Tritons making an impact: UOG extension agents
As a land-grant university, one of the University of Guam’s core missions is to share knowledge with the broader
community — in particular those outside of the walls of higher education — that is
of relevance to their daily lives. UOG carries out this mission through its Cooperative Extension & Outreach office and its many extension specialists, who interact with community members daily.
By holding workshops, creating publications and resources, and being available to
offer expertise, UOG’s extension professionals are a prime example of UOG’s work in
“Transforming Lives and Advancing Communities.”
Below we highlight eight of UOG's extension specialists and just one of their many projects making a direct impact on the community.
Extension Agent Mark Acosta helped implement the Community Healthy Living/Walk to Wellness Program, which identified a walking trail in five villages and trained 133 participants on the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet. Over a 12-week time span, the participants competed by village for the most steps, averaging 225 miles per person, and for the most knowledge gain, determined through pre- and post-program tests. Participants also planted 400 fruit trees and vegetable plants as a nutritional food source for their families. The Walk to Wellness Program has renewed funding to bring the program to 4-6 more villages.
In teaching workshops and producing publications, Dr. Jian Yang brings knowledge to the local population about new and creative ways to utilize an abundance of locally grown crops. By creating these “value-added” products, such as breadfruit flour and mango marmalade, farmers and residents are learning how to prolong the shelf-life and enhance the market value of the foods they grow. Yang’s work is improving food security on the island and teaching island residents to reduce reliance on food imports.
When the COVID-19 pandemic affected the global food supply chain and the ability of local farmers to sell their usual quantities of produce, Dr. Kuan-Ju Chen helped launch the Curbside Farms Initiative with the Farmers’ Co-op. The project divided farmers’ produce into family-sized bags that residents could purchase and pick up curbside on a weekly basis. The initiative sold 100 bags per week from May to December 2020, totaling $2,000 in produce sales per week. The bags continue to be available even after the lockdown. The model also inspired DPHSS to enter a $21,000 contract with the Farmers’ Co-op for a spinoff program in which produce bags are delivered to senior citizens at home.
With a specialty in horticulture and sustainable agriculture, Extension Agent Joseph Tuquero has conducted several vegetable variety trials, in which he grows multiple varieties of in-demand crops in Guam to see which grow the most successfully in the local environment. The trial results are shared with local plant growers and farmers as well as technical recommendations to improve their vegetable yields. Additionally, with his broad knowledge of native plants in the Marianas, Joe produces fact sheets on the natural habitats and cultural and ecological importance of these plants as quick-reference guides for local residents.
In his 27 years as an extension specialist, the recently retired Dr. Robert Schlub produced a number of agriculture manuals and fact sheets on how to grow vegetable crops, diagnose plant diseases, and manage soil fertility and nutrient levels in reducing plant diseases. His “Eggplant, Pepper & Tomato Production Guide for Guam,” first produced in 2002 and revised in 2016, features the knowledge of more than 15 subject-matter experts from UOG. It is a widely distributed resource among local growers and has become a standard resource book in agriculture courses at the University of Guam.
With a genuine passion for helping people, Extension Associate Phoebe Wall offers a variety of workshops and writes a regular column in the Pacific Daily News to help people learn how to start and maintain various types of gardens. She trains students, community gardeners, and even inmates at the Department of Corrections how to successfully start their own gardens, what to grow, when to plant, how to overcome common pests, and what type of garden, such as container or raised-bed gardens, would work best.
Dr. Tanisha Aflague and her team are working to make the healthy choice the easy choice for Guam residents and families. Dr. Aflague coordinates both the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which conduct informational campaigns, like the 5-2-1 Almost None campaign, and provide workshops and resources to help community members make healthy food choices, stretch their grocery budgets, keep food safe for consumption, and cook healthy meals with local produce. Together, the programs are impacting the lives of children, adults, and families through direct education as well as initiating changes to policies, systems, and the environment to support healthy behaviors.
Healthy choices are hard to make when they aren’t available. That’s been a key task of Extension Associate Rynette Perez, who assists Dr. Tanisha Aflague in coordinating the 5-2-1 Almost None campaign under the SNAP-Ed Program. The campaign makes healthy eating and physical activity accessible to residents in their villages and daily lives by placing signage on grocery stores shelves to highlight healthy snack options, painting physical activity gameboards on school playgrounds, developing maps of walking trails, and helping mayors’ offices, neighborhoods, and schools find ways to help their own communities.