Positives in the Pandemic: Increased Need and Importance of Extension During Times of Crisis, the Seaman A. Knapp Memorial Lecture — October 28

President Joan Ferrini-Mundy presented Positives in the Pandemic: Increased Need and Importance of Extension During Times of Crisis, at the Seaman A. Knapp Memorial Lecture on October 28, 2020.

A PDF of this presentation is available.
Watch a recording of the lecture.



Positives in Pandemics: The Increased Need and Importance of Extension During Times of Crisis

Title slide (slide 1)

Thank you and good afternoon. I am honored to be presenting the 2020 Seaman A. Knapp Lecture.

Acknowledgements slide (slide 2)

I wish to thank Dr. Hannah Carter and Dr. Kimberly Whitehead who nominated me for this honor. Thank you also to Parag Chitnis (Parag, it has been awhile since we were at NSF together!) and NIFA for making this possible, and to APLU and its great leader Peter McPherson.

I also wish to acknowledge several of my colleagues who helped with this presentation.

Images of UMaine, MSI, UNH (slide 3)

The University of Maine is the land grant university at which I have the privilege of serving as president. I am also pleased to have been a faculty member and administrator in two other land grant universities-the University of New Hampshire and Michigan State University. A commonality among these institutions is that they truly are focused on their land grant mission. I grew up with this commitment and it is central to how I think about my leadership at UMaine.

I should note the obvious; it is historic that this lecture is being given virtually. Dr. Knapp probably didn’t ever picture this.

Image of Knapp (slide 4)

It has been fascinating to learn about Seaman Knapp, and there are several good accounts of his history, story, and contributions. He lived from 1833 to 1911.

In addition to being a pastor, a superintendent of the Iowa State School for the Blind, and president of lowa Agricultural College, he was an accomplished and well-published practical and experimental agriculturist.

The breadth of his work was remarkable. Over his career he worked on many problems: sheep farming, rice cultivation, boll weevil management in cotton, production of com, farm machinery, and irrigation systems. His career took him to different parts of the country, where he worked in diverse environments and conditions, and with different communities. He spent time in New York, Vermont, Iowa, and Louisiana.

Knapp is credited with being the father of modem 4-H and Extension programs, perhaps with those being his most significant contributions. He introduced the idea of the cooperative demonstration farm, where members of the farming community came together with scientists and the government to improve productivity in farming.

Apparently he also had an MSU connection – he was interested in and influenced by the publications of a group called “The Teachers of Agriculture” in MI Agricultural College in 1881.

Indeed, in the years following the introduction of his innovations in the South, and no doubt through his strong connections to the first U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture James Wilson, the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 was passed to provide for Agricultural Extension Programs in all states. The nation’s land grant universities continue to benefit from that legislation today.

Dr. Knapp seems to have been both ingenious and persistent. For instance, while promoting the usefulness of rice, he reportedly enlisted his wife Maria Knapp to write a nice cookbook (Cline) ½ million copies were published.

Knapp came from humble roots and grew up in New York and Vermont. He aspired to be educated. In an account of his life, by his daughter Maria Mayo, she noted that when he decided to go on to college rather than continue to work in his brother’s cabinet shop in Vermont, his brother is said to have said, “The spoiling of a fine cabinet maker to make a poor scholar… ”

Well, he turned out to be a great scholar.

In that same account, his wife is quoted as having said, “He never cared for a position after the knotty ‘(thats K-N-O-T-T-Y)’ problems were solved and someone else could take up the work and follow it successfully.”

I’ll use some of the themes from Seaman Knapp’s story to frame my remarks, illustrating how Extension and 4-H are integral to UMaine and our role in the state of Maine, especially in the pandemic and our recovery.

  • He was committed to practical learning or applied
  • He wanted to solve hard problems, which in tum helped local agriculturalists and youth, which in tum built communities.
  • He believed that farmers would learn thorough experience, using science as a base.

Image of UMaine (slide 5)

I also need to tell you a little bit about the University of Maine, as our story, even up to what has happened in the pandemic, is actually intertwined with the Knapp themes. We owe our existence to Maine farmers and agriculture leaders.

According to UMaine historian David Smith, in the late 1840s a group of Maine farmers met with members of the Maine House of Representatives to call for an agricultural school. The State Board of Agriculture was formed in 1849.

