PARIS — Cathy Kloetzli wants Oxford County residents to know that the University of Maine Cooperative Extension does more than just focus on food.
Kloetzli is the agricultural and food systems professional at the county’s Cooperative Extension office located in Paris. There, seven people are employed whose jobs range from overseeing local 4-H programs to teaching healthy eating habits and nutrition to youth and low-income families to connecting home-bound seniors with visiting companions.
“We’re in service to the community and we’re just trying to strengthen and provide research-based information so people can make informed decisions and give children opportunities to lay the foundations to gain life skills they will carry for the rest of their life,” she said.
While Kloetzli began working at the Cooperative Extension in the beginning of 2016, she has been involved with agriculture for 20 years. She began her career by working in commercial greenhouses, and on her family’s farm, Pietree Orchard in Sweden, and has worked with other college extensions in North Carolina and Virginia.
“Here in Maine there is some overlap, so [we’re] working with beginning farmers. We have a lot of folks who are interested in looking at their land in a new way, wanting to do some things with it, and looking for some guidance on how to best utilize the land,” she said.
She also helps new and seasoned farmers with crop production and other aspects of sustainable agriculture, including pest management and identification, woodlot management and local food awareness.
For spreading local food awareness, the Oxford County Cooperative Extension’s Facebook page launched a “What does agriculture look like it Oxford County” campaign, which has been well received by the community, she said. It can be seen at www.facebook.com/UMaineExtensionOxford/. The campaign includes posting photos of farms and agricultural operations throughout the area, accompanied with a description of what’s happening.
“So there is an educational component to that, kind of connecting people to what does agriculture look like, getting them excited about our local producers, getting them to really reach out and really know their local producers [and] engaged in local foods,” Kloetzli said.
She also hosts classes on soil and tractor safety, with the latter focused on youth who want to get involved with their family farm, work on a farm during the summer or run one for a side business.
“It is an area where unfortunately we have a lot of youth who get injured or killed. This isn’t just a Maine issue, it’s a nationwide issue,” she said. “We’re making sure our youth are prepared.”
Kloetzli and the Cooperative Extension are all about working with community partners. She recently taught classes at the Alan Day Community Garden and Foothills Food Festival about season extension.
“[We’re] just offering things we can do that will really get people engaged and excited and interested in local foods,” she said.
Kloetzli and the rest of the Oxford County Cooperative Extension staff are able to tap into university professionals. For example, clients can consult with a woman who is specializes in crop insurance.
“Her role really is how do we manage risk on the farm?” Kloetzli said, which spans from droughts to excessive rains and everything in between. “Agriculture is inherently a very risky business. How do we best manage our land using cover crops or how do we manage the soils so when these fluctuations happen that we still are able to produce a crop?”
Every county in Maine has an extension office, except for Aroostook. Since it is so large, it has three.
“We have our local folks here but if there is information that we need or specialization, we are able to call on really quite an extensive bank of professors and resources at the university … or extension networks across the country for specific research,” she said. “It is really wonderful to be able to reach out and make those connections and get the information that we need.”
Speaking of information, Kloetzli noted there a number of research farms across Maine, with the closest being Highmoor Farm in Monmouth.
At these farms, a variety of topics are explored, including composting techniques, weed management, tillage and plant trials, among others. This focuses on discovering Maine-specific information and then sharing it with farmers.
“By having that research farm [conduct trials], then a farm can take that and be a little bit ahead of the game because these are the varieties that will do well in Maine,” she said.
Karen Toohey leads the Oxford County Expanded Food & Nutrition Education program, where she teaches nutrition education to low-income families with children.
“It opens the doors up for being in schools, in the classroom, at food pantries,” she said. “It is a little bit of everything about food, shopping, stretching your food dollars, how to make the most out of what you have.”
This includes utilizing foods that aren’t as popular or main stream.
“For example, at the food pantry I just went to – it had a lot of eggplant and nobody takes the eggplant. … So what I do I will take a product, take it home, I make something, I will bring it back the next week with a description of what it is.”
With the eggplant, she planned to create a Middle Eastern baba ganoush, or dip.
“That should be like an awakening type of food,” Toohey said. “Who knows if I will have any takers, but I am going to try it. But I want them to try it.
“I have to say the zucchini bread was a big hit because it’s like eating a piece of cake,” she laughed.
She also has a quarterly magazine created by educators and interns in Orono called Eat Well that she shares with her clients. The publication includes recipes, how to stretch dollars, how to’s with visuals, such as composting, food safety tips, kids corner section and other tips.
Toohey also teaches in classrooms across the county.
“I relate it to their age level. … I give them a lot of hints about what we might be talking about,” she said, showing off a bone pen she wears when she does a lesson on the Death of a Bone and bags of white powder to mimic calcium ranging from infants to senior citizens with osteoporosis. “My lessons are … the educational piece for them to think about.”
“And to understand why it’s so important to eat well because of the impacts on your body,” Kloetzli said.
“You don’t think anything is going to happen to you when you get old,” Toohey agreed.
Becky Mosley and Maisy Cyr head up the 4-H program, which focuses on youth development, mentoring and leadership. And Cyr wanted people to know that 4-H is more than kids showing and working with animals.
Cyr herself participated in the 4-H horse program for eight years growing up and attended a number of fairs.
