100 Years of Cooperative Extension . . . and what that means to me

As the name of this blog implies, I actually did come a farm. So, then it’s really no stretch that you would find me working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s been nearly a decade (what?!!) since I got to DC, but I owe so much of where I am right now to growing up surrounded by the cornfields in Iowa. But really, I came up through the Cooperative Extension Service.

Let me back up a bit. I work for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA, and we partner with the nation’s land-grant universities to solve societal challenges through agricultural science. You may have heard about things like climate change, bioenergy, food security, food safety and childhood obesity. Yeah, we’re involved in all of that, and a whole lot more. Our partnership with these universities is intricate and complex, and I won’t bore you with the legislative details. However, it is a partnership that works in my opinion. We’ve got the money, they’ve got the capacity to use it for good things. But one third of this partnership is with the Cooperative Extension Service.

Each land-grant university in the nation has an Extension component. Extension is the university reaching – or extending – its resources and knowledge to the public. Think very informal education. Think education through real, trusted personal connections. Think experts helping a farmer figure out how to treat a disease on his/her crops. Think an Extension agent teaching families how to make smart food and nutrition choices. Think boots on the ground helping people after a disaster has struck (ummm, hello Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina). Think 4-H. And guess what? As of tomorrow, it’s been around for 100 years!

Let me back up even further. Without really knowing or acknowledging it, most of my life has had a direct tie to Cooperative Extension. When I first moved to the farm in the fifth grade, I joined a little ol’ program called 4-H. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It is one of the largest youth development programs in the nation. Most people tend to think it’s an organization for farm kids, and I used to agree with those people. And if I’m honest, the majority of my 4-H experience represents that thought. I showed hogs at the county fair and did sewing, baking and photography projects. So, yeah, there was that.

My junior year of high school tipped the balance in my views on 4-H though. That year, I decided to pursue some other activities that would broaden my current experiences – something just a little bigger than Stanton Community High School. I applied to join the Iowa 4-H Technology Team, which is about the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done. Considering I am going to the Harry Potter theme park this year, the previous statement says a lot. However, nerdy as it may have been, joining this team led me to make new friends that have lasted to this day, it gave me my first glimpse into applied science, and essentially it got me my current job.

I was a part of the team my junior and senior years of high school and then volunteered with the group throughout college. While giving a presentation at a state 4-H staff meeting my junior year at Iowa State University, I was asked what my summer plans were. Honestly, I had none, which was problematic because I needed an internship to graduate the next year. Sitting in the meeting was a communications specialist for ISU Extension, and she was able to hook me up with a pretty great internship with Extension communications. I worked there for the next year, and it was a great internship experience. I was able to edit a lot of material (I believe this is when my obsession with the red pen began), got to not only write their news releases, but submit articles to outside magazines for publication. I even had an op-ed published in newspapers across the state. All in all, it was a great experience . . . which eventually landed me my current job.

At the time, I had no idea Extension was even affiliated with the USDA. Shows how clueless I really was back then. But, I guess all that experience in agriculture and Extension stuck out on my resume, and I soon found myself working in DC. As they say, the rest is history.

Fast forward back to 2014. USDA and NIFA are celebrating 100 years of Extension. Earlier I said Extension was all about personal connections between a farmer, family, consumer and an Extension agent. These interactions mean something to people. So, to celebrate, I proposed that my office run a social media campaign to get people talking about these stories. What better way to show the impact of this incredible program than to have people share what it has meant to them. So, we’re asking people to tell their story through whatever medium they want – blog, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, etc., and then Tweet it to NIFA at @usda_nifa using the hashtag #Ext100Years. So, yeah, if you’re reading this and have a story to tell. Share it!


In a nutshell, my Extension story is one that broadened my horizons, led me to new experiences and eventually to a meaningful career doing what I love. Really. I get to communicate everyday about how NIFA – and Extension is one part of NIFA – are truly making a difference not only on the individual level, but on some of the greatest challenges this planet will have to face. And because of that, I wouldn’t change my story for anything!

Put on Love

When people think about love, they think of it as a thing they get from others or give to those they are attached to. We all want to have love from others – we crave it actually. Whether it is from our families, our friends or from those we deeply are “in love” with.

And to give or receive love, there must be an action. Maybe words are spoken, a grand gesture is made, kindness is given or affection shown through physical touch. We all want this thing called love, but love requires action.

Love is a verb.

