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Posted: January 30, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Extension Office does it all

Photo by Brittany Thomas/

The Newton County Extension Office, located in the administrative building at 1113 Usher Street, is mystery to some. Providing valuable agricultural education and community services, the obscure office is often mistaken as the county's phone directory.

"We had a man call us asking if we tested for STDs," said Secretary Debbie Eunice. "We ended up having to refer him to the health department."

The office primarily provides free agricultural education for the community. Its services typically consist of, but are not limited to: soil fertility; forage selection and management; using agronomy to help farmers produce wheat, rye, oats, soybeans and other crops; and assisting landowners with timber maximization.

In addition, the office offers home visits to troubleshoot homeowners' horticulture concerns, making recommendations for trees, flowers, shrubs and vegetable gardens. By request, the agency can also troubleshoot other problem areas.

"Some may have insects in their crops, so we identify the issues and make recommendations on how to control them," said Newton County Extension agent and coordinator Ted Wynne. "We will also diagnose the diseases to weigh their affect on the crops."

The agency also performs water quality testing, which tests well water for bacterial contamination. If results are inconclusive, the agency will visit the home to run cameras down the well and establish if something has fallen inside.

"There was a lady who could not figure out why there was such a high level of bacterial contamination in her drinking water," said Eunice. "We took a camera to her well and found a giant wharf rat."

The extension office is partnered with the University of Georgia's Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. With a commitment to public service, economic development and technical assistance activities, the land-grant college is known to address the strategic and educational needs of Georgia's citizens in "life-long learning and professional education."

Using a digital diagnostics system and network microscope, diseases are photographed and identified and sent to pathologists at UGA. Further tests are conducted to specify the diseases and unknown agents.

Recommendations are then made for treatment. While the Extension Office's services are free, additional testing done by UGA may apply affordable service charges.

"It has some real practical applications, even for doctors," said Wynne. "I had a doctor bring in a spider which had bit a patient. We identified it and determined how harmful it was."

If results are unable to be determined at UGA, samples are sent to other universities across the nation to make a diagnosis. Turn-around time for the complete process is typically one week.

The Extension Office also holds classes for lawn care companies; these businesses can receive continuing education credits from the class.

"I can go all week describing the things we do," said Wynne. "From time to time, we will come across things we have never seen before. One person came in the other day because there were mushrooms growing in their bathtub."

Originating from the extension office, the Master Gardener and 4-H program has made considerable impacts on the community.

The Master Gardener program recently helped create the successful Porterdale Community Gardens, which allows Newton County residents the opportunity to maintain a garden for $25 a plot.

The county's 4-H program not only works with youth to develop life and leadership skills through their everyday interests, but provides community service like trash clean-ups and fundraisers for orphanages. The organization also organizes youth leadership programs that send youths on trips to places in Georgia like Tybee Island, Jekyll Island, Fortson and Wahsega.

While mistaken phone calls to the Extension Office may continue, the office believes their primary goal of servicing the community is met everyday.

"We try to help people when they call, even when they are calling for the wrong reasons," said Eunice. "We have just made it our part to help people get to where they need to go."

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