Advocacy and Education Toolkit

                         You are the window through which your legislator sees Extension.                                Colleen Bates, Eau-Claire County, Wisconsin Board Member and Extension Advocate

Overview

The Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) is the representative leadership and governing body of the Cooperative Extension System, the nationwide transformational education system operating through Land-grant Universities in partnership with federal, state, and local governments. ECOP focuses on four core themes: 1) Build partnerships and acquire resources; 2) Increase strategic marketing and communications; 3) Enhance leadership and professional development, and 4) Strengthen organizational functioning.

ECOP’s Budget and Legislative Committee has developed this Advocacy and Education Toolkit to provide ECOP leadership and the Cooperative Extension System (CES) with consistent messaging and resources focused on CES advocacy and education priorities. These resources include priority language, talking points, and CES background information for consistency in messaging with APLU Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA) Committees and Sections, the BAA Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy ESCOP, legislators, partners, University Congressional and Government Affairs staff, and related advocacy groups. Look to these links for additional information: 2018 Farm BillRelated Legislation, How Laws Are Made, and the Federal Budget Process.

About Us

All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation’s 111 Land-grant Universities and Colleges, including Historically Black Land-grant Universities and Tribal Colleges, have a third critical mission—Extension. “Extension” means reaching out and extending university research and resources to meet public needs through non-formal educational programs at the community level. The Cooperative Extension System (CES) engages people in these educational opportunities to help them solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future where they live and work.

With thousands of Land-grant University and county-based Extension employees and over 2 million volunteers, CES crosses every state and U.S. territory. Working with a network of public and private organizations, CES brings science-based resources to the people and communities who need them most. Find Extension Programs Across the Nation.

Advocacy Topics

Board on Agriculture Assembly Unified Ask

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Climate Mitigation, Resiliency, and Adaptation

Economic and Workforce Development

Health Equity & Well-Being

4-H
Positive Youth Development

Urban Programs

Broadband Access and Digital Skills

Nutrition Education and SNAP-Ed

Board on Agriculture Assembly
Unified Ask

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) represents 244 public universities and is comprised of various Commissions, Boards, and Sections. One of the most prominent and legislatively active APLU organizations is the Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA), which represents the interests of Land-grant Colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and related institutions, including the Cooperative Extension System (CES). Information on BAA advocacy efforts is located at www.land-grant.org. The Cooperative Extension Section of the BAA fully and primarily supports the annual BAA Unified Ask.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Background

Vast inequities exist among different racial and ethnic groups, touching lives across many sectors and impacting quality of life. These inequities include income, educational attainment, healthcare access, food security, home ownership, and broadband connectivity.  Each of these impact length of life, safety/security, and a sense of well-being for individuals and families in direct ways.  As a result, the color of a person’s skin or ethnic identity is a fairly good predictor of life outcomes, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) consistently falling behind their White counterparts.  Similar divides exist over issues of gender, religious affiliation, native language, and abilities, with each quality having groups that are marginalized and others that are not.  How do we change our nation’s path forward so that marginalized individuals can securely achieve the quality of life standards with the same ease as those that are of a dominant group?

Closing the DEI Gap

Communities narrowing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) gaps can advance quality of life for all their members.  When those struggling to survive in the community thrive, the whole community benefits as trust increases and community assets (social, human, financial, built, political, cultural, natural) are advanced. However, choosing to maintain the “status quo” ensures a downward spiral in which divides continue, or more likely, increase inequities and continue to create burdens that all bear.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System’s (CES) 100+ year history of working to meet the identified needs of individuals and communities is advanced through county Extension offices.  This embedded network can effectively link local needs to university resources. CES is often viewed as a trusted resource at the local level, positioning staff as collaborators, partners, and convenors for difficult conversations.  Through dialogue, trust is built, paving the way for genuine, honest conversations and unpacking layers of silence which serve to stall meaningful progress.  CES can work with communities to organize, convene, and facilitate relevant dialogues among diverse groups, so that together, informed decisions can be made about removing past barriers and building new opportunities for the future.  Building on trust, CES can bring resources through its multi-disciplined approaches to support building wealth by helping to educate families on estate planning and preventing/resolving heirs’ property; closing the digital divide by teaching digital skills; supporting health through guidance on nutrition, exercise, and chronic health prevention/management; guiding socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in farm management decision-making; guiding youth toward social and workforce skills and careers resulting in economic independence; empowering communities to identify and leverage community assets; and building capacity among disadvantaged groups to develop, use, and appreciate their voice.  Examples include: Coming Together for Racial Understanding, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 4-H, Heir Property Network, True Leaders in Equity Institute, 4-H Tech Changemakers, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, 1890 Centers of Excellence, Juntos Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), Extension Disaster Education Network, and the Rural Online Initiative.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