I was teaching English in Burma (Myanmar) last summer. Knowing that the English language can be tricky, I wanted to show how some words can be both nouns and verbs. Immediately, I thought about love. It took a little bit of discussion for them to realize this, but we got there. I used my sister as an example; I love her, therefore, I call and write her, I send her gifts, I spend time with her, I tell her I love her, I hug her, etc. And then we identified all the verbs that represent love (call, write, send, spend, tell, hug). I felt really accomplished that day as not every day garnered such understanding in my classroom. To celebrate, I left them with a song recently released by John Mayer, “Love is a Verb.” Very appropriate.

So, it’s been more than a year from my time in that classroom. And now God is revealing there are people in my life he wants me to love. People who I really don’t know, maybe don’t want to know or even hold some bitterness in my heart toward. As I’ve been praying and studying this more, I’m realizing that this love is two-fold. One: I am showing my love for Christ by acting in obedience to him. Two: in my obedience, I need to forgive these people and love them even when I don’t want to and when it’s really hard.

I keep reading Colossians 3 as God has been using this passage to drive this lesson into my heart. Verses 12-14 have struck a chord with me. Paul is calling us to “put on love.” He prefaces this command by telling us to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. . . . “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you.”


I’ve struggled with the phrase “put on” because love has always seemed to me to be a feeling – a noun, not a verb. To put love on seems as if I just flip a switch and there it is. How do we go about loving those who maybe in our earthly understanding don’t deserve to be loved? What if I just don’t feel it? But, I’m always drawn back to the fact that I don’t deserve Christ’s love, and yet he freely gives it. And he “put it on” through his obedience to God on the cross – dying for my sin. His act of love. Let’s call it his verb of love.

So, I’m a work in progress right now; teetering between the desire to obey God and dwelling in the past and my bitterness. It’s not an easy place to be, but I’m so thankful to have a solid group of Godly women in my corner praying for me, encouraging me, sharing with me . . . putting on love for me.

Just James

Tonight I finished a 7-week bible study on the book of James by Beth Moore. The last time I attempted a Beth Moore study, I was in college and never finished the study and left unimpressed. Let’s just say that God always puts us where we need to be. And for the last 7 Wednesday nights, it was studying James with her.

This is the first time I’m sad to finish up a study. God used this time to shake me and renew my faith. James story left a picture in my mind I doubt I’ll soon leave behind. You see James was the brother of Jesus. And while I can’t count how many times I have read the Book of James, this fact never occurred to me. Nor did I think about the fact that he grew up with Jesus; they played together as children; they truly knew each other. But did they?

It wasn’t until after the resurrection that James came to be saved by his older brother. In fact James and his other brothers mocked Jesus and said he must have been out of his mind for some of the things he did and said. It was this moment, when James realized just who his brother truly is, where we opened and closed our study. And it’s a moment I can’t stop thinking about. It all goes down in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Clue in on verse 7, cause it’s the only mention of Jesus appearing to James. And I can just picture it. James had to be full of regret and sorrow over the death of his brother. Even if I thought my brother was crazy, I’d still be distraught over such a horrible death. But then they meet, and they are alone. What must have been going through James’ mind? I can’t even imagine. He had known Jesus his whole life, but never believed him. But the knowledge that Jesus covered him in love,  forgave him and brought him back to the truth brings me to tears. Maybe it’s because they were brothers and had a different bond than Jesus had with the disciples, but this story got to me.

And while I won’t go into detail, you can see this got to James as well. The entire book is full of it. He committed himself to leading the church in Jerusalem. And any regrets he may have had after meeting Jesus that day, he made sure to never have again. He led the church with a single-minded passion for Christ and he had no qualms of telling it like it is. Beth left us with this quote from John Parry:

Who is this tremendous personality who speaks to the whole Church with a voice that expects no challenge or dispute? Who appeals to no authority but that of God, knows  no superior but the Lord Himself, quotes examples only from the great ones of the Old Dispensation, instructs, chides, encourages, denounces with a depth, an energy, a fire, second to none in the whole range of sacred literature?

You can bet when James entered the gates of Heaven, Jesus was standing there waiting for him with his arms wide open. James was faithful, even in his death.

And that’s where the book shook me. James, who didn’t know the whole story until Jesus’ resurrection, had a (weak if you will) excuse for his unbelief and mockery of Jesus. But I know the whole story, and yet I find myself mocking Jesus, allowing my sin to cloud my belief in God’s promises. James clearly spells out how we are to live a life of faith, and it has convicted me in a way I never thought possible. Read James, he is explicit; you won’t be left wondering what he means.

James knew mercy. He knew it the moment Jesus appeared to him. He knew Christ’s death and resurrection is our saving grace. And that one moment changed him to lead a life of mercy as well, to care for the poor and orphans, to live with humility, to be peace-loving, to love your neighbor as yourself. In the end, James knew that mercy triumphs all.

