While much has changed since Gretchen May first started coming to work in the courthouse in Greenfield for the Franklin County Extension Service in 1977, a lot has stayed the same. While the geography and the subject areas of May’s work have changed over the years, her overall goals and style of work have remained consistent. “My work has always been centered on responding to people’s needs. We learned what was needed and then went out and helped people.
Extension in Western Massachusetts
About Western Massachusetts
The western region of Massachusetts is composed of Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The largest city in the region is Springfield, located in Hampden County, along the Interstate 91 corridor on the Connecticut River.
In early November, on the first really nippy day of autumn, Brian Yellen leads a small group down a gently sloping path in Mohawk Trail State Forest in Franklin County, in northwestern Massachusetts. Dried leaves from the large oaks and maples crunch under foot and visible breaths float on the cool air as they head toward the Deerfield River. It's a diverse group of men and women representing expertise in geology, conservation, ecology, town government and regional planning (plus several kids and two dogs).
Many baby boomers grew up with the idea that 4-H was a great program for teaching kids how to farm. In our minds, we carry images of young children proudly holding blue ribbons won for their healthy calves and sheep at the county fair. This, we think, is 4-H.
Not so fast.
Standing on North Pleasant Street at the corner of Presidential Drive in Amherst, Massachusetts, your eyes are invited to span the wide expanse of a peaceful hayfield across the street. Now close your eyes and image a herd of creamy Jersey cows grazing on that hillside. Insert barns, a milking parlor, several homes, smaller farms to the right, hard-working farmers and farm hands and you will begin to understand the beehive of activity that took place on this field from the late 1800’s until 1964.
With the inauguration of its innovative Extension faculty positions, the Center for Agriculture is further bridging the gap between lab, classroom, and field. Eight professors join the cadre this year, bringing the current total of Extension faculty members to 14 and adding weight to UMass Amherst’s capacity to bring research-based solutions to critical real-world problems in fields such as green building, food production, and ecosystem management.
At their fourth-generation orchard in Deerfield, Tom, Becky and Ben Clark are helping to preserve far more than apples. Clarkdale Fruit Farms hasn’t changed much in 94 years. That’s the way Tom Clark likes it. His customers, who travel miles for heirloom fruit and small-batch ciders, like it too.
Mothers going without… so their children can eat. Parents working round the clock… and then see no alternative to fast foods. Women returning home from correctional programs… without the skills to prepare meals for their families. This is the face of hunger and nutritional need—and these are people that UMass Extension serves daily from its Nutrition Education Program regional office on Wilbraham Street in Springfield.
Back in the 1960s, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) got its start by knocking on doors—literally. The very first EFNEP Nutrition Educators, recruited from the communities in which they lived, spent their days going door to door, fresh groceries in hand, introducing themselves to low-income homemakers with the words “I’m from UMass, and I can show you how to get more food for your money.” One homemade chicken dinner later, and another family was on the road to healthier eating.