Making A Difference in Our County
University of Georgia Cooperative Extension is working hard for its constituents. The following are examples of Extension’s impact in the county over the past year.
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Cultivating Columbia County
Columbia County ranks number 3 in Georgia farm gate value for Ornamental Horticulture, or the production of flowers and landscape plants. Last year, the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent made more than 11,000 contacts and 550 site visits related to homeowner horticulture. Of special interest, Columbia County Cultivators meetings foster an educational partnership with industry professionals and homeowners. The monthly meetings cover a range of topics, from weed control in turfgrass to organic gardening.
For those who desire intensive training, Master Gardener Extension Volunteer courses are held biannually. The Master Gardener program is an 11-week class that covers a broad range of horticultural topics. The goal of the Master Gardener program is to educate horticulture enthusiasts so that they are equipped to volunteer and disseminate horticultural information to the public. The last class hosted was 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the spring of 2022, two sessions were held and trained 54 new Master Gardener Extension Volunteers. Classes were on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 9:30 to 12:00 and 5:30 to 8. Morning classes traditionally are convenient for retirees and non-working parents. Individuals with daytime jobs were not able to participate in the class because of their employment status. Columbia County Extension office was able to have a total of 54 individuals able to participate in the program which helped increase the current active volunteers to 128. This was a 43% increase in active volunteers in the local Master Gardener Extension Volunteer group, the Augusta Area Master Gardeners. By hosting an evening class, the Columbia County Extension office was able to graduate a new demographic to the Augusta Area Master Gardeners group. Young working adults, employed professionals, and active school teachers were able to participate in the 2022 Master Gardener Extension Volunteer course. These volunteers have been an asset in helping view the program from a different perspective by adding new technologies, up to date information on volunteer opportunities, and a lot of positive energy. Throughout 2022, the Master Gardeners Extension Volunteer donated 4,838 hours to the community and the Extension office, worth a total value of $116,789.32.
Columbia County 4-H prides itself on building active citizens for our future. Community service projects accomplished in 2022 include collecting over 400 pounds of soda pop tabs in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities, leading Columbia County to take home the Highest Pop Tab Collection award at Junior Conference, and our 5th graders raised over $350 for Project Lifesaver. Summer camp was a huge success as well, with 114 Cloverleaf campers attending Wahsega and 27 junior 4-H’ers attending Wilderness Challenge, with additional student groups attending Junior camp, Senior camp, and Senior Extreme. Eleven Junior and Seniors attended Northeast District DPA in March 2022, with three advancing to State Congress, where two of them placed third. Columbia County also received the award for Largest Delegation at Cloverleaf DPA in November 2022, with fifty competitors.
Developing a Strong Community Partnership
Columbia County 4-H has a renewed sense of purpose in serving the youth of the county with the return to in-school fifth grade lessons. Every month, 4-H staff and a dedicated group of eight volunteers visit 89 5th grade classrooms, teaching lessons on STEM topics as well as healthy living and sharing important 4-H updates. Three of the classroom volunteers are also Master Gardeners, and enjoy working with the students to obtain their volunteer hours, and provide invaluable support to the 4-H program. There is also a long-standing partnership in place with the Columbia County Stormwater Utility department, providing a hands-on lesson to 5th graders about water pollution and the importance of local watersheds. The department has provided resources, as well as materials, for over ten years. This partnership allows 4-H to teach an important STEM lesson, while also allowing the Stormwater Utility department to obtain their outreach quotas. Community partnership also extends to the Specialty Clubs. The Project SAFE clubs, Shotgun and Archery, shoot on the county landfill, and help with a yearly clean-up of the area in exchange. The Shotgun team is the largest specialty club, with almost fifty members, and are well-known in the county for their annual raffle, picnic, and shoot. The Military Kids Club is also very active in the community. With a focus on community service, they can be found volunteering for the IronMan Foundation and Wreaths Across America, as well as participating in locally run activities like Operation Homefront and Reed Creek’s annual Halloween and Chocolate festivals. Columbia County 4-H’ers also give back to their home organization through fundraising. In 2022, the spring Vidalia Onion fundraiser brought in $6000 while the fall Pecan sale brought in $4500. These funds are used to help provide educational programs and scholarships supporting youth development in Columbia County.
4-H Youth Development
Columbia County 4-H prides itself on building active citizens for our future through focus on leadership, citizenship, agriculture and the environment, and public speaking. Community service projects for 4-H’ers included collecting more than 400 pounds of soda pop tabs in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities, donating $875 for Salvation Army, donating more than 200 food items to the Columbia County Cares food pantry, and donating over $700 to purchase smoke detectors for needy families. In addition to community service, Columbia County 4-H’s fundraising efforts included raising more than $4,500 through Vidalia Onion Sales as well as $5,200 in Pecan sales. Columbia County 4-H could not have been as successful as it was in 2020 without the support of our volunteers, who donated over 2,050 hours of their time, valued at over $55,760. Partnerships with the Columbia County Board of Education allow our 4-H programs to provide experiential learning programs that compliment school curriculum, STEAM initiatives, and helps to increase student writing-test scores. 4-H has a presence in every school in the Columbia County School District and enrollment in 2020 was 2,800 students. Despite the pandemic, Columbia County 4-H was able to provide both in-school and virtual programming. In 2020 a total of 95 monthly virtual club meetings were provided to 5th graders and an additional 6 virtual meetings per month were provided for grades K-12. Additional virtual programming totaled over 890 programs reaching more than 3,500 participants during the pandemic.
Family and Consumer Sciences
A wide variety of free UGA Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) publications are available at the county office. Questions relating to FACS topics can be outsourced to neighboring counties with FACS agents as needed.