Hot off the presses

Sooooo, I’ve been a little busy this fall, which might explain the lack of posts on this blog. Ok, I’ll be honest, that’s not why, but it sounds better than the truth.

But, I have been busy you see. I spent a good four months working on a book editing project, and look what showed up in my mailbox yesterday!

fruits of my labor

I get that it’s not the sexiest project I ever hope to work on, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? Plus, a good friend gave me the hook up on this one. It really is about who you know. Double plus, someone actually agreed to pay me to edit a book.

So, if you are interested in learning more about how to merge and/or acquire an insurance marketing company, have I got the perfect book for you!

Now onto the next project – my friend’s father wrote his memoirs. While most of the editing is done, they need someone to do publicity on the book. It’s a good thing I have diversified my skill set. You should hear more from me this spring, so get ready!

Learning to cook at 30

It’s true, I’m turning 30 soon. To say I’m not happy about it is an understatement.

But, it’s one of those things you cannot change. Instead, I’ve decided I need to embrace this upcoming year and make it one of my best yet. I need to tackle my fears, learn new skills, and accomplish (or at least work toward) some major life goals.

My first project is going to be learning to cook. I realize I’m jumping the gun here by about 3 months, but I wanted to take advantage when inspiration strikes. So, here I am, almost 30 and I really don’t know how to cook beyond the basics. My mom is a wonderful cook, so are both grandmothers. Yet, I can’t stand the thought of being in the kitchen. Now, baking is a different story. I have no qualms about that, mostly because you mix everything together and you don’t have to touch it while it bakes for 30 minutes or so. Cooking in my mind takes so much effort and time, and I really don’t have patience for that.

But in the interest of being an adult and having good things to eat at mealtimes, I am going to climb this mountain. I’m going to push myself to try new recipes and make things I normally wouldn’t want to eat. Yes, I am a picky eater. While I don’t think I’ll ever not be a picky eater, I can at least try new things.

So far I’ve cooked two new recipes this week. One was ok and I’d make it again with some modifications. The other is delicious and I think I’m going to add it to my list of go-to meals.

Yesterday I made shrimp risotto with sweat peas. For some reason the shrimp did not taste good to me in this recipe. Maybe fresh shrimp would be better than frozen. But, I loved the rest of it. Peas are my favorite vegetable, so this recipe is a no-braienr for me. Take a look:

Shrimp risotto with sweat peas

Tonight I made saucy tomato orecchiette. It is a super easy recipe and I love it because it makes one serving – perfect for me!

Saucy tomato orecchiette

My adventures begin with the Big Girls Small Kitchen cookbook. My friend recommended this cookbook to me, and so far most of the recipes look great. If anyone has any good recipes, I’d love to know about them. Please share. Here’s to a fabulous 30th year filled with lots of good food!

Finding Hope in Hope – Part 2

In my last post, I mentioned how stressed out I had been. A lot of that had to do with feeling distant from God. In essence, this vacation was a break from my job, a chance to work on the book I’m editing, and a spiritual retreat to connect with God.

One thing I had asked God for on this trip was that He show Himself to my in very real and tangible ways. And boy, did he come through!

On my second, maybe third night, at the cottage, I was having trouble lighting the grill. I probably had gone in and out of the back door four times, and then on the fifth time I decided to close the door all the way. I finally lit the grill, turned around to go back inside only to find myself locked out of the cottage!

Now, this is when I went into what I call “Jenny mode.” Whenever I get myself into trouble or a jam, I go through every option I have to get myself out of it – and then I freak out. So, I thought maybe, just maybe, I had left the front door unlocked when I got home that day. But no, my roommate has taught me too well, and I religiously lock the doors behind me. Then I thought to check the basement door; it too was locked. My next option was to interrupt the construction crew next door, but for some reason I was hesitant to go bug them (but, it was a last resort). This is when I started to freak out.

You see, this cottage is really in the middle of no where. Sure, there are some neighbors, but I hadn’t seen any signs of life at any of the other cottages around. And the nearest town is three miles away, which would require walking through the woods. Did I mention it was getting dark out? No thank you!

So, I’m stuck out here alone with nothing to help me – my car keys, cell phone and wallet were all locked safely inside the cottage. Visions of being stranded outside all night start to flash through my head, and I become very worried. But then, it was as if God said, “I am here.” Now this cut through the panic going through my head, and I just knew that God would find a way out of this for me. I decided to walk over to one of the neighbors’ houses to see if anyone was around. The first two were empty, but then, when I hadn’t seen a single car on this road the entire time I’ve been there, one drives by me and pulls into a drive. So, I followed it in and explained my predicament.