CES is making a real difference through Coming Together for Racial Understanding dialogues that build trust across divides and inform place-based action plans. CES Agriculture and Natural Resources programs guide socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers toward developing thriving enterprises and advancing wealth.  Resolving/preventing heir’s property issues is one aspect of this.  4-H Youth Development efforts, such as Tech Changemakers and STEAM education, are preparing youth to attain valuable leadership and workforce skills.  Family and Consumer Science programs, such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) are advancing healthy lifestyles, guiding adoption of good financial management practices, promoting positive parenting, and fostering small business development. Community Resource Development efforts promote leadership development, entrepreneurship, and community asset management/leveraging and planning. Each of these areas are examples of where CES is making a difference on issues where the nation is struggling with DEI divides.  CES is well positioned to advance successful work already underway towards even greater impact in the future.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Increased resources to support CES efforts have great potential for closing the DEI gap.  For instance, expanding the reach of Historically Black and Tribal Land-grant Universities that have specific missions of reaching underserved audiences put tools directly in the hands of those most at-risk.  Additionally, growing the CES workforce numbers and capacity allows for the expansion of community dialogue-to-change efforts, advancing programs with proven track-records, embedding deeper support for communities through community coaches, and facilitating demonstrable models of community asset building strategies.  CES is well positioned to manage place-based funding to launch promising innovations identified through community dialogues.  Finally, CES can guide the development of a national research initiative to explore efficacy of local innovations and implications for future policy related to DEI.

Contact: advocacy@extension.org

Climate Mitigation, Resiliency,
and Adaptation

Background

Even as our Nation emerges from profound public health and economic crises borne of a pandemic, we face a climate crisis that threatens our people and communities, public health and economy, and, starkly, our ability to live on planet Earth.-Presidential Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the northern hemisphere experienced its hottest summer on record in 2020. We are already experiencing the consequential impacts of a warming planet, and NOAA clarifies, these impacts extend well beyond an increase in temperature, affecting ecosystems and communities in the United States (US) and around the world.

All sectors of life are impacted including water, human health, ecosystem health, agriculture, wildlife, transportation, air, and energy. Since 1980, the US has experienced 279 Climate and Extreme Weather (C/EW) disasters with total costs exceeding $1 billion. The combined costs of all these disasters exceeded $1.825 trillion. Between 1980 and 2019, the annual average number of C/EW disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion in the US was 6.6; yet between January 1 and October 7, 2020, there were already 16 C/EW events exceeding $1 billion each.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System has over 200 unique programs that address aspects of climate education including mitigation, resilience, and adaptation.  When factoring in programming around water conservation, nutrient management, nutrition, energy, animal agriculture and other programs that indirectly tie to climate change, that number would likely jump 10-fold. Cooperative Extension has the capacity to engage communities in important dialogue, and the educational resources to affect change across a spectrum of diverse audiences including rural, urban, and underserved groups.  Examples include:  Extension Disaster Education Network, Tipping Point Planner, Weather Ready Farms, Sustainable Development Initiatives, Water Conservation ProgramsSeptic System Resources, Climate Adaptation Academy, Extension Climate Outreach Team, and Teens Reaching Youth for the Environment. 

