ENTERPRISE — Housed in a rather nondescript white building off of the Lewiston Highway is a place where residents of Wallowa County can get items they can’t get anywhere else in the county. That place is the Oregon State University Extension Service office.
Do you need your pressure canner tested? The OSU Extension Service will do it for you, explain the process and what the readings mean, all for free.
Are you making pie filling and don’t have Clear Jel (a thickener)? The OSU Extension Service will sell you a pound for just $3.
Need a hay probe to test the nutritional quality of your hay? The Extension Service will loan one free of charge.
Is there a bug making a nightly dinner out of your lettuce? The Extension Service may be able to tell you what it is and how to eliminate it.
“We’re a conduit for information and resources. We may not provide the service, but we can provide the information on the resources (for a service). We provide a lot of resource material,” said Pete Schreder, OSU Extension Service Natural Resources Agent. “Our uniqueness is that we have so many resources at our disposal.”
Schreder said sometimes the connection to information, or answers is provided through publications available in the office or connecting the person with the appropriate person who can help them.
The Extension Service is also home to the 4-H program, which works with trained volunteers to provide club-based opportunities for approximately 200 youths in addition to in-school programs.
“The 4-H program is a huge resource in the community,” said Debi Warnock, 4-H/family, community health agent. “We loan out resources to schools and other education based groups.”
Resources include animal science learning labs, grain grinders for class demonstrations and for events, egg incubators and sewing machines. The 4-H program has also helped the community during the COVID-19 pandemic through its Junior Outreach Program by providing packets to over 100 families with children’s activities, recipes and information on food and nutrition, and children’s activities.
The face of the Extension Service Office is Jill Huffman, office manager. Huffman keeps track of which equipment has been loaned out, when and to whom, answers and fields questions to the appropriate resource for answers and refers people to the person best able to answer their questions, or help them with their needs. She also maintains the customer service level of the office and manages the overall operations of the office.
There are some things the Extension Service cannot help with. For example, the office does not have an onsite entomologist — a person who identifies insects.
For that, the Extension Service has “the university behind us,” Schredcer said.
If someone brings in an insect and wants to know what it is, the Extension Service can send it to the main OSU campus in Corvallis for identification. The Extension Service, for liability reasons, does not identify mushrooms or spiders.
The Extension Service also relies on regional support for some of its programs. John Punches, forestry agent, provides forestry support for Wallowa County, but is based in Union County. Darrin Walenta, also based in Union County, provides support for Wallowa County, in the area of crops and soils.
“It’s a solution to not having a forestry agent in house,” Schreder said. “We still have access to someone who serves Wallowa and Baker and Union.”
The Extension Service can also help with decision making. For example, the Extension Service can loan out a solar water trough.
“It’s designed to be a demo,” Schreder said.
Someone could borrow it to see if it meets their needs and then build something similar if they decided it would work for them, he said.
The county’s nutrition education program also is administered through the Extension Service Office. A trained nutrition educator provides age-appropriate nutrition curriculum to elementary school students in the county. Nutrition information is available through printed material available in the Extension Service Office or on www.foodhero.org, the university’s website for nutrition information and recipes.
Online food-preservation classes also are offered through the Extension Service, as well as material on gardening, classes on fitness for people with arthritis, babysitting and many others.
Each county in the state has an Extension Service Office. The mission of the Extension Service, a function of the land-grant university system, of which OSU is one, is to bring information to Oregon’s citizens. Not all counties offer the same services that Wallowa County does. Counties generally focus on the needs of their citizens and the crops and products grown in that region.
The county’s Extension Service Office is located off the Lewiston Highway, next to Cloverleaf Hall, but it has not always been there. About 25 years prior, the office was located in a single-wide trailer near the grandstands at the fairgrounds. The roof leaked. When it started to rain, out came the pots and pans. Each pot and pan had its own “ring tone” so that as the rain fell into each individual pot or pan it created a rainfall symphony.
Asked what they would like people to think of when they think of the Extension Service, Warnock summed it up this way.
“I would want them to think of us as a friendly resource in the community that can provide useful research based advice,” she said.
Schreder added that he would want people to think of the Extension Service as, “a welcoming resource” that can provide factual information and connect them to the services they need.