Getting locked out of your house is a great way to meet the neighbors! Maria was very helpful. While I just wanted to call for a locksmith, she thought we could probably find a way in. Eventually, we found a window that was unlocked, and I was able to climb though. I would never considered doing this. One would think a girl from the farm would be a little more resourceful . . .

Problem #1 solved, and I got to sleep in my bed that night!

Two days later, I find myself in another jam. I wanted to go up north to view the best fall foliage, which meant a good 2 hour drive or so. About 30 minutes into my journey, I see a message in the car telling me that one of the tires has low pressure. The only thing I know  about this situation is that gas stations have air pumps, but I have no idea how to use them! And besides, I’ve been driving for 30 minutes and haven’t seen one gas station. So, I called my mom (isn’t that what we always do?); she stayed on the phone until I finally found a gas station, and kept me sane. I tend to freak out when I don’t know how to fix problems. :)

At the gas station, all the tires look fine to me, but what do I know! So, I went inside the gas station/grocery store to buy a tire gauge. I must have looked lost, so this nice young guy took pity on me. Apparently they didn’t sell tire gauges, but he knew the air pump outside had one. Luckily, he even knew how to use it! One tire had lost half it’s pressure (yet looked fine to me)! He filled it up and I was on my way north.

God totally provided the right people at the right time all week long. Along with the evidence of His beautiful creation I saw at every turn, He showed me of His love and faithfulness. It was just another way I found Hope in Hope.

Finding Hope in Hope – Part 1

I have always said (mostly to myself) that I do not want to be defined by my job. I would like to think there is a lot more to me than being a public relations professional or as a writer/editor. These are things I enjoy, but there are more important things that define who I am.

Today was my first day back in the office after a blissful 12 days of rest and relaxation. I spent one weekend with my friend Bindu in New York City doing the things we love the most – wandering the city and going to a Yankees game. Then I headed north to Hope, Maine (yes, the “in Hope” in the title of this post). I rented the most charming cottage on a lake about 10 minutes from the coast. My goal: relax, edit a book (more on that later), relax, nap, do a few touristy things, relax, and most importantly reconnect with God.

You see, even though I don’t want to be defined by my work, my day-to-day job was defining my character and my well-being. I’ve had eight months of enduring a new boss who is not qualified for her job, weeks on end of working extra hours, and a summer spent dealing with general government craziness. Translate: I’ve spent the better part of the past year stressed out, emotional, angry, frustrated, unhappy, miserable, depressed and unsure of my future and my relationship with God. And on top of everything wreaking havoc on my mind and heart, my body has been suffering. The last several months have left me with a feeling of exhaustion, migraines, stomach pains, heart palpitations, nausea, and a general feeling of being unwell.

You can see why I needed a vacation.

God knew what he was doing when I found this cottage . . . in Hope, Maine of all places. The name of the town says it all right there. My time in Maine was exactly what I had hoped and needed. I had left my co-workers with a long, detailed list of everything that would need to be done in my absence, and I didn’t look back. In fact, 10 days rolled by before I even had one thought about what was supposed to be happening at the office. It was at this point I realized that I had spent more than a week being very happy, relaxed and content. I felt amazing and none of the health problems I had been experiencing in DC followed me to Maine. God was even answering my prayers in very practical, obvious ways, showing me His nature, grace and love. I realized I had given this job too much power over my life instead of handing that power over to God.

Because I rather enjoy having a place to live and food to eat, my job is something I can’t change at the moment. But, I can change my attitude toward my job and the way I let it affect me (or in my case, not let it affect me). On my walk into the office today, I made a pact with God and myself. I will not let this job get me down anymore. It isn’t going to dictate whether I am happy or not. I am not going to let other people’s ineptitude or inability to prepare make my life crazy. While I will still do my job to the best of my ability, I care far too much about other things to let the hours of 8:00 to 5:30 dictate my life.

My time in Hope left me with hope that life is worth so much more. I actually do have other things I’d like to focus my attention on. I have hope that God can and will turn things around. And you know what? Today was a great day – even though I had 800+ emails waiting for me, people knocking down my door and a very relieved boss that I actually came back. I tackled my inbox throughout the day, answered everyone’s questions and took over work from my very worried boss – and then I left the office on-time with a smile on my face.

I like my new mantra. Hope, indeed!

Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 62:5-6

P.S. – For those who are actually interested in reading about my life, there will be a part 2, and if you’re lucky a part 3, about my time in Maine. Complete with pictures! While I would like to promise a posting date, I think I’ll keep you waiting on the edge of your seat. :)