Giving New Life to Rural Indiana

Enhancing public spaces

park playground swingset under construction
Friends of Carroll County Parks was formed by concerned citizens to maintain and support county-owned parks. Here volunteers renovate playground equipment at Deer Creek Park. (Photo by Janet Ayres)

Public spaces play a vital role in all our lives—they are the paths we bike on, the public parks we play in, and the town centers where we shop. Decisions about how to design and manage these spaces can have long-term impacts on the social, economic and environmental health of our communities.

To help local decision-makers harness the power of public spaces, Purdue Extension has launched a new program called Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces. This training program offers continuing education and resources tailored to regional, community, business and neighborhood leaders interested in building sustainable communities. It also provides a framework for collecting data on community needs and then using the data to plan public space improvements. Extension educators will also help participants design new projects and give them the tools they need to put the plans into action.

"This program will help regions, communities and neighborhoods preserve and enhance assets that define the area," said Kara Salazar, sustainable communities specialist for Purdue Extension and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant. "The program will also help community leaders charged with managing public spaces and implementing new projects to build communities that are more resilient to economic and environmental changes."

The program kicks off in January with a series of workshops. Purdue Extension specialists and educators will introduce best practices for improving public spaces and provide example projects that are already underway in Indiana. Participants will also complete a strategic plan for a public space project tailored to their community.

Workshops will take place throughout January and February in Harrison, Allen, Vigo, Gibson, and Porter counties. For more information about theses workshops and future trainings, contact Kara Salazar at 765-496-1070 or salazark@purdue.edu.

By Anjanette Riley, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant

Fertile field awaits ag education graduates

A shortage of qualified teachers for high school agriculture programs across the nation has prompted efforts to encourage more students to study agricultural education.

"We have about 20 graduates annually, while for the last two years combined there were more than 50 openings for agriculture teachers in Indiana," said Allen Talbert, professor of agricultural education at Purdue University.

educator helping boy in a chemistry lab Due to a shortage of agriculture teachers in Indiana and other states, agricultural education graduates can pick from a bumper crop of job opportunities.

The demand comes as more agriculture teachers are retiring and agricultural education programs at the high school level are increasing. While the need for agriculture teachers is greatest in rural areas, the dearth of teachers is not limited to smaller, country schools.

"Urban and suburban schools are also increasing agriculture programs," said Roger Tormoehlen, head of the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education.

The teaching profession as a whole has seen a decrease in student interest in recent years. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, of which agriculture is one, have been among those with decreased numbers of graduates.

And it's not just schools that are looking to hire agricultural education graduates.

"These students graduate with science, agriculture and people skills," said Talbert. "That combination makes them very attractive to those in the agriculture industry as well."

"We also find that recruiters can make job offers to college students during the fall of their senior year, which can be quite tempting for a student who may wait until the following summer to even apply for a teaching job," said Talbert.

Reasons why more students may not be pursuing careers in agricultural education vary from the perception of low teacher pay to concern over the number of hours that teachers must put in with little control over their schedules.

The low pay issue, though, may not be valid, as the average starting salary for Purdue's teacher education graduates last year was about $38,000, which matched the average for the College of Agriculture as a whole.

Purdue is working with Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus and Fort Wayne and Vincennes University to encourage students who complete two-year agriculture associate degrees to transfer to Purdue for the baccalaureate degree in agricultural science and business teaching. Purdue, the Indiana Association of Agricultural Educators and the Indiana Department of Education are also increasing efforts to recruit high school students into the agricultural education program.

By Beth Forbes

Cultivating growing businesses

Luring new business isn't the only economic development strategy available to Indiana communities. The Purdue Center for Regional Development is launching the Indiana Business Growth Network, which will provide support services to help existing companies grow. PCRD is partnering first with the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce; after the pilot program, IBGN will be available statewide.

Indiana Business Growth Network 

IBGN focuses on second-stage companies—businesses beyond the start-up phase and poised for growth, often an overlooked source of economic development. These for-profit, privately held businesses employ at least 10 but not more than 100 people and generate from $750,000 to $10 million in annual revenue. "They are big enough to have big-company problems, but not big enough to have in-house solutions," said Scott Hutcheson, senior associate of the center.

IBGN's grow-from-within strategy involves helping company leaders address strategic challenges, like developing new markets, refining business models and accessing competitive intelligence. Network specialists help CEOs identify barriers to growth and then use sophisticated tools to deliver insights and information that the CEOs can apply immediately.

