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Extension's fresh face, new focus for 2010

Sally Shearer, a longtime Hubbard County Master Gardener, will be the new program coordinator for the local extension service office. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The proverbial farmer's daughter has taken the helm of the Hubbard County extension service in a new role designed to adapt university research to practical community applications.

Sally Shearer, a Hubbard County master gardener, will be the "Extension Program Coordinator," for the University of Minnesota's local office.

The extension educator's position has been vacant since last February. Ads for the 20-hour per week position got little response, so the extension committee decided to step back and refocus its mission, Shearer said She had joined the board about the time Will Yliniemi left his longtime job as educator for Hubbard and Becker counties.

"Our priorities were to bring extension programs to the community," she said.

First on tap will be a beekeeper's course. "It will not just be a seminar/workshop," she said. The course will be a series of initial programs and continuing education, an off-site course of the University's popular beekeeping curriculum for a relatively low cost.

She hopes to attract University faculty if available, professional beekeepers if faculty members cannot accommodate the course.

"The end result can be monumental in terms of a sustainable farming venture," she said. "Beekeeping is not just for hobbyists."

Hubbard County board chair Lyle Robinson, in announcing the hire at last week's commission meeting, said., "It's really an exciting thing and I think she'll do a great job for us."

Shearer, who grew up on a farm in the county, said she wants to offer a variety of courses and topics based on the needs of the community. Tuition will either be no cost or a moderate amount depending on the amounts extension will pay its experts, she said.

Over the summer she fielded the horticulture calls that came in to the extension office.

People, many new to gardening, wanted to know how deep to plant the seeds of their first gardens, what to do with the produce once harvested, what insects were infecting their plants and trees, she learned.

Shearer said eventually, food preservation and gardening topics will be offered as the gardening boom continues to catch on and people garden out of necessity.

The vast repository of scientific research the University conducts will be provided as course curriculum or informational nuggets. Eventually, Shearer would like to see a local blog up and running, or one that links to existing university extension topics.

She envisions people e-mailing questions on plant, insect and environmental topics, and receiving answers.

And, because of interest from the region's seasonal residents who only may be here weekends, Shearer would like to see courses offered nights and weekends, possibly through Continuing Education, that would reach more interested residents.

"Right now the programs are not conducive to their need," she said.

Through outreach and the summer calls, she knows people, employers and various groups are interested in community and vegetable gardening, food and nutrition, "not just putting a seed in the ground."