BY LOGAN MCCOURTNEY –
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This clever expression is more than fishing. It’s more than eating. At its core, this saying is about education. When someone is educated, there is more than a transfer of knowledge, someone is empowered. The Polk County Extension Office exists to educate and empower the citizens of Polk County.
Extension offices, or at least extension education, have been around since 1905, well over a century. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, a partnership that exists to provide education and research based information to better serve the people of Arkansas. With offices in all 75 counties, including Polk County, Extension Services are extending education into all areas of life, but specifically in youth development, agriculture and natural resources research, community and economic development, and family and consumer services.
The term ‘cooperative’ is a part of the name because the extension service is a collective effort between state government, the US Department of Agriculture, and the local government. “With our vast networks and support from state, national, and local levels, we are able to provide research and support in nearly any area citizens may desire,” explains Carla Vaught. The goal of the local extension service is to improve the quality of life and the staff accomplishes this through programs and demonstrations that educate. Education is provided in many different ways through different platforms. This may be through ‘classroom’ learning or teaching in the ‘field’ as extension agents meet with community members on their farms or in someone’s garden. “As our motto goes, ‘Arkansas is our classroom’,” says Carla.
In Polk County, there are three extension agents, Carla Vaught, Bridget Martin, and Josh Yates. Each of the agents have education specific to their area of work, in some cases holding masters degrees, making each agent not just knowledgeable, but a valuable resource for citizens. “While I may focus my efforts and time in horticulture, I may also help Bridget with things in family and consumer sciences. I may teach someone how to plant and take care of a garden, but Bridget is teaching them how to can or cook for their families. Each area builds on another,” explains Josh. One of the programs that educates thousands of students each year in the state of Arkansas is 4-H. The goal of 4-H is to “learn by doing”, teaching students how to be productive and compassionate members of society with hands on approach. “[The] 4-H [program] is about developing leaders and equipping students to impact their communities as they learn meaningful skills that can be used the rest of their lives,” remarks Carla.
Many people may be familiar with 4-H in some capacity, whether through personal experience or through family and friends. What many people may not realize is that extension services can also educate and equip adults to pursue a higher quality of life. This can be accomplished in many ways, but one specifically is through family and consumer sciences, an area of education that Bridget leads in Polk County. “We offer a variety of different nutrition education programs, anything from sharing healthy recipes, showing busy moms how to prepare freezer meals, or helping people manage their health through good foods,” says Bridget. Along with nutrition education, people in the community have the opportunity to learn about personal finances, personal and family well being, and there is even a component of the education that is entrepreneurial as well. “Through the family and consumer sciences we can also offer training opportunities and resources available for child care professionals. There is a big need for in home child care and through proper training a mom might be able to come home from her full time job to be with her kids and still contribute to the family income,” Bridget explains.
In addition to services already mentioned, the extension office is prepared to offer research based advice for gardeners seeking a better harvest this year, homeowners desiring the perfect yard, or even a cattle farmer that is trying to be more resourceful and efficient with grazing. “We constantly have people that are asking questions about their gardens, which we love that that service is being utilized,” mentions Josh. On the other hand, the team expressed an interest for people to know how they might be able to help local farmers. “Because we have research to back up what we are doing, we can come out and talk with a farmer about his soil, show them the potential weeds or problems that could arise, help them fully understand the nutritional value their animals need, and even how to produce a great harvest that will meet their animal needs,” explains Carla. Research is the backbone of the extension service, it gives answers to the many needs of those seeking a quality life.
The Polk County Extension Office is a reminder that educating others is empowering them to a better life. “This is our passion. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t do it. We have a passion for equipping and empowering people for a better life, which ultimately means a better Arkansas.”
For more information about services provided or educational material stop by the Polk County Extension Office at 211 DeQueen Street in Mena, or call 479-394-6018, or visit their website, https://www.uaex.edu/counties/polk/.