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Workforce Development Efforts Target a Broad Range of Users

Purdue Extension is addressing workforce development in Indiana with an overriding goal to foster prosperity for individuals, communities and businesses. Extension tailors programs for different audiences across its four program areas.

Resources for nontraditional agriculture

Mike and Lisel Record have operated New Ground Farm, a small, USDA-certified organic vegetable farm in Bloomington, Indiana, since 2014. “Initially I thought it would be a strategic advantage for the business,” said Mike Record. “Now I feel like it’s the right way to farm.”

Purdue Extension has helped the Records, who own one of only three such farms in their county, overcome some of the challenges of certified organic farming.

The Diversified Farming and Food Systems (DFFS) program offers educational curriculums supporting urban farmers, beginning farmers, community gardeners and Junior Master Gardeners. A team of Extension educators and specialists, faculty, practitioners and community partners also plan networking and professional development events like farm tours, demonstrations, and food and beverage tastings from local growers and producers. At the county and state levels, many programs are hosted in partnership with conservation partners and government agencies.

A couple of years into his business, Record participated in Purdue Extension-sponsored extended field trips to southern Michigan and to New England. “I gathered a lot of ideas of new production techniques to try,” he said. Closer to home, one-day workshops and personal interactions with Extension staff “were useful for sure,” he added.

Urban gardener Marissa Renz wants people to know that they don’t need to live in a rural setting to live in
abundance. Her home in Fort Wayne, situated on about a third of an acre, teems with bees, hummingbirds and other avian visitors. “A lot of people think you can’t have that unless you live in the country, but a lot can be done in just a little bit of space,” she said.

Renz is a garden consultant and coach who also provides design services through her company, Plant Happiness. Over the past 14 years, she has completed Purdue Extension’s Indiana Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs, earned an Urban Agriculture Certificate, and attended multiple Extension seminars and symposiums.

Mental health education for employees and employers

“Mental wellness is a huge topic right now and like everybody, we’ve gone through a lot of changes since we’ve come back from COVID,” Shelly Powell, marketing events manager at the Tipton County Library and president of the Tipton County Extension Board, said. The library also is undergoing renovation — an exciting but potentially stressful process.

Purdue Extension’s new Compassion & Resilience Education at Work (CREW) is an introductory mental health and substance use curriculum designed for the workplace. It offers three timely topics in standalone one-hour sessions or as a series: work-life balance, stress management and stigma reduction.

Powell and 15 of her co-workers attended a pilot session on stress management that Eric Hillis,
Purdue Extension Health and Human Sciences educator in Tipton County, delivered at the library in April 2023. “I think Eric made everybody feel comfortable sharing,” Kendra Hummel, assistant director of the library and a member of Hillis’s Extension Advisory Committee, said.

Powell especially liked learning about square breathing, a deep-breathing exercise for calming the mind and nervous system, and has since put this stress management technique to use. She also said the session has made her more sensitive to her coworkers’ feelings: “I try to be more open-minded and look at it through a wider scope.”

Powell and Hummel agree that giving employees tools to identify stressors, to develop coping strategies, and to communicate about their stress with their employer is a win-win.

CREW is adaptable to different industries and to organizations of all sizes, and Purdue Extension can bring it to employees at a workplace virtually or in person. Employers can connect with their local Extension educator to learn more.

Indiana 4-H: A partner in college and career readiness

“It’s an opportunity to become better for my college career or when I enter the workforce, to set myself up with skills that will help make me and youth across the state successful,” Reagan Koester said. “That’s really what 4-H is all about.”

Koester and Kylie Bedel, both 10-year 4-H members in Vanderburgh County, have involvement in Junior Leaders and service as Indiana State 4-H Ambassadors on their activity- and service-packed resumes. 

Bedel is a Purdue sophomore studying agribusiness and animal science. “I want to work for a company, government agency or university that makes an impact in agriculture in some way,” she said.

Koester is a first-year Purdue student also majoring in agribusiness, and who plans to earn a law degree as a foundation for a career in estate planning.

Bedel and Koester are masters of time management, and both credit 4-H. Koester wrote a proposal and secured a grant for her project Fun for Foster Families, which included filling backpacks for foster children in her tri-state area. “These projects do take quite a bit of time, and then balancing them with school and extracurriculars and sports… A lot of 4-H’ers are involved in more than 4-H,” she said.

Bedel calls herself “goal driven” and relies on organizational skills from 4-H to achieve those goals. “When I get to school, I get all my syllabuses and I start making an Excel spreadsheet with every class I have and every piece of homework that’s listed,” she said. “If you’re not organized, you’re going to fall behind or forget something. Being heavily involved in 4-H — those skills have transferred over.”

The two young women say hands-on and project-based learning demands teamwork, leadership, self-reflection, community service and civic engagement. They learned to delegate and communicate.

Leveraging grants to realize a vision

Carlene Archie’s Indianapolis-based nonprofit, Unique 7 and Associates, offers a range of services to youth and families, including a weekly urban gardening program for children that is rooted in her own experience on her grandmother’s farm. “I became a community activist by just 

caring and working with children and families in the pocket around me,” she said.

Many nonprofits and local governments rely on grant funding to support their mission and programs, but their staffs often scramble to learn grant-writing on the job. Participants in Purdue Extension’s Beginner’s Guide to Grant Writing develop project planning and grant-writing skills that allow them to dream bigger than current resources allow.

Archie aspired to expand her popular Saturday gardening program but realized she couldn’t do it alone or depend solely on volunteers. “I’m a better visionary than I am a writer, so I had to get better at understanding the grant process,” she said.

Through her own initiative, Archie learned about an Extension-sponsored Community Supported Agriculture conference. From there, new friends in Marion County and Hancock County Extension not only piqued her interest in the Master Gardener program but provided a link when she mentioned her interest in grant writing.

Archie liked the structure of the two-day class. “You go to a first workshop to get a framework, and then you go a month later, which I think was a genius idea,” she said.

Her takeaways included better knowledge of available resources, tips on technical writing, and the critical need to organize and plan ahead. The class also sharpened her focus: “It helped me understand I don’t have to get everything done in one grant.”

Archie used instructor feedback and resources to immediately secure a small grant for a youth project to build birdhouses.

Whether she’s helping families reduce their debt through financial advising, teaching them to cook — “I brought nine people to a Purdue home preservation course,” she said — or promoting the idea of 4-H clubs in urban schools, Archie said she’ll continue tapping Extension expertise.

“They offered their services starting day one,” she said, quoting her instructors: ‘Call us if you need us. Come by if you have something to show us.’”


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