Let me digress briefly to say more about the Board of Agriculture. 171 years later it is still going strong. When it is meeting in Augusta I organize my schedule to be there, as have the 20 presidents before me. By statute, the Board advises the Chancellor of the University of Maine System and the President of the University of Maine on matters concerning the research conducted by the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station and the agricultural-related educational programs offered by University of Maine Cooperative Extension, including farm­ based programs. The Board helps to identify and prioritize the research and extension programming needs of the agricultural community in Maine.

Back to the founding of UMaine. The call from the farmers, closely aligned with Knapp’s ideas, was, in the words of the Norway Advertiser, “agricultural school in connection with a stock or pattern farm… where the theory and practice of agriculture could be combined … where the principles of science as they were learned by the study of books and the teachings of competent instructors could be, day by day, applied to the operations of the farm… it would elevate the character of our farmers … “.

By making farming more scientific, presumably interesting, and more productive, they theorized that such an approach would solve the prevalent Maine problems of “how to keep the boys home.” (Portland Farmer and Artisan, 1852)

Carnegie Hall/Cows (slide 6)

As the new college was being formed, the influential first chair of the Board Phinehas Barnes urged that main strengths were to be agriculture, mechanical arts and the study of the sea. Our land grant university was established in Orono in 1865. When the first students arrived in 1868, the farm was in operation, and in 1867 had produced I 00 tons of hay, 10 tons of straw, and 600 bushels of apples. There were 7 cows, 2 newly purchased. At the founding, an experiment station and model farm were recommended, and special lectures for practicing farmers were offered.

Current Land, Sea and Space (slide 7)

Today we are a land, sea and space grant university. In FY2020 UMaine’s research awards totaled more than $125 million. Cooperative Extension began at UMaine in 1914, and 4-H is managed through Extension. And that year, UMaine Cooperative Extension was awarded approximately $2.95 million in competitive grants to fund applied research and educational programs that meet the needs of Maine people.

When I arrived at Maine in the summer of 2018, those in charge of my schedule began filling it with what they apparently felt to be the most important visits I needed to make. Those visits were to 4-H camps, to the Fryeburg Fair and a visit with the director of our 4-H Foundation, to a statewide tour with prospective legislators to Maine farms and agriculture-related companies (where at the Hood Dairy the person in charge of the daily milk delivery was able to tell me about the UMaine dairy herd and the milk we produce. And that was before I even knew we had a dairy herd.).

There was a meeting of the Maine Board of Agriculture was on the calendar in ink with no option for missing it. And, because John Rebar, the excellent Director of UMaine Extension, had been on the Presidential Search Committee and was legendary, I figured there was good reason for all of this outreach.

As I have learned more it becomes clear that the main institutional values of the University of Maine were deeply rooted in the very founding of the university at the hands of the Maine Board of Agriculture in 1865. The first president of Maine State College doubled as the farm manager. The first purchases of the Maine State College were farm implements, and the site on which this land grant institution was launched housed a farm. The practical Maine leaders took the view that “Nothing speeds the plow or fattens the crops like brains.” (S.L. Goodale, State Board of Ag.)

This was happening contemporaneously with the movement that Seam.an Knapp was accelerating – a view that science could improve farming, and that a practical, participatory

education enabled progress. The first Maine State College students did not have access to the ball teams and boat clubs that were available at the well-established private liberal arts colleges in Maine -Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby. Rather, they would “earn their way” by working on the farm.

Coronavirus image (slide 8)

So, in March of 2020 an international pandemic happens And being clear about our values as an institution proves to be more important than ever in dealing with it. We must remain focused on the fact that our students –    our learners –   are our reasons for existing. And one of our own three strategic values is fostering learner success. In March, we were all “pivoting” to put our academic courses online – and to put all our Extension programs online. Dean Carter tells m.e that she “often told groups that we took an over 100-year-old organization and in the course of several weeks, completely changed the way Extension operates. We m.ay have had online programs in the past, but never the breadth and depth of programs.”

However, at UMaine, now, in a pandemic, as in 1865, we think of the learners that we serve very broadly – as did Seaman Knapp. And our UMaine Extension exemplifies that, as it does the solving of “knotty problems” that affect our state and our partners.