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

Effective Cooperative Extension climate educators meet people where they are, engage audiences and clientele in authentic and mutually beneficial ways, and create safe and productive spaces for facilitating participatory decision-making. Employing these leadership traits and laying this foundation during the earliest phases of work proves critical for long-term programmatic success, especially given the widespread politicization of climate science and issues that persist. Extension currently provides tools for communities to develop cost-effective climate sensitive management plans, tools for farmers to make climate sensitive agronomic decisions, and provides municipalities with information and tools to help them adapt to a changing climate.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Climate change affects all communities and ethnic groups, and often those in the most underserved communities are impacted the most severely.  Environmental equitability must be a driving force behind any climate efforts. Success rests upon the relationship-building between Extension and the communities and clientele for whom programs and products are developed and delivered. Within and outside of the Cooperative Extension System, collaboration and partnerships are consistently named as keys of climate program success. With additional funding and resources, Cooperative Extension can scale up vital local projects to a national scale.

Contact: National Extension Climate Initiative and Extension Climate Team advocacy@extension.org

Resource Documents:

Economic and Workforce Development

Background

The Land-grant university System may not be the first institution that comes to mind when you think of our country’s historical link to economic and workforce development. But its connection to improving county or rural life and ultimately its workforce goes back many years to the early 1900s.

Today, Extension Educators are taking both systems-driven and audience-driven approaches to supporting economic and workforce development. Extension programs serve youth audiences, adult audiences, new populations, and vulnerable populations.

How is the Cooperative Extension System Responding?

Extension professionals have historically relied on timely research-based content and interpersonal and group-process skills to make the connection with the people they serve. The knowledge base has mirrored the evolving needs of society, from the initial adoption of new farm practices to today’s inclusion of youth-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) opportunities (Gould, Steele, and Woodrum 2014). These can be easily seen in Extension’s work with youth career readiness, in specific areas such as robotics, and in human and animal health. Interpersonal and group process skills have also had to evolve from the early field demonstration projects with agents as group organizers to current Web-based sessions and applications using real-time interaction (Peters 2002).

Efforts to strengthen and expand workforce skills have historically been addressed by Cooperative Extension in several ways. For example, a specific need, such as technology training, has been incorporated into various program areas (Elbert and Alston 2005). Another approach has been to target a particular workforce area, such as child-care, food service safety, or production agriculture, and to provide knowledge and skills training (Durden et al. 2013). Often these workforce areas look to the Extension as a way to gain or maintain standards necessary for certification in their field. Still another avenue has been to focus on a segment of the population, such as youth, and provide career opportunities (Rockwell, Stohler, and Rudman 1984) or to work with low-resource families and identify needed support and services (Bowman, Manoogian, and Driscoll 2002). For example, many Extension staff work with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that helps people lead healthier lives by understanding the fundamentals of good nutrition, how to make food dollars stretch further, and how to be physically active to maintain health and well-being. These three aspects are fundamental to develop a healthy and productive workforce. Additionally, in the early 1990s the Extension model was used in the development of the national Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, a tool for providing small rural manufacturers the same access to academic innovations and resulting knowledge as the traditional Extension program had done with agriculture (Maher and Spencer 1997).

What Difference is Cooperative Extension Making?

There a number of ways Extension is making a difference in this arena. Some examples include: Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) are a trusted source of economic and community development data, decision tools, education, and guidance for our nation’s rural communities. Collectively, the Centers form a one-stop-shop connection to the nationwide network of Land-grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System. Each Center serves a U.S. region and taps its Land-grant University network to form innovative research and Extension partnerships in the area of rural development. Together, the Regional Rural Development Centers help rural communities make science-based decisions about their community and economic development investments. The Centers currently focus on strengthening rural economies, promoting quality of life, supporting a rural workforce, harnessing technological innovation, and promoting e-connectivity for rural America.

Extension’s Pesticide Safety and Certifications is a successful collaboration of Extension with pesticide producers, the EPA and the Extension Foundation to deliver commercial and noncommercial applicators training and certification to safely apply pesticides. EPA supports Land-grant University Pesticide Safety Education Programs (PSEPs) for the education and training of certified pesticide applicators. PSEPs provide pesticide applicator training on the safe use of restricted use pesticides by applicators in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings.

