Best Practices in Volunteer Training and Data Collection

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 1.51.24 PMBecky Pejinsky interned with UConn Extension programs in Community & Economic Development in Fall 2015.  As a result of her work with the Connecticut Trail Census project, she produced this summary webinar of some best practices for working with volunteers, including best practices in recruitment, management, and training.  In developing content for the webinar she interviewed four leaders of successful volunteer data collection programs in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Here are some key tips: 1) recruit volunteers locally and use word of mouth 2) make volunteers stand out by using vests or hats 3) utilize a variety of training tools including face to face meetings that allow people to practice skills as well as on demand webinars and videos  4) have training close to the date when you start the program 5) reward volunteers and treat them like family.

Collaborative Downtown Market Analysis and Benchmarking Workshop Held in December

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 1.51.06 PMAs a partnership between the Connecticut Main Street Center, UConn Extension and the University of Wisconsin Extension six communities and several state agencies attended a workshop on December 2, 2016  to learn how to conduct a downtown market analysis.  Nationally known downtown expert and Community Business Development Specialist Bill Ryan and UConn Extension Educator Laura Brown co-presented the morning agenda which included an overview of ways to use existing data to better understand downtown trade areas and market potential.  John Simone, from the CT Main Street Center led a discussion in the afternoon about what data might be needed to benchmark success and demonstrate how downtowns are changing statewide.  Based on an evaluation of the 14 participants many felt the most effective part of the workshop was learning about new online tools like the Downtown Market Analysis Toolbox, Canva & On The Map.  If you weren’t there, you can explore the tools presented in the workshop here:

 

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Innovations in Workforce Development Webinar- Thursday February 16, 2016 11 am- 12 pm

Economic Development Strategy Tapas Webinar Series

Workforce development is one of the foundations of successful local and regional economic development strategies.   Local, new and emerging businesses need a well-trained and accessible labor force. In light of recent industry location decisions in the state, more than ever, communities are recognizing the importance of talent in keeping and attracting business in a global economy.  Attend this webinar to learn more about the key factors affecting Connecticut’s workforce and examples of how communities are innovating to build on existing assets.

Download the PDF of the presentation here

Attend this webinar to learn:

  • What’s happening in Connecticut’s labor market
  • Collaborative and innovative strategies for workforce development
  • How workforce development can grow collaboration and support businesses in your region

Agenda

  • Overview of the Workforce in Connecticut – Patrick Flaherty, Assistant Director of Research, Connecticut Department of Labor Office of Research and Information Connecticut Department of Labor
  • Eastern Connecticut Workforce Pipeline Mark Hill Chief Operating Officer Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board, Inc.
  • Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises, Inc Bridgeport Adrienne Farrar Houel, President & CEO The Green Team; Park City Green; Next Chapter Books

 

This is a free webinar co-sponsored by the Connecticut Economic Development Association and UConn as part of the “CEDAS Academy” Economic Strategy Series.. The audience will be economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, planners, community development professionals, and community leaders.

 

 

UConn Extension’s First Impressions Community Exchange Program accepting applications for Spring 2017

 

First Impressions Community Exchange Program “great reminder of what matters”

1ST IMPRESSIONS LOGO NO TAG FINAL CroppedTightAs a new holiday season approaches, most of us know how hard it is to take time off from our commitments and busy schedules to do something new. But recent research by organizational psychologists and neurologists finds that having new experiences – new sounds, sights, or smells – changes our perspective, sparks creativity and even builds new neural pathways in our brains. A new program called the First Impressions Community Exchange aims to bring these benefits to communities across the state by providing a “fresh set of eyes” on community challenges. The program, sponsored by the University of Connecticut-Extension in partnership with the Connecticut Main Street Center, is a structured community assessment designed to help communities learn about their strengths and shortcomings through the eyes of first-time visitors. Participation in the program requires a volunteer commitment and a $200 application fee. Applications are being accepted through December 15, 2016 for communities interested in participating in an exchange in the Spring of 2016.

How It Works

Once communities are accepted they are matched with a similar community or neighborhood in terms of size, location, amenities or natural features. Both communities agree to recruit volunteer teams of 4-8 people, participate in training, conduct unannounced visits and report on their findings within a timeline of 3-4 months. Participants become “secret shoppers” for the day and follow procedures to document their visit using a guidebook and uploading photos and comments. The guidebook ensures that evaluations and reports are thorough and uniform and requires minimal training. Reports from the program are often used as part of broader community assessment or planning processes to inform community policy and action.

Hundreds of communities across the U.S. and Canada have implemented the First Impressions Program since it was developed by the University of Wisconsin, Cooperative Extension in the early 1990s. The program was introduced in Connecticut in 2015 and four communities – Canton, Putnam, Windsor Locks and Portland – have participated in pilot exchanges. As a result of the program, communities often gain a new perspective on their own assets, learn about small changes that can make a big difference, or replicate development projects that other communities have used successfully. According to one Connecticut team member it was “…a great reminder of what matters; of the opportunity for enhancing what we have. I’m reminded that one town shouldn’t try to be like another in all cases. Each town has its unique assets.”

Communities interested in participating can learn more and download the short application form at http://communities.extension.uconn.edu/firstimpressions/. For more information contact Laura Brown UConn Extension, laura.brown@uconn.edu, 203-207-0063 or Susan Westa, CT Main Street Center, susan@ctmainstreet.org, 860-280-2032.