"We want to keep existing companies here, and programs like this create an avenue for them to grow," said Jody Hamilton, director of economic development with Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. "It's a great asset in our toolbox when we're working with businesses in the community and the region."

IBGN is based on a national model but has been tailored to the nature of business in Indiana, Hutcheson said. "We developed a regional approach, because true industry strengths are usually regional strengths. We also wanted to try working within a certain industry—for example, agribusiness and food processing technology. This is a brand-new innovation that no one has tried nationally yet."

Engagements are short, intense and highly focused on each participating company's biggest issues. A team of four or five IBGN experts provides collectively about 30 hours of work.

They can evaluate markets, run competitor intelligence, follow industry trends and new product releases, track regulations, assist with search engine optimization and web marketing, set up social media campaigns, map customer locations and densities, and evaluate core business strategies. They also conduct a wide variety of custom research. "Purdue has really great data intelligence to give companies the information they need to take the next big risk," Hutcheson said.

As the hub of the network, PCRD works closely with the Hoosier Heartland Small Business Development Center, Purdue's Parrish Library of Management & Economics, and other partners to deliver the business-growth services. "We have so many other resources at Purdue, we can refer companies to these other partners within the university when they need help," Hutcheson added.

The IBGN team is certified through the Edward Lowe Foundation, which terms this entrepreneurial approach to regional prosperity "economic gardening." They aren't horticulturists, but IBGN intends to become Indiana's first and only certified team of economic gardeners, cultivating economic development.

By Nancy Alexander

Grants fund ag, rural development projects

Purdue Agriculture has awarded $1 million in state-funded grants for a wide variety of projects designed to advance Indiana's leadership in plant and animal agriculture and rural development.

The grants were awarded in the initiative called AgSEED, short for Agricultural Science and Extension for Economic Development. The state Legislature funded AgSEED in 2013 through the state's Crossroads program as part of Indiana's commitment to agriculture and rural development.

"The research and education being supported by these funds will help Indiana better position itself not only for economic growth and jobs in our food and agricultural industries, but for a world that will demand adequate nutrition and energy for 9 billion people by 2050," said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Purdue Agriculture. "We are very excited about the state's investment in these innovative and high-impact projects."

Purdue Extension soybean specialist Shaun CasteelPurdue Extension soybean specialist Shaun Casteel will head one of 19 projects providing research and education to advance plant and animal agriculture and rural development in the state. The Indiana General Assembly provided funding for the new initiative. (Photo by Tom Campbell)

Nineteen projects received grants. They were among 95 proposals submitted by faculty and staff in the colleges of Agriculture, Health and Human Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine. Funding was capped at $50,000 for one-year projects and $75,000 for two-year projects.

Among the approved projects are those for:

  • Developing a sanitizing treatment to improve the safety and quality of Indiana cantaloupe.
  • Quantifying the impacts, both positive and negative, of neonicotinoids—toxic to honey bees and other insects—in and around no-till, cover-cropped agricultural fields.
  • Research into developing antimicrobials to eradicate Staphylococcus aureus, which causes bovine mastitis.
  • Surveying forestry owners to help them better protect their woodlands from invasive plants.

The research supported through AgSEED will foster Indiana's leadership in these and other areas that have a direct impact on plant and animal agriculture and rural development, said Karen Plaut, senior associate dean for research in the College of Agriculture.

"This seed money will help push forward new innovations and in some cases, lay the groundwork to leverage future grant opportunities to make a direct impact on Indiana agriculture," she said.

The projects also will help the people make informed decisions about their health and economic well-being and that of their families and communities, one of the strategic themes of the AgSEED program, said Jason Henderson, associate dean and director of Purdue Extension.

"Purdue is in a unique position to lead such efforts to help the people of Indiana through sharing its research with the public and providing programs across the state Extension system," Henderson said. "The dissemination of research helps improve the quality of life for Indiana's residents, and AgSEED is a vital component of this outreach."

Other strategic themes involve building a sustainable and secure food production system; using molecular approaches to expand the frontiers of agriculture and life sciences, targeted to plant and animal sciences; developing a robust bioeconomy to feed and power the world; enhancing food and health; and strengthening ecological and environmental integrity in agricultural landscapes.

By Keith Robinson