Other examples include Youth Programs: INWork – INnovate, INvest, INspire – Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce program (https://extension.purdue.edu/article/25371) and Adult Programs:  At Your Service: Working with Multicultural Customers https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/34657828/info-sheet-university-of-minnesota-extension-service

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

The sheer scale of economic and work force development challenges requires scalable programs that can be used across diverse locales and cultures, to speed economic recovery; kickstart new businesses; leverage new and emerging technologies; and retool the workforce to meet the skills needs of new industries. The Cooperative Extension System is well positioned to build upon existing and new partnerships to build inclusive, resilient, sustainable communities and economies. Instrumental in this process are local offices of Cooperative Extension embracing the role of fostering space for entrepreneurship, small business development, and other economic and workforce development opportunities in ways that no other national agency or organization is prepared to do. With additional resources and new partnerships, Cooperative Extension can lead efforts in connecting key community support organizations to truly take advantage of the education, resources, and opportunities within each community. Through its mission, Cooperative Extension is equipped to deliver a 360-degree approach that would allow for inclusion of education for youth and families to assist in creating economically viable and sustainable communities.

Contact: advocacy@extension.org

Resources

Cooperative Extension’s Past and Present Investment in Workforce Development (PDF)

Health Equity & Well-Being

Background

Life expectancy in the United States is declining. This trend will not be reversed any time soon as the effects of COVID-19 are considered, threatening to shorten average life expectancy by another year. Beyond the pandemic, however, sedentary lifestyles and improper diet have pushed the adult obesity rate in the United States to more than 40 percent for the first time in history. Consequently, the chronic disease rates remain alarmingly high.

Since its early days, the Cooperative Extension System (CES) has played a critical important role in improving the health of the nation. Much of that early work focused on educating the public about what comprised a healthy diet. Today, however, a national health crisis has caused Cooperative Extension to redouble its work in the area of health by focusing on creating community conditions which allow people to live long and healthy lives.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

Beyond nutrition education, Extension’s portfolio of health-related work has evolved to include efforts related to immunization education, mental health, agricultural safety, physical activity, chronic disease prevention and management, cardiovascular health, substance misuse prevention, food security, water quality, cancer, healthy aging, and the safe use of prescription drugs.

2021 Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health Equity and Well-Being supports continuation of work to promote the adoption of healthy behaviors across the general population, but also emphasizes the need to employ precision health approaches focused on communities and populations experiencing suboptimal health. Utilization of this twin approach results in improved health for the larger population while also addressing barriers and challenges caused by unfair or unjust policies, unresponsive systems, and toxic environments.

This prevention-based work in no way replaces the work of local health departments or healthcare professionals but enhances their work by mobilizing the health resources of the nation’s land grant universities in support of enhancing population health.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

While we must all accept personal responsibility for doing what we can to maintain and improve our own health, we as a nation must act now to eliminate the unfair and unjust policies and practices that differentially impact health outcomes for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and residents of rural areas. Disparities in health outcomes were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it devastated communities and differentially impacted those with preexisting health conditions.

Individuals live, learn, work, and play in a social system commonly depicted through a social-ecological framework. In general, such frameworks show how the daily lives of individuals are nested within and influenced by interpersonal relationships, families, schools, workplaces, communities, and societal norms and values. Efforts to improve health outcomes for individuals and groups must move away from placing the majority of the responsibility for health on the individual to creating contexts or environments that allow people and communities to thrive. These factors outside of the individual that have an influence on an individual’s health are referred to as the social determinants of health (SDoH). We can influence the social determinants of health through efforts to change policies, systems, and environments (PSEs) which are standing in the way of individuals experiencing optimal health.

