REED CITY — Osceola County's MSU Extension Office continues to be a point of pride throughout the county for the programs and services it provides.

During the recent Osceola County Commission's Committee of the Whole meeting at the Osceola County Courthouse, commissioners heard about the busy 2016 MSU Extension staff members had, with a presentation of the annual report from MSUE District Coordinator Shari Spoelman.

Highlighting the annual report, Spoelman pointed out, was an emphasis on the growing effort to include technology in MSUE's programming as its ability to access different ways to research and educate people.

"As an organization, we recognize that," she said. "We don't do all traditional in-class programs. We combine a lot of technology because people we serve go to the internet to find whatever they are looking for."

Spoelman said on top of serving residents, staff members also look to connect with them and measure the impact in each of their broad specialties.

Staff members of the Osceola County MSUE office include Jerry Lindquist, grazing and crop management educator; Jake Stieg, 4-H program coordinator; Shannon Lindquist, social emotional health educator; Renee Sanders, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program educator and program instructor; and Robin Eisenga, office manager.

Spoelman's 2016 highlights included:

n There were 209 youth involved in 4-H projects at the Marion and Osceola County 4-H/FFA fairs with 336 market projects; 432 youth in traditional 4-H clubs with 89 volunteers leading 26 clubs, as well as school programming and events.

  • Youth shooting sports programs remain the most popular among residents.
  • Science Blast, a program which helps prepare youth for careers in agriculture and science.
  • Different food safety program classes for Osceola County residents.
  • Helping low-income families receive food assistance through SNAP.
  • Sanders' work at the Muskegon River Youth Home.
  • A focus on natural resources with additional research and work on cover crops.

"We always appreciate your support," Spoelman said. "We wouldn't be able to have an office here without your support."

Commissioner Larry Emig said MSU Extension staff has always been excellent.

"We've always supported MSU Extension," he said. "We know that's not always the case in other counties. It's unfortunate and not really sure why. It's always benefited the people of Osceola County. It is about people being educated on various things, whether they go on from there to farming or not.

"It's a service, a resource for people and benefits the county and makes our area a nice place to live. We know we have one of the best 4-H programs around, and that's the same as the nutrition program. They all do an excellent job."

Each staff presented an overview to commissioners.

As a social emotional health educator, Shannon Lindquist said the focus over the last couple of years has been mindfulness. Developed by Buddhists, she said it's not only about meditation, but about being in the present moment and taking in what we need to take in.

The biggest issue, Shannon said, is stress.

"Curriculums are being used in schools to teach kids how to handle their stress," she said. "Family life can be very stressful. Teaching students as young as preschoolers, they help kids take a step back and concentrate on breathing and take care of themselves."

Teaching children at a young age how to handle stress will benefit them throughout their lives, she said.

Stieg shared about the growing 4-H program's successes in 2016, including a record-number of youth at the Ag Olympics at the Osceola County 4-H/FFA Fair. There were 456 exhibitors at the fair in 2016 with 1,711 exhibits.

"We have the largest dairy show in Northern Michigan," he said. "Clinton County beat us out by three cows for the entire state. We're going to keep growing and and developing 4-H."

This year, Stieg said, marks the 25th year for Project Rural Education Days on May 18 and May 19 at Gingrich Meadows and Rose Lake Park.

"It's a day of agriculture and natural resources in non-traditional classroom settings," he said.

Jerry Lindquist, grazing and crop management educator, said the agricultural economy isn't doing well.

"We're in a state of recession; in dairy and beef, most of the grain crops are at lower prices," he said. "Profitability is nonexistent across the country, Michigan and Osceola County."

Jerry Lindquist said it's a time of survival for farmers because of oversupply, as record prices for milk and beef cattle in 2014 led to over-production.

"A lot of farms expanded," he said. "It's good news for consumers as food prices trend lower ... they are benefiting from it. The forecast for the next two to three years, these prices could remain low. You never forecast completely. It's going to put a lot of pressure on farms, and we're meeting with farmers individually talking about financial management and stress management."

More recently, Jerry Lindquist said a U.S. Department of Agriculture traced a case of bovine tuberculosis from a herd in Indiana to Lake County.

"There will be a testing zone of three miles around that farm, and that does pick up a few sections of land in Lincoln and Richmond townships in Osceola County," he said. "Farms with cattle or buffalo will have to be tested over the next six months."

Jerry Lindquist said the good news is the cow had only been in Lake County for six months.

"Bovine TB spreads very slowly from animal to animal," he said. "It is not immediately contagious. Hopefully the risk has been minimized and the issue now becomes if the disease spread to wildlife and the whitetail deer population."

Sanders, SNAP Education and program coordinator, spent some of her 2016 at Muskegon River Youth Home, helping teach a variety of food-centered programs to the juveniles.

"It was a really exciting year at Muskegon River Youth Home," she said. "It changed the way I look at how I teach just because those kids, mostly boys, are so interested in learning what I have to say."

Of the 338 kids who participated in the food program, Sanders aid nearly half are at Muskegon River Youth Home.