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
Agriculture is a driving economic force in Stephens County with an estimated farm gate value of $56,668,306. The vast majority of agricultural production can be attributed to the thriving poultry and cattle industries in the county. Broiler production is particularly important, with a total value of $35,540,462. Beef cattle production is also very important with a combined value of $15,874,378. There are 227 farms in Stephens County spanning 19,509 acres, with an average of 86 acres per farm.
The Stephens County Extension Office provides unbiased, research-based information to the agricultural producers, homeowners and businesses of Stephens County. Through university resources, the Extension office is able to provide programming in many different agriculture and natural resources topic areas. Some of these topics include soil fertility, pasture management, livestock management and home gardening. Programming is done by the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent in a variety of seminars, workshops, field days and site visits. The Extension office also provides soil, water, forage and many other testing services to citizens. These results ensure community stakeholders receive accurate recommendations from the Extension office, making them more productive and profitable. Site visits by the county agent are also a vital part of connecting with the residents of Stephens County and helping them solve their agricultural and natural resources issues. Topics for site visits can include weed identification, insect identification, plant disease diagnosis, assessing soil fertility and more.
Highlights of this year’s program:
The annual Farm Gate value for small ruminant production is valued at $116,250 here in Stephens County and growing. The majority of these producers either sell show quality stock or raise animals for meat production in local markets. In response to this the Stephens County ANR Agent in collaboration with the Small Ruminant Specialist at Fort Valley State University held a Small Ruminant Production meeting from which 25 producers from 4 Georgia counties and 1 county in South Carolina attended. The meeting’s topics included forage management, animal nutrition, reproduction, and health. A post program evaluation revealed that 86% of the participants found the information shared to be useful and interesting. The evaluation also revealed that 81% of the participants had an improved knowledge of small ruminant production practices and would implement something they had learned in their operations.
Home gardening and home landscape management is a pastime that many citizens enjoy here in Stephens County. In fact, here at the Stephens County Extension office 59% of the calls and emails received and 47% of all the soil samples taken during the 2019-2020 program year were associated with home vegetable gardening, fruiting species, home lawns, and ornamentals. In response to the ever growing interest in gardening the Stephens County ANR Agent in collaboration with the Toccoa-Stephens County Library held a 5 part series titled: The Backyard Business Series. The first of the 5 seminars in the series was held in person at the Toccoa- Stephens County Library. However after the COVID 19 pandemic began, as opposed to cancelling the series it was transitioned to a virtual format via Zoom. The Stephens County ANR agent spoke on a variety of topics in the series including: understanding soil fertility, pest management in home gardens, management of fruit bearing species, pest management in home lawns, and pest management in home ornamentals. Overall the series averaged 23 participants per session. An initial post program survey was taken after the conclusion of each program in the series. These surveys revealed that on average 96% of participants felt they had an improved knowledge on the topic that was presented. Also the survey revealed that on average of 91% of participants responded that they had learned something they would implement into their gardening or landscape management experience
4-H YOUTH DEVELOPMENT
The mission of Georgia 4-H is to assist youth in acquiring knowledge, developing life skills, and forming attitudes that will enable them to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society.
The Stephens County 4-H program begins this mission by working students, 5th grade 12th grades. Each month, 4-H club meetings are presented at the area county schools. The 4-H curriculum focuses on educational programming on healthy lifestyle choices, food and nutrition, STEM, citizenship, leadership, and public speaking. 4-H'ers have the chance to learn and develop skills in more than 50 project areas. Through these 4-H activities, Stephens County 4-H’ers are training their head, heart, hands, and health “to make the best better” for their club, community, country, and world. The 4-H program teaches and assists over 500 youth in Stephens County.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS YEAR’S PROGRAM:
Keeping students healthy is an important goal of the Stephens County 4-H Program especially during the COVID-19 virus pandemic. Good handwashing is the first line of defense against the spread of many infections. In order to equip students with the proper hand washing technique to reduce the spread of germs the Stephens County 4-H Agent implemented the “Wash Your Paws, Georgia!” curriculum to the 4-H middle school 4-H group. The 4-H'ers were taught the proper handwashing technique, learned about the importance of handwashing before and after certain activities such as when handling food and working with animals, and that handwashing is the most effective and least expensive way to stay healthy during the pandemic. The 4-H’ers put “Wash Your Paws, Georgia!” posters throughout the Stephens County Middle School to promote and raise awareness of proper hand washing amongst the other middle school students. These posters reached approximately 1,600 middle school students with the importance of hand washing. A total of 30 middle school 4-H’ers participated in “Wash Your Paws, Georgia!” handwashing curriculum. Data gathered from the “Wash You Paws, Georgia!” pre-test indicated that only 30% of the 4-H’ers knew the proper handwashing technique, as well as the importance of correct hand hygiene guarding against infections. However, the post-test showed a 100% increase in handwashing technique, and improved knowledge of how handwashing can affect their health. The knowledge gained from this program will aid in the reduction of the spread of infectious diseases among the students at Stephens County Middle School, as well as student absenteeism, which effects their yearly adequate progress. Students were encouraged to share this information and proper handwashing technique with their families at home thus preventing the spread of diseases that could affects the 4-H’ers families from loss wages from work absences and medical expenses.
With the 2020 world pandemic of the COVID-19 virus, Stephens County Schools took unprecedented steps of closing their doors to help promote social distancing. All face-to-face 4-H educational programing came to an abrupt halt. Chartering into new territory is a challenge in the” best of times.” 4-H as a partner in education was put to the task of creating an online resource for 4-H’ers to access to continue being involved with 4-H activities. The mission was to provide 4-H’ers with collaborative and engaging online learning opportunities, and a means of communication, during a time of an unsettling pandemic. The 4-H Agent, created an online educational resource page on the Stephens County 4-H Youth Development webpage entitled, 4-H Virtual Learning Resources. This page would serve as a hub for promoting all the online 4-H activities. The 4-H Agent developed the following activities: 4-H Present Yourself, Georgia Virtual Cloverleaf DPA, “What’s Your 4-H”, a STEM toilet paper art activity, and featured a weekly Georgia 4-H Friends Magazine and created activities like crossword puzzles. The online learning provided stability to the 4-H students and informed them of 4-H educational lessons and opportunities. As a result of the online learning resource, 5,291 contacts were reached with 4-H programing, and a total of 275 4-H’ers participating in the virtual 4-H activities. Furthermore, the 4-H Learning Resource webpage was shared with Stephens County 5th Grade Academy School webpage resulting in 1,400 contacts.
FAMILY AND CONSUMER SCIENCES
The Stephens County Extension 4-H agent addresses the areas of food safety, nutrition and child development for local citizens through weekly radio information segments, community home and health fairs, and informational brochures.