“I feel like a lot of people … think 4-H is just the animal side of things. This job has given me the opportunity to show people all the other outlets that they can choose from,” she said. “There are leadership opportunities, citizenship opportunities, there are just endless opportunities for kids to follow. If people only see the more traditional side of thing – which definitely has its value – I feel like they’re missing out on a lot of other really cool opportunities they could follow.”
Some of those opportunities come through focusing on STEM-based (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education through community collaboration in after-school and other programs. A local example is the SAD 17 program at Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway.
Cyr also works with the 4-H club aspects of the program, including kids picking a problem and focusing on solving that throughout the year, where they develop life skills through their project.
“I like seeing kids learn and grow up to be better people,” she said.
Mosley helps with 28 volunteer 4-H clubs in Oxford County, which includes home-schooled groups.
“We provide as many different types of learning opportunities and experiences as we can. … These kids not only raise these animals, there is career exploration involved. They learn marketing skills, health care … showmanship,” she said. “We encourage all of the groups to do some kind of community service. They might have a special focus, but we want all the groups to incorporate healthy lifestyles.”
Mosley noted that oftentimes, participation in a 4-H club, whether it be sheep, beef, swine, goats, fleece and fiber, steer or the like, can lead to the formation of lifelong relationships. These can be can be local or in the case of travel club members, across state lines.
This club includes local families hosting kids from other states one summer and then local children traveling to whatever state to stay with the same family the following summer.
“What a great way to learn about another state, meet new people, see how other families live,” she said. “It’s just a very cool program.”
Roughly 100 people attended this year’s June Jamboree Livestock Clinic at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds. There, veterinarian spoke to the kids, along with professionals showing animals including a steer team, and there was a horse clinic and nutrition lesson.
Mosley and Toohey worked together at the June Jamboree.
“Karen prepared a meal. She came and did a lesson about nutrition and she sneaked cabbage into our soup,” Mosley said, laughing.
Toohey confirmed it was a “delicious soup.”
“When she talked about the secret ingredient and they discovered it was cabbage, there was some surprised faces, but they were such good sports,” Mosley said. “Also having that quiet meal together was powerful and set a good tone.”
Kati McDermott has a one-year stint with the Cooperative Extension running AmeriCorps’ FoodCorps program through Club Rowe, the before- and after-school program at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway.
To connect kids with healthy food in school, there are three pillars the program champions: hands-on lessons, healthy school meals and school-wide culture of health.
“That makes sense because … school’s where a bunch of kids [have] their first social interaction and spend a lot of time learning,” she said. Hands-on lessons include experiential learning.
“Kids get their hands in the dirt. They can to get to practice cooking skills whether it’s chopping vegetables and learning how to do that safely and learning how to take foods they’ve grown in a garden [with] a recipe to take home,” McDermott said.
For healthy school meals, she has a presence in the cafeteria. She encourages kids to eat their fruits and vegetables during lunch and shows them how cool it is.
There are also the taste tests.
“That’s introducing new foods. … Kids try something once and [they say,] ‘Eww, no. This is disgusting. I’m never going to try it again,’” McDermott said. “They may not have tried it before because they don’t know what it looks like and they don’t know what it is. … It takes roughly 20ish times for a child to like something and choose it in the future.”
Reducing anxiety around trying new foods can be as simple as presenting it in a new way, such as slicing up apples for a child who won’t eat the whole version of the fruit – which is what McDermott’s mom did for her growing up.
As for encouraging a school-wide culture of health, it’s about changing students’ attitudes towards healthy food and helping them recognize they can take charge of their health to prevent future problems. This includes working with teachers and cafeteria staff.
“We are really excited to have that additional support in the schools,” Kloetzli said.
Anna Saar runs the Senior Companion & Homemakers program for Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties under the University of Maine Center on Aging. It used to be under the auspices of Cooperative Extension, but was shifted to the Center on Aging.
Senior companions are volunteers aged 55 and older who visit home bound people. They volunteer between 15 to 20 hours a week and each senior companion has four to five clients. There is no cost to the client, unless the senior companion drives them somewhere, then clients reimburse their companions for gas.
Saar said there are roughly 22 senior companions and between 75 and 80 clients.
And she’s receiving referrals and calls on a regular basis, noting Maine is the oldest state in the union and its population continues to age. It’s a program that focuses on light-hearted companionship.
“It’s just friendly visiting. They might take walks together and read and just being a friend or being there. … It just give [clients] contact with the outside world and somebody to share things with,” she said. “[Companions] might prepare a light lunch and eat with them because sometimes people are alone all the time and when you’re alone, you don’t always eat well.”
Saar called the program a win-win for clients and senior companions.
“It helps the companions. They earn a small stipend – it gives them a little extra money if they’re income qualified,” she said. “Obviously it helps the clients they visit. With families living different states and that type of thing, they’re not always handy like the olden days.”
Once a month, the senior companions gather for educational workshops ranging from Medicare to hearing loss.
“[It’s] different types of program that could be of interest and value to the senior companion as well as the clients that they visit,” Saar said. “A lot of them are advocates for their clients … and get them help and be a resource for them.”
There is longevity for many of the senior companions. Saar noted she has one who has been volunteering since she began working for the program 18 years ago.
“They do stay in the program,” she said. “They feel valued with what they do.”
Anyone interested in becoming a senior companion or signing up for the program can contact Gail Watson out of the Somerset County Cooperative Extension office at 800-287-1495, as Saar is in the process of retiring.
For more information on any of these programs, visit https://extension.umaine.edu/oxford/, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 743-6329.