extending a hand: teaching efficient practices

Story by Jen Hiatt | University of South Florida

Experts agree that education is a vital part of the growing green community, and programs like the Pinellas County Extension are helping to spread the word.

The Extension is a part-university, part-county government initiative. Its main objective is to provide timely, research-based information that addresses individual community needs. Each county in Florida has an Extension office affiliated with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
“Pinellas County is an urban county, so we don’t focus on the agricultural community,” said Stevenson. “We have to have answers to the solutions for people’s issues with regards to living in an urban community.”

The educational programs offered are directed at national, state and local concerns, with an emphasis on issues specific to Pinellas County. A sample of issues includes Florida landscaping and lawn care, green home and office practices and commercial horticulture.

In addition to offering a voluntary Green Business Designation, the Pinellas County Extension offers classes and Web seminars called “Solutions in 30.” The half-hour lectures deal with money management, energy conservation, climate change and other timely, sustainable topics.

The Extension also offers a comprehensive Website with information, tips, videos and blogs with topics ranging from Florida-friendly lawns to sustainable living.
Extensions programs often stress behavior changes as a way to becoming more sustainable in the community. One of the biggest challenges to Pinellas County becoming “greener” is the median age of the population, explained Stevenson.

“We are talking about people who have relocated from somewhere else and have done something some way all their life,” he said. “The behavior change is much more difficult.”

To entice older populations to adapt green ways, Stevenson said often their programs highlight the economic leg of sustainability.
“We say, ‘We’ve got a way to save you money, would you like to hear about it?’”
“And, yes, they would.”

Another way Extension seeks to reach adults is through their children and the 4-H youth development programs. The curriculum is based on leadership and becoming responsible citizens, which is ultimately about sustainability.

“Kids get it; they are little green sprouts,” Stevenson said. “So we have this little army and (parents) are going to listen to their kids more than they’ll listen to you.”
But, Stevenson cautioned, the social aspect of sustainability must not get lost within the environmental message.
“It’s not just about the environment,” he said. “Help your neighbor. Support local businesses, no matter what they are. It’s getting back to the common sense of what it means to be a community.”

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