impor­tance of a healthy diet. Shane said the program often works with low-income fam­ilies to help them under­stand how to eat well on a budget. The institute also pro­vides resources to strengthen social and emo­tional health, such as anger man­agement and stress reduction courses.

The final institute is the Green Michigan Institute, which works with natural resources, such as water and wood­lands. In addition, the institute works with com­munity pro­grams, such as farmers markets and and County Com­mis­sioner training.

“What’s unique is that Extension reaches so far outside of just agri­culture,” Ferry said. “MSU Extension is present not only in agri­culture and helping the devel­opment of our food supply, but also it’s the devel­opment of com­mu­nities and the whole civil infra­structure of what it takes to provide resources to com­mu­nities in need.”

Extension not only offers a wide variety of infor­mation, but also gives res­i­dents countless ways in which they can access the spe­cific infor­mation they need, including affordable — often free — webinars, work­shops, hot­lines, classroom course, and lit­er­ature. Shane said one of the most important things to Extension is that the infor­mation be made available at a price and in a manner which is prac­tical to those that could use it.

“We really work hard to make sure we are making good use of the funding we are so gen­er­ously given,” Shane said. “We need to use our dollars as wisely as pos­sible, and because that’s our mindset, we under­stand that’s how the indi­viduals in the com­mu­nities we’re serving are — trying to make dollars go as far as they can.”

Since it sent out its first field agent in 1907, MSU Extension has seen sig­nif­icant growth, and now has offices in every county in Michigan. Even with all the expansion and change, the job of Extension employees has remained essen­tially unchanged: Meeting people where they are and working to help them.

“It’s not just about getting research infor­mation to farms,” Burlew said. “Even more important than that is to take a step back, listen with our own two ears to what their needs are … and then to take those needs and get them the infor­mation they need to be suc­cessful.”