January 9, 2018
Jo Argabright and Emily Green are a Dynamic Duo for Rawlins County Community Vitality
Rawlins County (population 2,550) was a one-agent county until 2015 when Jo Argabright helped convince county officials to re-invest its community development funds in K-State Research and Extension to create a Community Development agent. Emily Green became that agent.
Argabright and Green credit their success to working hand-in-hand with each other and with their community. They are deeply rooted in and committed to their community, but Argabright says, “The path that got us here won’t be the one that takes us forward.”
Argabright is a member of the Western Prairie Food, Farm and Community Alliance, which is a local food policy council. They participate on the health department and regional school district wellness committees. They work with the dental clinic, health department and hospital. Argabright says, “Because we are a small community, we don’t have money for staff, so there is a strong emphasis on volunteerism. Our Extension staff is visible in community projects and that gives us more impact.”
Having a staff person dedicated to community development gives the community a focal point for their efforts. Green has been instrumental in hosting the local Youth Entrepreneurship Fair, which has been going on for a decade. Green says, “We want to communicate to our youth that there is a place for you here.” Other community vitality efforts have included First Impressions, Strategic Doing and hosting the Board Leadership Series. Rawlins County hosted a Grant Writing workshop in an effort to give organizations and individuals the confidence to advocate for themselves. All of these efforts were identified after listening carefully to the needs of businesses and the community.
Four years ago, Extension started a community garden at the elementary school. This year Rawlins County K-State Research and Extension received the Organization Health Champion award at the 2017 Kansas State of Wellness Symposium because of the way they expanded that project to make policy, systems and environmental change.
The Garden Project begins each spring when the elementary grades, K-6, take a class period to plant one section of their school garden. The students help choose which produce is planted and learn about their vegetable or fruit. They learn about the planting and growing process and about harvesting and preparation of the produce once it gets to the kitchen and they are provided with recipe examples to take home.
During the summer months, the garden is maintained by volunteers from the Atwood Summer Recreation program and volunteer Master Gardeners who teach lessons, host workdays and outline projects for participants.
In addition to the stationary garden beds, six small gardens were planted in grocery store carts. Businesses around the community took the “mobile gardens” to their business sites and had employees care for the beds. Employees got access to the produce from their cart. Harvested produce from the garden is used to supplement the Summer Lunch Program, hosted through the school district.
During the late summer months, harvested produce is utilized in the Atwood Senior Food Bundle program. Some of the produce is frozen in a blast freezer and put into “take home” weekend meals for senior center goers. Once school resumes in August, produce from the Garden Project is harvested by students and utilized in the school cafeteria salad bar. Garden products are also used within classroom curriculums to teach math, science, language and biology.
Jo Argabright and Emily Green are the collaborative face of Extension in their community. Together they prove, “We’re more powerful together!” Congratulations, Jo and Emily for the difference you make in the vitality of your community.