Addressing the social determinants of health will require engagement with many partners simultaneously who are working toward a common aim. By incorporating community development expertise into all Cooperative Extension health work, and incentivizing Extension Agents and Educators to look beyond their programmatic areas of focus, Extension can leverage its cross-disciplinary expertise to act as a community convener to promote and support the establishment of community-based coalitions in support of improving health outcomes and addressing health inequities.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Extension is well positioned to serve as a catalyst for community-based efforts to address health equity. Doing so will require that Cooperative Extension receives the necessary support for taking successful pilot efforts to scale across our network of more than 3,200 offices across the nation. This will also require a paradigm shift in Cooperative Extension’s strategic direction that takes it beyond education to catalyzing community action through coalitions and expanded partnerships. This new direction will require increased resources and greater flexibility in the traditional Extension model, with greater ability to see and do our work differently than we have in the past.

Contact: ECOP Health Innovation Task Force: advocacy@extension.org

4-H
Positive Youth Development

Background

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, empowering nearly six million young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime.  Through the intentional application of 4-H Positive Youth Development (PYD), the program teaches critical life skills and in addition, addresses mental health, education, and employability of youth. 4-H is delivered by the Cooperative Extension System (CES), a community of more than 100 Land-grant Universities across the nation that provides experiences where young people learn by doing.  Kids experience 4-H in every county, parish, borough, and city in the country through a network of 500,000 volunteers and 3,500 4-H professionals.  

Today, in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, America is facing what Dr. Paul Reville, the Francis Keppel Professor of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has called our “Sputnik Moment” – a moment where we as a nation fully recognize that a generation of young people are going to be lost, their talent and contributions unrealized and their future success jeopardized, unless we rally as a country and gain the public and political will that is needed to realize that it is in the best interests of everyone to ensure the health, positive development and education of all young people across the nation.

Closing the Opportunity Gap for Youth

While there is a lot that we do not yet know about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic and financial recession, and the ongoing social unrest, we do know that this unprecedented situation presents a chance to create a multi-sector commitment to address the opportunity gap for youth.  

The opportunity gap describes how the circumstances in which people are born and/or live determine their opportunities in life.  The widening opportunity gap across the nation is affected by four key elements – race, ethnicity, ZIP code, and socio-economic status.  Research also shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequality our young people face in terms of their mental health, their access to education and their employability.  Positive youth development through the 4-H program plays an important role in closing the opportunity gap and mitigates the three key areas that our young people are struggling with – mental health, education, and employability.  

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

This vision for 4-H PYD contains the elements of diversity, equity and inclusion, caring adult relationships, and a goal to serve at minimum 1 in 5 youth.  To accomplish this vision, the ECOP 4-H Leadership Committee has implemented several national initiatives through Cooperative Extension including 4-H at Home; the 4-H Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Design Team; the 4-H Pathways Leadership Institute, and the Opportunity4All brand campaign.

4-H programs are inherently local, meeting youth and families where they live and serving community needs and values. Youth choose and complete hands-on projects in areas like science, health, agriculture, and civic engagement in a positive environment, where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles.  Regardless of the project area, all 4-H programs include mentoring and career readiness as core elements.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

The 4-H model of positive youth development has driven new thinking and approaches to youth development around the world for decades.  Preeminent youth development scholars at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University partnered with faculty at America’s land-grant universities to conduct research, which showed that the structured out-of-school learning, leadership experiences, and adult mentoring that young people receive through their participation in 4-H play a vital role in helping them achieve success.  Cooperative Extension continues to look closely at the ways in which 4-H contributes to the high-quality positive development of youth and develops research-based professional development opportunities for all youth development professionals and volunteers. 

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Additional fiscal resources are needed by Cooperative Extension to assure sufficient, prepared, and supported PYD staff in rural, urban, and suburban settings that support the 4-H program at the local, state, and national levels. Immediate staffing and support are needed for the above programs initiated by the ECOP 4-H Leadership Committee and Cooperative Extension. New national staffing and program support at all levels is essential to galvanize, coordinate and provide focused leadership for our efforts to close the opportunity gap and mitigate the employability, education, and mental health challenges that youth currently face.

By investing additional resources in Cooperative Extension’s capacity to create change and reach new youth with its proven PYD approach, we can upend America’s persistent social, economic and political imbalances.  Our intentional approach will bring together communities, organizations, government, educators and young people to promote positive outcomes for youth, thereby eliminating the opportunity gap and creating a more equitable and just society.

