Frances C. Lawrence
The primary mission of the LSU AgCenter is to enhance the quality of life for people through research and education. This issue of Louisiana Agriculture concentrates on the AgCenter’s research and education efforts to enhance the social and economic development of families and their communities.
In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, the AgCenter’s research and outreach activities related to social and economic development are more critical than ever. The articles in this issue highlight the ways in which AgCenter personnel play crucial roles in strengthening the capacity of citizens to be key players in the future of their communities, helping them discover new economic opportunities and providing resources for local decision-makers to make informed choices and helping families, communities, farms and businesses attain prosperity and security.
Matthew Fannin’s article explains how LSU AgCenter research and extension activities have adapted over time to address the development issues of a changing rural economy. As the nonfarm population of rural Louisiana grows and competition for globalized markets increases, AgCenter faculty will continue to incorporate innovative research and extension programs to address the evolving rural economy.
The AgCenter’s work in community development is one of many examples of research-based outreach effort that build the capacity of Louisiana citizens. Leadership programs, such as those described by Sandy Dooley and Karen Overstreet, help citizens acquire leadership skills and economic development knowledge to strengthen their communities. They help build capacity. In many Louisiana communities, residents participating in AgCenter leadership programs have started local recycling programs, created farmers markets, established child and adult day centers, and improved local drainage, zoning, education and transportation.
Other community development efforts are more directly related to creating economic opportunities in rural parishes. Deborah Tootle focuses on the challenges of the new rural economy. She points out that LSU AgCenter faculty are helping members of rural communities improve their quality of life, the local business environment, and opportunities for economic development. Entrepreneurs and new value-added enterprises are emerging in those rural communities, providing the appropriate social and civic infrastructure.
In addition, the LSU AgCenter has recognized the potential of turning to nature for revitalizing communities and creating new jobs. Louisiana has an abundance of natural resources including rich farmlands, productive forests, diverse wildlife and navigable waterways. Cynthia Pilcher shows how the AgCenter is helping rural landowners diversify the economics of their communities by capitalizing on the natural resources in their own backyards.
The LSU AgCenter is an important source of expertise for problem-solving and a source of technology to assist the creation of new businesses and to stimulate growth in existing businesses. In a recent report to the LSU System, the Ag Center’s Office of Intellectual Property was cited as the “crown jewel” of the LSU System. Patrick Reed identifies the AgCenter’s many successes in patenting university inventions and licensing the inventions to outside businesses. By reaching out to the business community, the AgCenter is creating new industries in Louisiana and helping to increase the number of quality jobs.
Most people recognize that an unacceptably high percentage of Louisiana citizens live in poverty. Louisiana has one of the highest rates of poverty in the nation. One out of every four people in rural Louisiana lives below the federal poverty line, and roughly three-quarters of our rural parishes are defined as persistent poverty counties. Research on socioeconomic well-being includes applied work on poverty and poverty policy, health, education, rural development strategies, and racial/ethnic inequalities. Mark Schafer and Tim Brown provide an overview of human capital development trends in Louisiana. This article compares Louisiana’s human capital to other states. Outreach efforts provide rural and community leaders, policy-makers and stakeholders with information, expertise and capacity to make public policy decisions and help rural residents learn about and take advantage of economic opportunities and help individual and families learn how to move from public assistance to self-sufficiency.
Early childhood education and teacher quality have been recognized as keys to increasing student achievement and breaking the cycle of poverty. To address these issues, research studies have been conducted related to appropriate classroom teaching techniques for young children. Diane Burts and her co-authors have identified developmentally appropriate practices conducive to children’s academic achievement and healthy emotional development. Not only is research being conducted related to formal classroom teaching, it is also focusing on parenting education. Recent work by Robert Laird and others related to the parenting of teens noted that experiences during the teenage years play a large role in determining whether teenagers grow up to become productive and engaged citizens.
The article I co-authored with Claudette Reichel shows that challenges related to housing, typically the largest slice of a family or individual’s budget. The LSU AgCenter is leading a public-private partnership to design, build and operate Louisiana House Home and Landscape Resource Center (LaHouse). LaHouse will be an educational showcase and program to stimulate consumer demand and industry change for sustainable housing and development.
LaHouse will demonstrate ways to combine environmental stewardship with economic benefits and enhanced quality of life – showing how it is possible to have more comfort, durability, value, convenience and better health with less property damage, energy, water, pollution and waste. In the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the LaHouse project is playing a prominent role in recovery as a regional resource for consumer educational outreach and training on mold remediation, home restoration and hazard-resistant rebuilding.
Financial security is the cornerstone of prosperous communities, nurturing neighborhoods, and strong families. It is a key component of a family or individual’s quality of life. AgCenter personnel help Louisiana citizens acquire the knowledge, skills and motivation to build financial security. Programs target youth, financially vulnerable populations and consumers making financial decisions throughout their lifetime. Jeannette Tucker and Ann Berry address the need for Louisiana youth to be financially literate to function as self-sufficient and productive members of the state’s workforce. They have taken a proactive approach by conducting in-depth training in financial issues for more than 400 teachers.
This issue of Louisiana Agriculture provides a summary of selected research and outreach programs that address social and economic development issues in Louisiana. Included are ways to strengthen the capacity of Louisiana citizens through education, leadership development, financial literacy and parenting. Also included are economic development strategies, such as technology transfer and farmland diversification.
Frances C. Lawrence, Alumni Professor, School of Human Ecology, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.
(This article appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)