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Friday, March 05, 2010

University of Georgia: Cutting out Rural Georgia, Agriculture, and our Future?

Watch for the Arteries
Cuts are going to have to happen and they are going to hurt somewhere.  However, we must cut wisely.  Cut an artery and you are dead, not living to spend the capital on other projects.  The wisdom of surgeons is to know the artery from the small surface vein, and that, my friends, is where I feel many of our lawmakers are falling short.

Georgia Educational Cuts
My students are a-buzz.  Not in a good way.  The University of Georgia is cutting $300 from their budget which includes the 4-H program, many agricultural extension offices, and one of the most important water conservation research facility that farmers have in Georgia, the Stripling Irrigation Research center.

Georgia 4-H
The 4-H program is a national club that here in Georgia that has been a longstanding organization that teaches values and conservation even before these things were "in vogue." I was a member of 4-H as a student and many of my views of taking care of this beautiful earth have come from this program.  4-H is one of the strongest, best student programs in the State of Georgia and is managed by our local "extension office."  The "Extension office" takes best practices developed at the University of Georgia for agriculture and helps disseminate them to the field, improving agriculture in countless ways from effective water management (Stripling Irrigation Research Park) to help with the farmers in the field.

Yes, I am the daughter of a farmer and the extension offices and 4-H are vital parts of Georgia agriculture as well as Stripling Irrigation Research center which is helping farmers dramatically reduce their use of water.

Helping Erin Speak Out
So, when my student Erin came to me in tears yesterday to tell me that 4-H, many extension offices, and the Stripling Irrigation research park are now being cut by the University of Georgia, I was floored and told her I would do what I could.  Surely, cuts must come and we cannot keep spending money that we do not have in the state coffers. (UGA is required to cut $300 million.) However, this cut affects over 150,000 current students in Georgia as well as the entire agricultural system in Georgia as it strikes at the very core of farmer education.

With all of these organizations trying to spring up to encourage people to take care of our earth -- 4-H has been doing this since I was a tyke in the 1970's!  I was taught to clean up my trash, care for the earth, conserve water before anyone spoke of such things!

These students are working to make themselves heard, from speaking out on Oprah.com to changing their facebook avatars.  (They are asking all students who are in 4-H around the country to help bring attention to their cause.)  If you wish, share your wisdom with Erin in the comments here.

The Ignored
And this, my friends, is what is happening around the country.  Legislators are cutting spending for the less powerful, non-voting members of society.  Hitting the rural areas, agriculture, and the students who are outnumbered by those in urban areas who don't realize where their food is grown nor care that students will lose valuable leadership and conservation skills is quite troubling.

We Need Good Leaders
When I worked as an intern in the US Senate, I was so impressed with how Senator Sam Nunn considered all of his constituents as well as what is right.  These are long term sustainable projects and in the case of 4-H, the students do a lot of fundraising to support the many events - there is a match  here.  There are people who are putting things into the projects and work.

Hear Erin!
So, here is Erin's letter for what it is worth. I'm going to give them some time and advice today on how to reach their legislators, although the legislation has made it very clear that they are going to let the university leaders do as they wish.

Dear Editor:
              My name is Erin B and my future is 4-H. I believe that 4-H is an organization for children and teens  that cannot be replaced. This program is immensely important not only to me, but to my fellow 4-H'ers, extension agents, and teachers. Agriculture is the backbone of Georgia. We cannot simply stand aside and let a valuable program that teaches our future, children, about not only agriculture, but leadership and speaking, to be terminated. Many 4-H'ers have gained self confidence and skills such as communicating, good judgment, and critical thinking. This year, I have been elected to the 2010 Southwest District Board of Directors, and I firmly believe that the people I have met at 4-H events will continue  to influence my life long after I graduate from college. I often refer to these people as my 4-H family, because they really are family to me. Some I have known for days, others, for years, but I know that if there had been no such organization as 4-H, I would never have had the opportunity to meet my 4-H family.

              However, 4-H is not simply about socializing and forming lasting bonds with 4-H'ers from our four different districts, it is about serving our community to build a better future for ourselves and others. As the 4-H pledge states, we work not only for ourselves, but "for my club, my community, my country, and my world." 4-H'ers participate in many community service programs like collecting pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald house, food drives, and letter/card writing and donation campaigns for our country's veterans. I realize that the University of Georgia is having budget issues, but I assure you that 4-H is a program on which no one can put a price. It is Georgia's future and past, and we must realize that it is worth the time and money. Many 4-H'ers go on to become very successful leaders, having gained their skills from 4-H. The graduation rate alone is an astounding 92%! Although cutting this club may appear cheaper in the long run, can we really deprive ourselves of the natural leaders who will become the future of our state?

              I absolutely  love 4-H. It is my future and I firmly believe in it. Please realize that, although I am only a freshman attending Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia, I speak for myself and over 156,000 others when I say that 4-H is irreplaceable. One hundred sixteen people will be out of a job if we allow this cut. This does not only affect 4-H'ers but all of Georgia, and I would be very grateful to know that you support this organization. After all, 4-H fosters what every person wants: success.

Erin B

From the past
This reminds me of when the Board of Regents of Georgia FORCED Georgia Tech to get rid of the quarter system, which allowed a very compact, rigorous curriculum, to go to a semester system - which effectively killed the "co-op" program a great, easy way for businesses to get the best, newest thoughts on engineering and business in their programs and for students who couldn't afford to go to Georgia Tech to earn their way through.  It was done not from the perspective of what was done best for students but for administrative convenience between colleges.

They are also cutting about 1,500 spots in colleges for entering freshmen, which will again have an impact on education.

If you are in Georgia, help us
Education, students, agriculture, conservation -- these are areas that do not have loud advocates because many non-voters or people from rural areas (which by definition have less people and thus less voting power) are in them. However, there is one thing that these students and people do have -- a voice.  Social media is their platform but I've also encouraged them to get on the phone and make their representatives phones ring.  Unfortunately, most representatives are of the age that they don't use nor could they care about Facebook or social media of any kind and the only way to get their attention is going to be: through phone calls or in the hopes that some media organization will spotlight the efforts of students. I've also given them this list of representative emails in Georgia, and if you're in Georgia, please email them for us!.

In the mean time, if you see a lot of 4-H green avatars on Facebook, you'll know they are kids from Georgia speaking out in the way they know how.  When your students want to speak out, what do you encourage them to do that works?

Photo Credit
From a California education protest - also facing the same issues - http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2750/4408103242_9beef4919d.jpg
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