Cooperative Extension developing Strategic Plan
by Anna Oakes
More than 110 people attended a North Carolina Cooperative Extension listening session Nov. 19, held at the Agricultural Conference Center in Boone.
The session was one of 12 being held across the state as the Cooperative Extension Service nears its centennial. The service, a program of N.C. State and N.C. A&T universities, provides educational programs in 4-H, agriculture, family and consumer sciences and community development to citizens in all 100 counties and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.
The Cooperative Extension has experienced recurring federal and state budget cuts of around $20 million since 2000, and the organization said it is seeking public input as it plans for the future. Restructuring and re-prioritizing of program areas are being considered.
Watauga County Cooperative Extension Center Executive Director Jim Hamilton said the listening session drew people from Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Mitchell and Watauga counties, including Christmas tree growers, produce and organic specialty crop growers, Appalachian State University's Sustainable Development Department and the organization PHARMN (Preserve Heritage Agriculture and Regional Markets Now).
Hamilton said attendees expressed strong support for the Extension program and maintaining a local presence. Currently each of North Carolina's 100 counties has a Cooperative Extension center, but the regionalization of centers has been proposed.
Hamilton noted that 45 percent of the local Cooperative Extension budget comes from Watauga County, and the concern exists that if the Extension goes to regional centers, county funding will be lost.
Hamilton said he sits on a statewide visioning committee assembled by the Cooperative Extension and that the committee will meet in January and February to evaluate input from the listening sessions. According to the Cooperative Extension, the Strategic Plan is expected to be finalized in April or May 2014.
For more information about the Cooperative Extension's Strategic Vision & Planning Initiative or to provide feedback, visit http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/vision-initiative.