Portland metro extension serves those living in the city


PORTLAND -A young home economist riding in a specially outfitted Southern Pacific railcar may have been the first to tell Oregonians that their fledgling Oregon State University Extension Service was not just for farmers and their families.

The year was 1915, and the OSU Extension Service employed the unusual railcar classroom to teach rural and urban homemakers alike how to safely preserve their garden produce.

Since those days of whistle-stop education, the OSU Extension Service has established offices in all 36 Oregon counties. Extension Service faculty provide science-based information from these offices to address the current issues that concern the people of each region.

In the three Portland-area Extension Service offices in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties - known as the Metro Extension offices - information is tailored to meet the needs of a growing urban population.

For instance, low-income parents can learn how to stretch their food budget through the Foods and Nutrition program, which teaches the specifics of thrifty grocery shopping, meal planning and cooking.

One mother who took the course said it did more for her family than save money on their food budget. She and her children found that the time they spend preparing meals brought them closer together. In addition, the children are learning more about the cost of food, making healthy, thrifty food choices when shopping, and how to cook.

"We're eating better, and we're getting along better, too," she said.

Learning the new customs, language and culture of a new country can be a hard adjustment. For the past nine years, many newly arrived Portland-area residents from Spanish-speaking nations have made that adjustment with the help of the Multnomah County Extension Service's Hispanic Office, in the Villa de Clara Vista.

The classes taught at the Villa de Clara Vista - and through similar Extension courses offered through Multnomah and Clackamas counties - include safe food preparation, budgeting, housekeeping, and maintaining cordial landlord-tenant relationships.

"We have people coming to us every day who are from countries where cooking means using a fire circle," said Lynn Myers Steele, an Extension Family and Community Development educator who runs the Hispanic Office in Multnomah County. "We can't keep up with the demand."

The Hispanic Office in Northeast Portland is located in a subsidized-housing development on N.E. Cully Avenue that features an adjacent community police satellite location, a county health clinic, and a community center. Two Wednesdays and Fridays a month, Steele teaches Hispanic families how to prepare high-nutrition, low-fat dishes using electric or gas stoves found in most moderate-income or low-income housing.

"Some of our students come from places where houses are made from cinderblock and concrete," Steele said. "There, you clean by taking out everything and hosing it down."

Metro-area courses focus on other urban needs as well.

Every spring for more than two decades, Mike Bondi of the Clackamas County Extension office has organized an annual tree day. The one-day course teaches non-forest industry woodland owners and backyard foresters the best way to manage their timbered property to achieve a variety of goals. These range from managing forestland for maximum return at harvest to increasing the land's scenic value and enhancing wildlife habitat.

Enhancing education for youth continues to be a priority for the century-old 4-H youth program. In addition to the time-honored programs that teach rural youth how to raise healthy livestock, 4-H offers Metro-area young people courses in computers, urban wildlife area enhancement and videography, to name a few.

Since 1999, Maureen Hosty's nationally acclaimed 4-H Wildlife Stewards program has helped students, teachers and community volunteers transform portions of barren grass-and-concrete schoolyards into outdoor science classrooms at nearly 100 Metro area schools.

The students have learned lessons in botany, soil science, and even history in the process. Their projects have included gardens, wetlands, and biological runoff filters at the edges of parking lots, to name a few.

A side benefit has been the creation of additional habitat for urban birds, butterflies, and other small wildlife.

Agriculture within the boundaries of the Portland metro area usually means community gardens, commercial nursery operations, or home landscaping projects, but even here, urban residents can find useful information through Extension offices.

Extension annually publishes the Tri-County Produce Guide, an index to when particular fruits or vegetables are in season, and which farmers' markets sell them. The publication gives urban dwellers a guide to finding a greater variety of local produce, such as grapefruit-sized beefsteak tomatoes, enormous bouquets of flowers for less than $5, and eggs that were gathered from the hen that morning.

The largest Oregon Master Gardener Program in the state is in Multnomah County.

Thousands of Portland gardeners, trained volunteers with the OSU Extension Service's Master Gardener program, contribute between 40 and 60 volunteer hours to help others learn the best ways to create living spaces to feed the body, and refresh the spirit.

This method of passing along the Master Gardener information from one "generation" of Master Gardeners to the next has helped Portland maintain its nickname as the "City of Roses."

In Washington County, Hispanic residents are learning how to navigate the Net and explore its many opportunities through the thriving Web Wizards program.

Web Wizards, available at selected schools, and at the community center in Cornelius, brings together computer scientists from Intel who volunteer to teach students who want to expand their Net-navigation abilities. These students then "repay" their education by teaching other students and family members in an ever-widening educational ripple effect.

The urban emphasis offered through the Metro Extension offices continues with courses in how to become a more successful angler, manage personal finances, plan for retirement, keep local streams free of harmful chemicals, and even how to preserve family history through better photography. Some programs offered through the Metro-area offices help to bridge social and ideological differences between Oregon's urban and rural residents.

For example, as an outgrowth of her successful 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program, Hosty has helped to establish an opportunity for city folk and their country counterparts to meet and talk over issues, primarily land-use and the environment.

A busload of urban residents travels each year to the heart of Prineville ranching and timber country for a weekend of barbecue, range tours, and one-on-one conversation.

The goal of the weekend remains the goal of the Extension Service: Simple, applicable communication, an exchange of information that helps people to find workable solutions to everyday problems.