Contact: ECOP 4-H Leadership Committee: advocacy@extension.org

4-H At-A-Glance

Download 4-H At-A-Glance (PDF)

Urban Programs

URBAN AGRICULTURE

Background

Urban agriculture comprises inner-city small farms, community and school gardens; backyard and rooftop horticulture, innovative food-growing methods maximizing yields in small areas, and controlled environment agriculture. Urban Agriculture includes farms supplying urban farmers markets and farm stands, community-supported agriculture buying clubs, and family farms located in metropolitan green belts near urban centers.

Urban Agriculture is immensely important because people growing food and forestry (small orchards and street trees) in stewarded spaces create safer places, a sense of ownership by beautification, can express cultural heritage and identity, memorialize people and histories, promote public health, healing, stress reduction, trauma management and improve environmental quality.

Growing Urban Agriculture to Cultivate Resilience 

Populations in the United States continue to migrate from rural to urban and suburban communities. This has and will continue to shift the strength of the Cooperative Extension System’s (CES) legislative support. Urban citizens benefit from the research-based food production, nutrition, and development programs, and data that Cooperative Extension programs offer, and current programs can be expanded. Extension supported, replicated, or initiated programs and data:

  1. Catalyze urban and rural farmer partnerships
  2. Bridge production gaps through shared values
  3. Reinforcing local/regional economies
  4. Leverage supply chains
  5. Enhance small market outlets 

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The innovation and creativity of Extension professionals is demonstrated in efforts to eliminate food deserts, address racial injustices and build new businesses, teach youth workforce skills, build community, teach nutrition and promote healthy diets, and working toward greening America’s cities – fighting impacts of climate change while supporting mental health.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

The Cooperative Extension System, which built the most powerful agricultural production system in the world and continues to support rural America, has the power to transform and up-scale urban agriculture. Land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System stand ready to address the long-identified needs in urban agriculture. With offices in most U.S. counties, Cooperative Extension can become an even more trusted source of expertise, information, and inclusion for urban populations.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Land-grant Universities and CES stand ready to address the long-identified needs in urban agriculture, but not implemented due to limited funding. Additional funding would allow CES to scale up its urban agriculture capacity, leverage existing local, state, and federal funding for transforming food access, sovereignty, and workforce development while strengthening urban-rural economics by: 

  • Supporting the expansion of local promising practices to a national scale.
  • Adapting research conducted outside of urban areas for urban audiences, including non-English speaking populations.
  • Translating research and educational program short info-sheets into other languages.
  • Sharing on land access models.
  • Developing urban farmer networks to serve as catalysts to convene existing groups, develop collective projects, and to help with urban food system-diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Contact: advocacy@extension.org

National Urban Extension Leaders

Western Center for Metropolitan Cooperative Extension and Research

Broadband Access and Digital Skills

Background

Reliable high-speed internet service has become an integral piece of America’s infrastructure. Yet, too many in both rural and urban parts of the nation still do not have access to reliable, affordable service. This limited access to broadband and proficiency in the related essential digital skills is impacting economic opportunities, healthcare access, and education outcomes for young people, families, small businesses, and communities.

Closing the Digital Opportunity Gap 

It is hard to overstate the challenges of living today without the internet, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we shift our daily lives to an on-line environment to meet social distancing requirements, millions are teleworking, student learning has transitioned to online engagement, non-emergency doctor visits have shifted to virtual, and even social and daily routines have gone virtual. In the midst of this shift to online, imagine losing access to essential services such as visiting a government office to file for social security, unemployment, or renewing a driver’s license; visiting a doctor, giving your children access to a quality education; or having the ability to safely shop for groceries, prescriptions, or other essential needs. Without access to broadband, these everyday tasks become insurmountable challenges.  Furthermore, many families cannot maintain their income when the option to telework is not available. This leaves residents without good internet service at a severe economic disadvantage. While some of these activities will switch back to an in-person mode once the pandemic has eased, some of this shift will be permanent. Those without reliable, affordable broadband access and the skills needed to use it safely will suffer further economic and social inequity. Closing the digital opportunity gap requires not only affordable internet access, but also the awareness, education, and training to use it safely and effectively. 

