November 28, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
26°F

New OSU educator hopes to introduce community gardens

By Korinne Caniglia
Special to The Gazette

Ashley Kulhanek wants to talk about what’s bugging you.

Kulhanek joined Ohio State University Extension earlier this month as the new educator of agriculture and natural resources in Medina County. She replaces Mike Miller, who retired after 36 years.

Ashley Kulhanek is the new educator of agriculture and natural resources for Medina County’s Ohio State University Extension Office. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY STEVE GRAZIER)

“I fell in love with bugs and teaching science,” said Kulhanek, who received her master’s degree in entomology from Ohio State University in 2009.

“In some way, science affects you,” she said. “Extension is the perfect fit for bringing science to communities and showing how valuable it can be.”

The Buckeye High School graduate will help families spot pests in the garden, test soil for lawn care and harvest fruits and vegetables safely, just to name a few jobs on the to-do list.

Kulhanek, 28, of Liverpool Township, returns to the area after teaching proper handling and safety practices to fruit and vegetable producers as a program coordinator at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.

In her new job she will provide homeowners and business leaders with new information to achieve better results, said Bill Richardson, owner of Richardson Farms in Lafayette Township and a member of the Extension Advisory Committee that helps guide the county’s programs.

“The part of agriculture that is growing is fruits and vegetables and small farms, and she has knowledge of that,” Richardson said. “She grew up in the area and has an understanding of the community.

“She’ll be valuable in teaching people.”

Kulhanek looks forward to maintaining traditional programs in the county, as well as introducing new information that meets people’s needs. Pesticide training will continue for farmers renewing or obtaining new licenses.

She also will work with Master Gardener volunteers trained in horticulture and help organize the Medina Farmers Market on Public Square.

Kulhanek hopes to introduce community gardens in the spring and work with backyard gardeners on safe food handling from harvest to storage. Other programs might focus on ways to conserve farmland and help fruit and vegetable producers adjust to new regulations.

An agricultural newsletter on related topics, such as composting, water quality and yields, will connect homeowners to the latest research. Kulhanek also plans to organize an advisory board, made up of agricultural representatives from across the county, as well as meet with people in local workshops or across her desk to discuss issues from bugs to blooms. Community meet-and-greets also might be on the calendar.

“I would like to hear from the community about what they want, what their needs are.” Kulhanek said.

Kulhanek joins an extension staff whose goal is to deliver unbiased, cutting-edge research from the university through workshops, newsletters and one-on-one conversations to improve lives and communities.

Extension programs reflect different needs critical to the county and focus on 4-H youth development, agriculture, natural resources and horticulture, community development, and family and consumer sciences.

Sherry Nickles, the county extension director, said: “Agricultural expertise has been coming from other counties, but Medina County wants and deserves its own agricultural educator. She will be a good addition to have and work with the diversity in Medina County.”

The face of agriculture includes the backyard gardener, crop and livestock farmer, fruit and vegetable producer and nursery owner. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 890 farms averaging about 100 acres each in the county in 2010.

The area’s unique blend of suburban gardens and rural farmland offers opportunities for innovative programs, Kulhanek said. Resources also can be shared among counties.

“In northern Medina County, you see more suburban development,” she said. “In southern Medina County, farmland is thriving. We can help each understand the other. Agriculture is changing but is still thriving. It has a purpose and contributes to the community.”

Contact Korinne Caniglia at areanews@medina-gazette.com.