By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — The Kay County Extension office has long been important to the community, offering activities for all ages through the 4-H and OHCE programs, as well as agricultural information for area producers and food and consumer science programs for homeowners. The office is currently on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the rest of the Kay County Courthouse, and while all activities have been cancelled until April 30, there are many more functions still operating, and they are still available to assist the public when needed.
Shannon Mallory serves as the Kay County Extension Ag Educator, and works closely with area producers and landowners for assistance they may need, whether that be soil and forage tests or holding meeting and workshops, such as variety trials. The Extension office has cancelled all those through April, but later meetings may still be held.
“We’ve cancelled all wheat meetings until May 10,” he said. “As for rescheduling, it just depends on what type of meeting that can be rescheduled. If they involve a lot of biological type of programs. that cannot be revisited. If there are ones that can be redone, we’ll certainly look at it.”
As part of his role as an educator, Mallory routinely visits with producers at their fields, as well as homeowners’ gardens to address specific problems like disease or other issues. Mallory can continue that, at least on a limited basis, and can easily diagnose pictures remotely at the office.
“It’s easier if I go out there on my own, because of social distancing, while I do it,” he said. “We can still take phone calls and e-mails about your garden. You can send a picture in an e-mail, and we can certainly identify it that way.”
As for meeting Mallory at the office, such as to deliver soil tests and other materials, he can meet producers outside to retrieve it, he said.
The Master Gardeners organization has suspended activities for now, as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines are prohibiting meeting in groups of 10 or more people.
“We usually have 20 people who’ll meet, and a lot of them are in at-risk groups, so we are not meeting in person,” he said. “Officers and committee members are meeting over the phone or on Facebook. We cancelled our plant sale, which is our main fundraiser, for the summer, and will revisit it in the fall.”
Kay County 4-H has a vibrant program, boasting numerous members and volunteers across three programs, including the Newkirk Go-Getters, Blackwell OK-Okies and Tonkawa. All activities are cancelled for April, but there are hopes to hold some summer events later in the year.
“All in-person events for 4-H are postponed until April 30, and that could possibly be extended,” said 4—H Educator Liz Nicholson. “We hope that it doesn’t, but we can’t make any decisions until we get direct orders from OSU or the Health Department.”
The 4-H year will be wrapping up in the next few months, and aside from monthly meetings there are plenty of summer activities held each year, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) camps, as well as food and nutrition camps. The year culminates with the popular 4-H Roundup camp, held each summer in Stillwater on the OSU campus, where 4-H members from across the state meet and fellowship with each other while celebrating 4-H. It is unclear of those programs will be impacted, and Nicholson said 4-H Roundup is currently scheduled to be held. However, she will remain in contact with members and their families to let them know what happens with those activities.
“We are planning to reschedule as many of the things as we possibly can,” she said. “If it looks like something is going to happen, I am going to be working on a virtual workshop for whatever that subject may be, so the kids can get experience prior to the workshop.”
There are plenty of activities in the Food & Consumer Sciences (FCS) side of Extension, which includes Oklahoma Home and Community Education (OHCE), a statewide program that boasts five chapters in Kay County, including two near Newkirk in Kildare and Peckham, with additional clubs in Ponca City and Nardin. Each club meets once a month, but those are now on hold through April 30. Kay County extension Director and FCS Educator Brenda Medlock is working with the members to keep them up to date on activities.
“I’m still going to send out educational information for OHCE, such as the newsletter, and post things on the Kay County OHCE Facebook page with videos and other educational information,” Medlock said.
One upcoming activity is the annual Food Show competition, where each chapter competes against the others with their own recipes and enjoy a dinner together after judging. It was scheduled for April 23 at the Blackwell Events Center at the Kay County Fairgrounds, Blackwell.
The 2020 competition wis unique, as each entry is themed after a holiday, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or St. Patrick’s Day. It will now be rescheduled.
“We’ll try to reschedule the food contest, but we can’t have it in April,” Medlock said. “We should try to do it this summer, if we can. If we don’t get to do it this summer, we can keep the same theme for next year in the year book.”
Staffing at the Extension office has been reduced to a rotational basis of all staff members, with the educators working partly from the office and from home. However, they pledge to continue being there for the community, and will still be in full contact with everyone who needs it.
“Our offices are closed to the public; however, we’re taking phone calls, e-mails. I may not be at the office, but someone will be,” Nicholson said. “I’m trying to do 4-H through e-mail and social media. It’s been a challenge for me, and I’m very sad I haven’t gotten to meet the kids and their parent and families.”