Seaman Knapp was about meeting the problems of the moment and solving them collaboratively, with the field. And that happens at UMaine.

When it became clear that Maine farmers would face serious challenges to moving their products into the supply chain in standard ways as restaurants closed and the patterns of need and demand were shifting, our Extension team moved rapidly into action to create the Maine Farm and Seafood Products Directory.

Map of Directory (slide 9)

This interactive tool provides information on available local farm products and pick-up options consistent with COVID19-required social distancing. To date, it has been viewed more than180,000 times and allowed many small farms to not only survive, but to thrive and exceed their 2020 projections-which kept money in communities, allowed for people to “meet their farmers” and strengthen ties to local agriculture.

In a style that surely would have made Seaman Knapp proud, but that he maybe couldn’t have imagined, UMaine Extension initiated weekly Maine farmer Zoom meetings for farmers to share and stay connected. Those continued until summer field work and farm direct marketing commenced. They also served as a vehicle for local, state and national policymakers to hear directly from growers on their needs and concerns.

Diagnostic Lab (slide 10)

As the leaders of the University of Maine System realized that the only way we could reopen in the fall of 2020 would be to have a robust COVID-19 testing apparatus ready, our Extension colleagues saw new possibilities for our Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory. The lab was developed with state bonding and is an invaluable resource to Maine in areas from tick testing, plant disease testing, to veterinary diagnostic services.

Already a Biosafety Level 3 facility, we moved rapidly into action last spring to obtain emergency Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (or CLIA) certification for that lab. Our primary on-campus COVID-19 testing programs involve many external partners and labs, but given the collaborative and foresightful work of our colleagues in Extension, science, athletics, and operations and facilities, we soon will put into place our own in-house capacity for analysis of the rapid COVID antigen tests we hope to process for student-athletes & others.

Just as Dr. Knapp took on problems spanning many areas, with many collaborators, we too do that at UMaine. For example, the emerald ash borer is well known as a deep threat to our ash forests in Maine. Less well known, perhaps, but well known to us in Maine, is that the bark of the ash tree is a preferred material for the extraordinary basket-making traditions of the Wabanaki people in Maine. So, UMaine anthropologist Dr. Darren Ranco, a member of the Penobscot Nation, with an award from USDA Forest service, led a decade-long research project in collaboration with tribal basketmakers and other stakeholders to anticipate and get ready for the arrival of this pest in our state. The project used sustainability science and Indigenous research methods to make a difference for the community.

Dr. Knapp was focused on building a better future, and he kept moving forward and looking for new opportunities. We do that here too.

Aquaculture is an merging industry for Maine, and is considered an important expansion in our heritage industries of forestry, fisheries, and farming. You may not know that Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline— more than California (3,427) and less than only Florida and Louisiana.

In the past 10 years there has been a 2.2% annual growth in aquaculture here, with an impact of $140 million annually on the Maine economy.

Darling Marine Center/Aquaculture (slide 11)

The University of Maine Aquaculture Research Institute, in a wonderful partnership with the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Auburn University, has established the first aquaculture field research station- the Aquaculture Experiment Station-taking Knapp’s agricultural research stations to the next level. This is based at our Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.

I need to make a brief digression here for another Seaman Knapp connection. It turns out that his son, Bradford Knapp, was president of Alabama Polytechnic Institute – and that is now Auburn University. Everything is connected.

At the Darling Marine Center, our marine scientists work with mathematical modelers, engineers who design sensor-filled buoys, fishermen, and community members, alongside students who will define tomorrow for this growth area. And this is very practical work for our state, key to our Sea Grant commitment.

One way to build the future is to attend to the next generation and be sure that it is educated with science – a key tenet for Dr. Knapp.

Surely influenced by the leadership and novel ideas of Seaman Knapp, “boys’ and girls’ club work in agriculture and home economics” began in Maine in 1913 with state-level leadership, extending the efforts that had previously been the purview of Granges.

Ava Chadbourne (slide 12)

From the outset, those clubs worked in partnership with Maine schools, as well as the University, where the renowned Miss Ava Chadbourne ran the home economics clubs for more than ¼ century.

I read in a piece on the history of 4-H in Maine that “the crowning event of that club year (1914] was the first State Contest for the club program, held at the University of Maine in Orono.”

