From Food Security to Hats and Mindfulness, Blaine County Extension Shares Recent Activities


February 23, 2022

Linley Conrad knits a hat during a recent Teen Leader Academy session.

Montana State University Extension Agents serve local needs with a mission focused on improving the lives of Montana citizens. In that spirit, Blaine County Agents, Trent Noel and Juli Snedigar responded to a need for hats by purchasing a Sentro, hand crank knitting machine. Since that purchase, more than 200 hats have been knitted and donated to local schools for children who either forget to bring a hat or who are without the resources to purchase one to wear outdoors at recess.

According to Noel and Snedigar, the knitting happens during 4-H meetings, during Extension gatherings, or when idle hands need productive work. Yarn has been donated by the ladies of the American Lutheran Church as well as by others wishing to support the project. It takes approximately 30 minutes to crank out a hat, and the Red Heart brand of yarn seems to produce the best results.

In a report about their recent activities, the two Extension Agents shared details about this need motivated project as well as additional pursuits. These come amidst their regular work of providing nitrate tests, sending well-water samples away for analysis, and developing feed rations. For example, Noel described a Strong People® program that he facilitated at the Senior Center in Harlem. Popular with the geriatric crowd, Strong People® is an evidence-based, twelve-week program that helps participants increase their joint flexibility, muscle strength, and overall well-being.

Noel plans to host a similar program at the Chinook Senior Center this coming March. "The program involves light agility and strength training. Several of those who attended in Harlem have told me that they still engage in performing the exercises," Noel reported. "One of the first things we learn is how to get safely up and down from the floor."

The program boasts statistics that suggest participants feel stronger, sleep better, feel less stressed, and move more freely and easily. They also experience improved balance and increased stamina.

Another plan for the months ahead is to launch a new Lunch and Learn Series. While the pair hasn't yet worked out a list of topics, one of them will certainly be Stress Management through Mindfulness. Although most of us function on "auto-pilot," being mindful encourages us to do the opposite. Mindfulness is a form of present-moment awareness that invites us to reconnect with the present-simply pausing to notice what is happening inside our bodies and in the world around us as it is happening. Many research studies have shown that mindfulness meditation-which doesn't have to be an intensely formal practice-can reduce stress, as well as mitigate symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and pain.

Snedigar further stated that she has been engaged with facilitating Remote Work Courses as well as developing a Big Sky, Big Leadership series. In a partnership with Utah State University Extension, MSU Extension offers the Remote Work Professional certificate program. This is a month-long specialized course designed to equip workers and business owners with training needed to find a job working remotely for a company, expand a business to serve customers remotely, and increase skill levels for people already working remotely. The next course is slated to begin on March 7. Anyone interested should contact Snedigar by calling 406-357-3200 or by emailing Snedigar will coach participants through both the registration and the course process.

An outgrowth of the Reimagining Rural Initiative, the objective of Big Sky, Big Leadership intends to help community members build their own leadership skills. It also inspires community groups to work more effectively together for positive change. With this eight-part series that supports the idea of learning from one another, participants discover more about the inner-workings of their communities, problem solving, working with groups, enhancing cooperation, and dealing with conflict.

Another recent development came after Snedigar approached the Commissioners about establishing a Teaching Farm. "We all need to be resourceful about our own food security," Snedigar stated. "So, we asked the Commissioners for a space that would support these goals. They gave us eight acres of bare ground owned by the county on the north side of Chinook and basically said, 'Go forth, and do."

Eventually, the plot will support hoop houses, green houses, a community garden, as well as rabbits, poultry, and pollinators. According to Snedigar, in addition to supporting a farm to table program, the Teaching Farm will also provide a place for 4-H members to engage in projects that they may not have space for at their own homes. "We have yet to work out water and power access issues as well as security and fencing for animals, but that will all come with time and planning," she explained. "And we hope to get involvement through partnerships with the local schools and other youth groups."

These hats represent a small collection of the approximately 200 that have been knitted and donated to local schools.

With all of these projects, programs, and efforts, obviously, no moss is growing under the feet of the two MSU-Extension Agents in Blaine County. Regardless, program directors at the university level have established an Advisory Council and are asking the agents to conduct a Needs Assessment to determine any new directions that MSU Extension may need to take. Given that task, Noel and Snedigar invite all Blaine County residents to share input by calling their office at 406-357-3200 to express any concerns, interests, and ideas.


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