By J.T. WHITEHOUSE
CANFIELD — The urban educator at Mahoning County’s Ohio State University Extension Office brings agriculture and horticulture to urban residents and children.
“Kristen Eisenhauer is our new urban educator that focuses on agriculture and 4-H in the city,” said leader-educator Eric Barrett. “Kristen has been here just over a year and has built a lot of partnerships in the city to increase our ability for more impacts in the Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell areas.”
He added: “We already have a good urban program that is operational in Youngstown. The addition of Kristen will help us expand programs to youth and to add some new programming to the urban centers in Mahoning County.”
Eisenhauer agreed that urban agriculture and urban 4-H programs are not new concepts. The local OSU office has long been working with programs in these areas, but resources were being stretched thin for the 230,000 Mahoning County residents.
“I started at the end of July in 2019 to help expand and build programs in urban areas,” she said.
Urban agriculture also includes natural resources. Current programs tend to focus more on youth to help combine both of the areas. During these programs staff cover topics such as agriculture, nature, and gardening while including activities dealing with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and connecting them to food sources.
Eisenhauer said partnerships have been key to helping with the various programs. She said a partnership with the Ohio Department of Agriculture enabled her to give away free fall seeds. To ensure accessibility to all, she offered pick-ups in two locations. One was located in Wick Park and the other one at the Canfield office. The OSU Extension plant and pest clinics held by the Master Gardeners also help urban gardeners start and maintain their gardens.
Another partnership was with Huntington Bank when she was teaching financial literacy. She said Huntington employees volunteered to run stations in budgeting activity and answered questions the children had about jobs, banking, and money.
“Many other partnerships are in the works, but unfortunately were paused due to the current situation,” she said, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic. “I am currently working to partner with the schools to begin school enrichment programs. I am beginning this program with Struthers Elementary Success After Six Program. We are using a virtual platform to conduct weekly lessons that contain hands-on activities delivered to the students through kits.”
Eisenhauer is also working to train and organize volunteers to teach educational classes. She has a rural farm background that helps her connect with people in a different way. She said her family’s farm had everything from honey bees to environmental conservation programs that helped her adapt an understanding of agriculture into an urban setting.
“In a normal year, I would also be teaching and doing school enrichment activities with students,” she said. “COVID 19 has made it extremely challenging to run programs in 2020 … Most of our programs must run virtually, which is a problem when it comes to availability of technology and internet. Many programs got paused or postponed until when we can be in person.”
The financial environment has also seen an increase in people wanting to grow their own food. That fact has brought an increase in the number of people submitting questions to the plant and pest clinic.
“In regard to agriculture and horticulture, the focus in the city is helping residents learn to grow,” Barrett said. “This would be anything from pollinator areas to vegetable gardens.”
For the future, Eisenhauer still sees the pandemic as an influence.
“I would still see the COVID-19 situation as the biggest challenge,” she said. “There are still accessibility issues with technology and internet for many people. I am, however, learning from colleagues on how to make events virtually to reach as many people as we can. There will be many educational opportunities available in 2021. I am excited to see what we will accomplish this year.”