In a state that depends heavily on natural resources for its tourism industry, it's vital that we protect and preserve our environment. That's why Extension tourism educators work to teach local communities how to practice sustainable tourism. Since 2006, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has taught hundreds of tourism operators to "green up"? their businesses with environmentally responsible practices like recycling, reusing, water conservation and energy audits. Both visitors and residents can enjoy quality experiences ranging from environmental adventure parks to family resorts that use sustainable landscaping or lakescaping techniques. And satisfied visitors can return home and tell stories that bring more friends and relatives to Minnesota.
Retail businesses are vital to small communities. They provide income, jobs and products that people need. But it's a challenge to get people to buy locally and help small businesses compete alongside the "big box"? stores. Two Extension programs help Minnesota communities get the best of both worlds:
Small Stores Success Strategies helps business leaders prosper by providing services and products the large stores avoid. And Retail Trade Analysis gives communities of more than 5,000 people a comprehensive report that compares their retail sector to those of similar-sized communities. Local leaders use this information to help support and grow their own businesses.
Extension's Horizons program helps small communities with high poverty rates to develop their own leaders and create a thriving community. St. James is one of nine Minnesota communities to complete the program in 2008. With a boost from Extension and the Northwest Area Foundation, St. James factory workers, high-school students, business people, educators and civic leaders together shaped an exciting new future for their town.
The secret to success is a "grass roots, not top-down"? approach and getting together everyone in the community to solve their own issues. Since beginning in 2003, Horizons has worked with 21 Minnesota communities. Fifteen additional communities began Horizons programs in 2008.
Minnesota 4-H has come a long way in 100 years. Young people from cities and towns now learn the basics of life skills that mostly rural kids were getting back in the early 1900s. And 4-H's unique principle of engaging kids in something they like—"learning by doing"?—helps them make better decisions, give back to their communities, and grow up to be solid, contributing citizens.
Adult volunteers still guide kids through the learning process. But young people today develop their "head, heart, hands and health"? by designing and participating in their own activities. In 2007, some 113,000 young people throughout Minnesota participated in 4-H.
Radon, a byproduct of radioactive decay, is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. And Minnesota is ranked fourth-highest in the nation with highly dangerous levels in many homes. Thanks to the work of Extension housing technology specialists, Minnesota's homes are much safer from this threat. Extension experts teach builders and other housing-related professionals how to prevent and fix radon problems. Their goal is to improve the long-term quality, efficiency, environmental health and durability of residential and other buildings in Minnesota and other cold-climate regions. Due in part to Extension's teamwork, Minnesota was first to establish a statewide building code to reduce radon in new homes.
Minnesotans tend to know a lot about birds and plants. But they may not know as much about water quality, geology or land issues. In 2005, Extension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources created the Master Naturalist program to teach people about their environment and build a corps of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers. Master Naturalists learn the natural history of one of Minnesota's three biomes: Big Woods, Big Rivers; Prairies and Potholes; or North Woods, Great Lakes. Then they perform nature-related service, like gathering prairie seed and helping educate others. So far, Master Naturalists have contributed $191,000 in services, improved more than 57,000 acres of land and helped educate 47,000 people.
Neighbors helping neighbors. For 40 years, Extension's nutrition education assistants have taught thousands of people about how to eat healthfully and to stretch their food dollars. Funded by U.S. Department of Agriculture food stamp dollars, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) helps limited-income households and families with children. Today, Extension's 100-plus nutrition education assistants teach in community centers across the state. Nutrition education assistants of different ethnic backgrounds also help Minnesota's newest populations adjust to the American food scene and choose healthy foods for their families. In 2006, nutrition education assistants in the Twin Cities metro area alone reached more than 7,700 families.
From 1976 to 2004, the percentage of overweight grade-school children in the United States nearly tripled, from 6.5 to 18.8 percent. In 2007, Extension nutrition experts and nutrition education assistants began piloting an activity-packed curriculum, "Go Wild with Fruits and Vegetables,"? in 22 Moorhead-area schools. The program uses stories, songs, games and "mystery food"? taste tests to make the lessons fun, and is based on studies showing that children are more likely to believe and act upon a message if they hear it from multiple sources. So far, 3,600 grade-school children have learned that good food and physical activity are smart choices. The Go Wild curriculum is expected to go statewide in 2009-10.
Extension is known for pulling together partnerships to tackle problems fast. In 2001, Extension educators discovered soybean aphids in Minnesota fields. Entomologists confirmed the outbreak and Extension quickly joined forces with Minnesota soybean growers and state and federal agencies. Together, they reduced economic losses by teaching farmers how to scout for aphids and when and how to control them. Within a year, Extension was using a sophisticated University of Minnesota computer model to combine weather information with agronomic and entomology expertise to guide growers. The model has since been adopted throughout the Upper Midwest and will help north central states save an estimated $1.3 billion over 15 years.