Summer 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 2 // To The Point // 2TP3

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Face Urban Needs Through Issues-Based Programming

[Urban and rural descriptors] can stereotype clientele and set up adversarial relationships. ...we must face the needs of urban clientele through issues-based programming, not through the establishment of a separate Extension System.

Dennis Lamm
Assistant Director
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Cooperative Extension
Colorado State University-Fort Collins

Us vs them? We're faced with the possibility of three Cooperative Extension units-urban, rural, and campus. In some states, on-campus and off-campus Extension employees already have less than cooperative relationships. Do we then need to further distinguish between rural and urban Extension efforts?

There are lots of wide-open spaces in the western states. Eighty percent of Colorado's population, however, lies within eight counties along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. These counties are designated as "urban" since they have population centers of over 50,000 people. Ironically, one of these designated "urban" counties also happens to rank in the top four counties nationally in the value of agricultural production sold. This tends to be the case in most of the western states with considerable land mass, but also concentrated population centers.

The implementation of issues-based programming within the Cooperative Extension System in recent years has broken down some of the old barriers about urban issues as separate from rural issues. Here in Colorado, we've found issues affect people whether they're living in rural or urban settings. For example, water quality, food safety, waste management, youth at risk, parenting, the cost and availability of health care, and care for the elderly are all issues everyone can identify with.

In at least one western state's Extension System, the terms "urban" and "rural" are no longer used. The philosophy in that state is that these descriptors, innocent as they may seem, can stereotype clientele and set up adversarial relationships. Also, since more than 90% of that state's population resides in two metropolitan areas, these residents view agricultural Extension work as developing new varieties of turfgrass and implementing new irrigation technologies that reduce water requirements. They see these and other Extension programs as appropriate in the urban environment.

Legislative redistricting based on the latest Census figures will give urban dwellers more political clout than they've ever had. It's presumptuous that taxpayers would, over the long-term, encourage the use of their tax dollars to address strictly rural problems. In my opinion, we must face the needs of urban clientele through issues-based programming, not through the establishment of a separate Extension System. Cooperative efforts will answer the public accountability questions.

Programs such as Ag in the Classroom and Farm-City Week, environmental education, and inservice training for teachers are all opportunities for different clientele groups to share experiences and exchange ideas. How we approach and use our information delivery system to bridge the communication gaps among groups will, however, be critical to the success of the programs.

In Colorado, we've embarked on a renewed effort to establish "vital connections" among all constituences in the state. While Extension programs have traditionally focused on nonmetropolitan residents, an enlightened Extension System in the future will need to address the issues of all clientele, regardless of where they reside. The process of achieving a comprehensive educational delivery system will take strong leadership and continuing communication among all parties.