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System (CES) provides trusted, practical education, to help people, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future. Campus-based faculty members are disciplinary specialists whose primary responsibility is to develop curricula that translates science-based research results into language (written, verbal, and electronic) appropriate for targeted audiences. County-based Extension Educators work with local community members to solve problems, evaluate the effectiveness of learning tools, and collect grassroots input to prioritize future research. By living and working in communities, County Educators respond to local needs, build trust, and engage effectively with citizens through non-formal outreach education and engagement.

CES is working hard to address the digital opportunity gap. Long before the coronavirus became an immediate threat to the ability of millions to keep up with work, education, and health care, Extension Specialists and Educators recognized the importance of the digital divide and took action to address digital equity. These actions included education programs that raise awareness about the benefits of broadband, convening stakeholders to assist with strategic planning, assessing digital inclusion, feasibility studies, stakeholder input, and technical assistance with writing grant proposals. CES also provided training for community members and businesses about how to safely and effectively use online tools to improve their economic opportunities, access resources, and improve their quality of life. 

Many of these programs have been effectively implemented in collaboration with community partners.  A few examples include: National 4-H Council 4-H Tech Changemakers, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service resources and training in broadband access, adoption, and utilization, Purdue University Digital Ready Business, Oklahoma State University Extension and local library partnerships to provide hotspots, Nebraska Broadband Initiative, Washington State University Extension Broadband Action Team, Utah State University Rural Online Initiative, Mississippi State University Bricks-to-Clicks, and the University of Wisconsin Extension Community Development Institute. CES is also partnering with the Land O’Lakes American Connection Project and the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition on these efforts.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

By helping residents, businesses, and communities adopt broadband tools, CES is supporting resilience and productivity for rural residents and businesses.  Multiple studies demonstrate the potential impact of broadband on economic vitality, including a recent study by the FCC linking broadband access with increased farm productivity. Small businesses benefit from building an online presence and a recent study demonstrated the valuable role of Extension educators in digital literacy programming to assist small businesses take advantage of those benefits. Another study has shown the importance of Extension in influencing household internet adoption. 

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Increased fiscal resources are needed to update and expand existing curricula, train additional staff to build capacity for broadband work, and to further evaluate programs in place. Additional CES staff could also assist local communities in planning to help identify and leverage opportunities for broadband access and adoption.  This includes convening relevant partners to ensure that federal funding is leveraging other efforts and coordinating with important partners such as state broadband offices and agricultural stakeholders such as the Farm Bureau.  

Contact: National Digital Education Extension Team, coordinated through the Southern Rural Development Center http://srdc.msstate.edu/ advocacy@extension.org

Nutrition Education and SNAP-Ed

Background

The Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed, provides nutrition education and obesity prevention programming to those eligible for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. As populations with low income and food insecurity are at risk for a number of diet related diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, these efforts are critical to creating healthy people and healthy communities.

SNAP-Ed through the Cooperative Extension System (CES) combines the best attributes of a strong national network of research institutions and local programming. Land-grant Universities (LGUs) bring a unique three-component structure of research, education, and Extension in the form of outreach. LGU SNAP-Ed programs are deeply embedded in the communities they serve. This education helps people and communities solve problems, build capacity, and create a better future.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

There are 58 land-grant universities representing 48 states and Guam providing SNAP-Ed as a formal implementing agency. SNAP-Ed is implemented in partnership with national, state, and local partners, including the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, state agencies, and nonprofits. Additionally, SNAP-Ed partners with Extension programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), 4-H, and Master Gardeners to leverage the capacity and expertise within the Extension System. More information on how SNAP-Ed and EFNEP complement one another to increase reach and improve the nutritional health of populations with low income can be found in this handout (PDF)

LGU SNAP-Ed programs strive to create positive behavior change from the bottom up, from the top down, and all points in between. To do this, SNAP-Ed is implemented through three main channels:

  • Nutrition education
  • Policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) approaches
  • Social marketing

SNAP-Ed has historically been a nutrition education program which provides nutrition and physical activity related education to individuals from preschool age through older adulthood. LGUs utilize hands-on, researched-based curricula on topics such as cooking and gardening to teach individuals the importance of eating healthy and staying active.

