Our stakeholders’ beliefs about our messages depends on their beliefs about our messengers. Once folks in the communities we serve know our first names, they’ll look at the letters after our last names.
That’s why it’s so important that UF/IFAS has messengers on a first-name basis with the people of every county. These messengers are, of course, Extension agents.
Agents establish credibility during the good times at the farmers’ markets, the soccer games, and the community festivals. They also establish it during tough times when everyone’s mettle is tested.
Long after the winds of Hurricane Michael died down, agents are still there in the worst-affected communities. Just a month ago, Ethan Carter finally moved back into his home that was ravaged by Michael. Ethan didn’t ask clients to hold off on their demands while he rebuilt.
The Bay County Extension team just moved back into its office after being displaced by Michael. Kalyn Waters is still running Holmes County Extension from a 4-H livestock barn. Her 4-H agent works at the public library. Her Family and Consumer Sciences agent is working out of a neighboring county.
Extension agents also face manmade obstacles. Because of the volatility of funding from non-UF/IFAS sources, Pamela Bradford’s job as a nutrition educator disappeared out from under her twice in the past decade. She kept teaching Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program classes as a program assistant until she got restored as an EFNEP Extension agent in Hillsborough County this year.
Science deniers and confusers tell us probability means uncertainty. We combat this with trustworthy messengers. When agents show a community what they’re made of, they establish a credibility that does more than help UF/IFAS. It furthers the cause of science itself.