I'm writing as a young farmer and teacher, new in the Ashland area. As you may have heard back in April, there is a budget shortfall in Jackson County, so the Budget Committee has proposed a number of cuts and changes to the budget. One of the big proposed cuts is to Oregon State University Extension programs — 4-H Youth, Master Gardeners, Family Food Educators, Forestry, Small Farms, Land Stewards — in 2014. (learn more at extension.oregonstate.edu/sorec/)
I moved to this area for many reasons, and one of the great draws was the strong network of sustainable farmers. If you've been to a Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market lately, you know the local food and farming scene is thriving. The OSU Extension services are vital and nourishing to our growing local food system and local economy.
Full disclosure: I am a student in "Growing Agripreneurs," a beginning farmer incubator program that runs throughout the growing season. The course is a collaboration between OSU Extension, Rogue Farm Corps, THRIVE, Oregon Department of Agriculture and Friends of Family Farmers. Sustainable farmers teach our classes, where we've been learning hands-on farming skills through classroom sessions, fieldwork and farm trips taught by local farmers. The connections with other beginning farmers in my class and the mentorship with established farmers are vital to me as I launch my farming business this year. I am heartbroken that in 2014, Extension classes and resources might not be available to the beginning farmer community. Thousands of beginning and established farmers, 4-H kids, Master Gardeners, homesteaders and more won't be able to take life-changing classes like these if the budget cuts go through.
To fully understand what's going on with Jackson County Extension, you need to look back over 150 years ago. The Oregon State University Extension services are part of the land grant college system, where each state in the nation has special schools that teach and research the science of agriculture. This decentralized system created schools in every state, and was enacted by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. In 1914 the Smith-Lever Act codified the Cooperative Extension System, which is run by the land-grant universities (ours is OSU) in nearly every county of every state. Extension receives federal funding based on the population of that county. Part of the funding has increasingly come from state and county budgets, which is where we find ourselves today.
On Wednesday, May 29, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners public hearing on the 2013-2014 budget was packed. Most attendees were in support of OSU Extension and other services on the chopping block. Many services including Extension will be funded for half this fiscal year, and when that funding ends in December the Budget Committee will meet to figure out next steps.
Proposals to fix the budget include a "jail operations fee" surcharge (which will be up for vote) and PERS reforms. Taking steps to repair the budget, the commissioners made cuts to other services including libraries, human services and the Sheriff's Office. The group Friends of Extension began meeting to discuss next steps to support OSU Extension services on Friday, May 31.
As a young farmer who wants to grow food for the community, I realize the value of having local farmer training, research, networks, mentorship for new farmers like me and support for established farmers too. Our food system and local economy are nourished by the new and sustainable farmer training resources through OSU Extension.
Mitra Sticklen lives in Ashland.