Maine State Virtual Fair 2020 (slide 13)

I am pleased to report that, despite a pandemic, 106 years later our 4-H and Extension organization put together a Maine State Virtual Fair 2020, with a virtual exhibit hall and opportunities for 4-H youth to put their work forward.

And, that built on the Maine 4-H Virtual Science cafes called “QuaranTEEN Virtual Science Cafes” where UMaine scientists have engaged with Maine high school students. Topics have

included wildlife forensics, fish behavior, bio-Inspired engineering, food science, raising beef cattle, and moldy plants.

JFM Instagram image at 4H camp (slide 14)

I did try to visit 4-H camps this summer but of course they were closed. Yet the work did continue.

Our Maine 4-H program includes four 4-H Camps and Leaming Centers located in rural areas across the state. Due to the pandemic, our summer camping programs were shuttered for 2020, but with Knapp-like fortitude, our camp staff pivoted as well. They turned our camp facilities into food distribution centers, as they realized early-on that youth would need outside experiences to help balance their online screen time.

They also developed our “camp in the box” program and “Wednesdays in the Woods Outdoor Activities.” Now, they are playing a critical role in K-12 education in the state by offering outside experiential learning to local school systems who are wanting positive, safe and educational outdoor experiences for schoolchildren. We think Seaman Knapp would be proud of the efforts of our 4-H camp staff.

UMaine Extension COVID-19 (slide 15)

In Maine, Extension and 4-H are thriving, which indicates many things. First, these enterprises would never have survived without being so central to the core values of our university of fostering learner success, discovering and innovating, and partnering. Second, these enterprises would never have thrived without becoming connected to so many other parts of the university and legitimized in all the right ways. Beginning in 2018, UMaine moved from having a Director of cooperative extension to having a Dean of Cooperative Extension. The inaugural holder of that position is Dr. Hannah Carter, an outstanding leader. Dr. Carter is not only a native of northern Maine (“The County”, as we call it), she was a youth leader in Maine 4-H herself, spent 20 years working with Extension leadership programs at the University of Florida. Now she is back in Maine leading Extension to new heights and offering collaboration, commitment to Maine, and relentless enthusiasm coupled with great expertise.

UMaine Extension is a sought-after partner by the colleges of education; business; natural sciences, forestry, and agriculture; and engineering. And, in part, because I had enjoyed several years of being a master gardener volunteer in Virginia in connection with Virginia Tech’s program, it also collaborates with the Office of the President.

And this brings me to the final observation I wish to make about why Extension and 4-H are thriving and even leading the way for so much of what is happening at UMaine; I would like to think that the soundness of Dr. Seaman Knapp’s vision, and its timelessness, are part of the reason. So I turn to learning.

Boy in corn (slide 16)

One of my own academic interests is STEM teaching and learning. Thus, I was particularly intrigued to find some of Seaman Knapp’s own writing on this topic. He described his method: “The aim of the Farmers’ Cooperative Demonstration Work is to place a practical object lesson before the farm masses, illustrating the best and most profitable methods of producing the standard farm crops, and to secure such active participation in the demonstrations as to prove that the farmers can make a much larger average annual crop and secure a greater return for their toil.” P. 153.

Experiential learning (slide 17)

A couple of observations about this that have struck me: One is that he applied a kind of theory of learning not only to youth, through his clubs and demonstration projects, but to adults – the farmers whose education he sought to advance. Today, we would talk about his work as active learning, experiential education, problem-based learning, and professional education. These approaches are critical for learner engagement, learner success and, I believe, in a land grant, for serving the state.

In conclusion, it has been delightful to take a brief step back, in the throes of this pandemic, this time of racial unrest, and as we see the ravages of our changing climate, to reflect on a remarkable pioneer, Seaman Knapp, and to try to draw connections between his great contributions that are so well understood in Extension and 4-H to UMaine’s past and present.

And the lessons that I take from this:

In a pandemic, and any time, bringing science and research to the “knotty problems” that we face improves our chances of untangling and solving those problems.

In a pandemic, and any time, engaging professionals, communities, and young people in coming together to frame problems and collaboratively find solutions can improve our world significantly.

Thank you (slide 18)

Again, my thanks for the opportunity today.