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.
Family and Consumer Sciences
Stewart County is a rural community with a population of 4,621 people. The median household income is $24,900. The poverty rate is 37.9% with most of the county defined as a USDA food desert. 35% of adults are obese as determined by the Centers for Disease Control. Due to limited access to healthy foods and physical activity, Stewart County residents have increased rates of chronic disease and poor health indicators.
Through a 5-year CDC Grant, the FACS Agent has developed a community coalition to identify, plan, and implement projects that will provide healthy food options to citizens. The community coalition and Extension team installed eleven raised garden beds at the county extension office and in downtown Richland. The Richland garden was installed within walking distance of several households and open to all community members. The FACS Agent, in collaboration with ANR Agents in Webster & Calhoun counties, installed the gardens, educated volunteers to plant/grow/harvest produce, and provide solutions to garden issues. A leadership team was created to provide guidance and oversee day-to-day needs at the garden. Three of the raised garden beds were installed at the Stewart County Extension office as an outdoor classroom. These beds were planted with okra, eggplant, cantaloupes, tomatoes, and bell peppers in the spring. The garden will serve as a location for outdoor classes for both youth and adults to engage audiences in hands-on activities.
The raised garden beds have flourished and provided citizens a new access point for fresh produce. A variety of vegetables were produced and available for families to harvest throughout the season. “Just being able to provide them fresh fruit and vegetables here, because at our city we have no local grocery store, so they have to travel to get fresh produce or fresh fruits.” – Community Coalition Team Member
One hundred and twelve (112) volunteer hours were spent in the gardens; installing the beds, harvesting, daily and overall maintenance, and installing a drip irrigation system for more efficient watering. Additionally, eleven (11) people are committed to the garden and are a part of the workgroup.
While the gardens have met the initial objective of providing more healthy food options, they have also strengthened community relationships, which will yield positive long-term impacts. “Very exciting. Something's going on in a small community. A lot of good things don't happen in our small communities, we don't have the funds, we don't have the means. So, this is something that's very exciting to all of us.” – Community Coalition Team member.
4-H Youth Development
The Stewart County 4-H Club had a successful year led by Blair Harris, Stewart County 4-H program assistant. Nine Junior/Senior 4-H members attended District Project Achievement event where they learned to research, writing, and public speaking skills while developing the confidence to stand up in front of a group and deliver a presentation. Deontavious Kitchens represented Stewart County all across the Nation on the Georgia 4-H State Board of Directors. Harris led a series of Portfolio workdays, community service activities, and was instrumental in helping design the new 4-H office!
Georgia 4-H’ers are well-known for sharing their knowledge and volunteering throughout their communities. At the school and county levels, students participate in club meetings organized by 4-H Youth Development Extension agents. At the state level, students participate in competitions, summer camps and conferences. Some 4-H competitions and events are also offered at the regional and national levels. Research indicates that, as a result of participating in 4-H, members are more engaged in their academic studies, less likely to be involved in risky behavior, and more likely to graduate from high school and continue their education.
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Stewart County is known for its agriculture and natural resources. Agriculture occupied 59,254 acres and generated $21.9 million in total farm gate value in 2019. Timber sales and hunting leases accounted for $10.3 million of the total farm-gate value in 2017, or 53%. Row and forage crops are grown on 8,506 acres make up 28% of the total farm-gate value ($5.4 million), with peanuts and cotton being the most widely grown crops. Other crops were grown on fewer acres but were a valuable source of diversification for farmers, especially hay, corn, and wheat. Pecans provided another $1.2 million in farm gate value. Other agricultural enterprises in Stewart County include livestock (primarily cattle and horses), guide services, and wildlife food plots.