To create positive change at the population level, LGU SNAP-Ed programs utilize public health and structural interventions. These approaches – Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) changes – improves aspects of environments in which people live, learn, work, play, shop, and eat. PSEs influence the community in holistic ways, by addressing nutrition, health, and physical activity behaviors through changes in policies, systems, and the built environment.

Finally, social marketing strategies are increasingly used in LGU SNAP-Ed programs to widely disseminate educational messages and encourage population change. They combine commercial marketing with public health approaches. Methods may include a social media presence and campaigns; websites; paid or public service advertising (PSAs); and earned media.

Together, these channels of SNAP-Ed delivery result in reaching individuals, families, and communities where SNAP-eligible individuals live, learn, work, play, shop, and eat.

LGU SNAP-Ed combines the best aspects of a powerful national network of research and education institutions with a relevant, trusted local partner that is deeply embedded in the communities served. LGU SNAP-Ed programs are the bridge between local issues and innovative answers through the power of LGU research.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

A report1 of federal fiscal year 2019 LGU SNAP-Ed impacts include:

  • 1.7 million people reached directly through nutrition education efforts
  • 25,000 delivery sites nationally, including daycares, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, food banks, and farmers markets
  • 40% of participants increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages as a result of SNAP-Ed
  • 60% of participants utilized food resource management techniques to save money after attending SNAP-Ed classes
  • 3 million people reached through PSE approaches
  • 6,000 nutrition and 1,700 physical activity PSE changes implemented
  • 24 unique social marketing campaigns generated an estimated 27 million impressions

For more information on the impacts of LGU SNAP-Ed programs, please visit our website https://snap-ed.extension.org

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

LGUs who are currently conducting SNAP-Ed and those who are not would benefits from increased financial resources and expanding partnerships, allowing for increased services and greater community impact. The need for obesity prevention services targeting populations with low income often exceeds the capacity of LGUs under current funding allocations, a gap that could be filled by expanding the fiscal resources available. Increased funding would allow for greater reach into vulnerable communities through existing LGU SNAP-Ed programs, as well as increased participation by 1890 and 1994 LGUs, allowing for a targeted approach to better reach African American and Tribal communities.

Contact: Contact Lauren Sweeney, LGU SNAP-Ed PDT Assistant at lauren.sweeney@sdstate.edu or visit our website at https://snap-ed.extension.org

1 Yetter, D., Tripp, S. (2020). SNAP-Ed FY 2019: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education through the Land-Grant University System. Retrieved from https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resource/LGU-SNAP-Ed-FY2019-Impacts-Report-12-16-2020_508.pdf.

Extension 101

Extension 101 provides a brief overview of the Cooperative Extension System’s history and current efforts. These slides can downloaded and used by Extension professionals and interested others in communicating the history and power of Extension. Special appreciation is extended to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Communications Office for allowing us to adapt their Extension history slides for this purpose.

Extension Infographic

This Cooperative Extension infographic provides information on Extension’s philosophy, funding, and what makes the System unique. The infographic can downloaded and used by Extension professionals and interested others in communicating priorities, messaging, and the value of Extension. The back of the infographic can be tailored to state or local level Extension priorities and other communication needs.

Data and Resources

The Land-grant University System is a uniquely American institution and has operated successfully for more than a century. The National Impact Database documents and demonstrates the collective and individual impacts of this national system of joint teaching, research, and extension institutions. Members of the general public can learn more about the public value of Land-grant Universities. Authorized employees of Land-grant institutions can also access the database, which allows them to create impact statements and view/edit benchmarking data for their institution.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Impacts resource provides success stories that demonstrate groundbreaking discoveries and societal impacts of the Cooperative Extension System and Land-grant Universities. Also available from NIFA is a Data Gateway which provides data and metrics by recent funding awards, Congressional District, Knowledge Areas, Subject of Investigation, Field of Science, and award trends.