Next Tuesday is an election day in Pratt County. All county residents age 18 and older are eligible to vote, even if they're not registered with the county clerk, and they don't have to show photo identification. Candidates haven't done much campaigning and only one of four races is contested.
The Extension Council election is important, according to agents Jodi Drake and Mark Ploger, as the members elected help determine how county funds, as well as funds from Kansas State University are spent at the local level.
The election will be held from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8 at the Pratt County Extension office, 824 W. First. Voters can stop in at their leisure, enjoy a cookie, view some items exhibited by county 4-H members at the Kansas State Fair, and visit with the agents and office staff.
Three members will be elected to each of four program development committees, for a term of two years. Each committee has six members. An executive board is elected from the program committees at the annual meeting on Nov. 25.
The PDCs guide the local program.
"We're very proud of the fact that we're grassroots driven; guided by the people we serve," Drake said.
Ploger added that in the 50 states, only Kansas and New York have retained local control of staffing. In other states, agents are hired by the land grant university. In Kansas, the university accepts and screens applications, but local executive boards decide whom to hire.
The agriculture committee keeps him informed about issues producers are facing and what new crops farmers are thinking about. If there's an issue, K-State probably has a program that will be relevant, he said. Or committee members will tell him that a particular program wouldn't be very important here.
The committee works in close relationship with the Natural Resource and Conservation Service and Farm Bureau. Signature programs include an ag profitability conference, beef conference and plots that test wheat varieties and a tour where results are shared.
Ploger also cooperates with other agencies on the annual Kids Day on the Farm, helps Farm Bureau with school programs and facilitates a youth tractor safety training taught by the agriculture power and technology department at Pratt Community College.
Ploger praised the work of the Pratt Area Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Corporation and Travel and Tourism committee, but said that Extension has a lot of resources that the committee could help them tap into.
Drake is known as the "food lady" for the nutrition programs she teaches at public schools. She usually brings along a healthy snack to illustrate a lesson, and often a recipe. On subsequent visits to schools, kids tell her they've tried the recipe at home, or moms will stop her in the grocery store to share information. As part of the school visits this year, she'll show a new "Eat and Move" app for iPads. Students will learn how long they need to do a particular activity to consume the calories of a specific food.
Drake also teaches a long-running Strong Women exercise program and organizes the local Walk Kansas program that attracts more than 100 Pratt Countians every year. A food preservation workshop is a usual summer offering and a once-a-month cooking workshop is also popular. The next cooking session will probably be in the spring, she said, as the Pratt Area 4-H Center is booked for weddings or other events nearly every weekend.
Delivery methods for the family and consumer science program have changed. When Drake started working as an office professional 15 years ago, Home Extension Units made up a big part of the program. Today, she organizes lessons for the two remaining units.
"The younger population gets information from the university by different methods," she said. "PDCs help keep me abreast of where our focus should be and delivery methods."
The 4-H program is perhaps the best known of all Extension programs. Clubs are currently getting organized for a new year, and several new families have expressed interest in joining.
"A project fair on Oct. 12 will give people a good sampling of what 4-H has to offer before they make a commitment," Drake said.
Currently, there are 156 4-H members in seven Pratt County 4-H clubs, guided by 21 community leaders and dozens of project leaders. Their big show is the Pratt County Fair, but 4-H clubs are active throughout the year.
For information about 4-H or any Extension program, call the office at 620-672-6121.