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More information about the first Impressions Program including community reports, can be found at http://communities.extension.uconn.edu/firstimpressions/

 

About UConn Extension
Over 100 UConn Extension specialists work in communities across Connecticut as educators, problem solvers, catalysts, collaborators and stewards. To many Connecticut residents they are the face of UConn. Our eight regional Extension Centers, the Sea Grant program at Avery Point, the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm, the Home and Garden Education Center and the UConn Extension office in Storrs all collaborate to fulfill our land grant university’s third mission of outreach and public engagement.

UConn Extension’s off campus classrooms include: high-tech greenhouses, coastal estuaries, elementary school gardens, community centers for high risk teens and municipal town halls. We use an interdisciplinary approach and take knowledge directly to the public. UConn Extension enhances small businesses, the economic and physical well-being of families and offers opportunities to improve the decision-making capacity of community leaders.

About Connecticut Main Street Center

CMSC’s mission is to be the catalyst that ignites Connecticut’s Main Streets as the cornerstone of thriving communities. CMSC is dedicated to community and economic development within the context of historic preservation, and is committed to bringing Connecticut’s commercial districts back to life socially and economically.

CMSC is supported by its Founding Sponsors, the CT Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and Eversource Energy. CMSC is also supported by its Growth Sponsors, UIL Holdings Corp.  and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at www.ctmainstreet.org.

 

 

Farming Opportunity – Food Systems Strategies for Economic Development Webinar Thursday Dec 15

Thursday December 15, 2016 11 am- 12 pm

Farming Opportunities: Food Systems Strategies for Economic Development

Access the PDF of the slide presentation HERE

From farming to fishing, processing, distribution, restaurants and agritourism, food and agriculture play an important role in Connecticut’s economy.  Interest is growing among consumers to connect with regional farmers and producers and communities are trying out new strategies to facilitate this. Attend this webinar to learn more about the various aspects of food systems that overlap with economic development and examples of community and business efforts to build a more connected sustainable food supply chain.

Attend this webinar to learn:

  • Connections between food and agricultural systems and economic development efforts
  • Collaborative regional efforts to build efficient food distribution and aggregation systems
  • How food producers support the local food economy
  • Who’s involved and resources available for food based economic development strategies

Agenda

  • What does food have to do with economic development? Laura Brown – CEcD, Community & Economic Development Educator, UConn- Extension
  • Northwest Connecticut Food Hub Feasibility Study  Jocelyn Ayer – Community & Economic Development Director, NW Hills Council of Governments
  • Ocean Farming and Economic Development – Emily Stengel- Deputy Director, Greenwave

About Our Speakers

headshotjaJocelyn Ayer is the Community & Economic Development Director for the Northwest Hills Council of Governments which serves 21 town in CT’s northwest corner. She is currently working with a team to help launch a Food Hub in NWCT in 2017 to support farmers and access to local food. She has a Master’s degree in Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and one of her first jobs was pulling weeds on a farm in Vershire, Vermont.

 

 

 

emily-on-boat Emily Stengel is the Deputy Director of GreenWave, where she leads and supports programming and operations, overseeing internal operations, implementation of programming, and fundraising strategy and execution. She brings to GreenWave a background in sustainable food systems, working for several years at a B-Corp catering company in NYC dedicated to supporting the regional farm and food economy, and more recently, working on a research team focused on workforce development in agricultural communities. Emily has an MS in Community Development and Applied Economics from the University of Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a free webinar co-sponsored by the Connecticut Economic Development Association and UConn. The audience will be economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, planners, community development professionals, and community leaders.

Waterbury: A Challenge for Community and Economic Developers

Waterbury’s clock tower rises above burned-out section of American Brass building

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American Brass was one of Waterbury’s “Big Three” brass manufacturing firms. American was formed in 1893 as a holding company for six brass firms and by 1909, American manufactured two-thirds of all the brass produced in the United States and consumed one-third of all the copper produced in the county. American was bought by in 1922 by the Anaconda Copper Mining Corporation and was merged into Anaconda’s other businesses in 1960. Thenceforth known as Anaconda American Brass, the name which adorns the facade of the Freight Street rolling mill, the company continued as an entity of gradually lessening importance until all operations were moved out of state.

The American Brass complex lies on a parcel of land between Freight and West Main Streets not far from downtown. The majority of the buildings were constructed in 1910. These include a single-story 150,000 square foot rolling mill on Freight Street and a smaller three story structure located at the foot of Crane Street. I explored both of these buildings during my two trips to the site. Environmental Waste Resources, a hazardous waste disposal company, operated out of the complex during the 1980s. Phoenix Soil, another waste disposal company, rented the facility from 1992 until 2012, when they moved their operations to Plainville, CT. It has sat vacant since.

Exterior and interior of Crane Street building

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Some of the American buildings were razed to make way for a small strip mall anchored by a Walgreens store. This mall also contains a liquor store and auto parts store and is frequented by panhandlers. If you park in the mall lot and walk past the Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Crane Street building comes into view. Chances are, you will be able to walk into the building without attracting the attention of passers-by. There are no fences or signs warning against trespassing. This building is three stories but the main portion is one large open space. It is possible to climb to the second story of the building but rotting floors and hordes of wasps make it difficult to reach the top floor.

From the Crane Street building, it is possible to walk through the lot to the rolling mill. This is a large wide-open structure where some of Phoenix Soil machinery can be seen. There are 55-gallon drums and 50,000 gallon tanks near a large apparatus of undetermined usage. The rest of the space is vacant, and water has fallen through the gaps in the decaying roof creating a large pool in one portion of the building. I ended my exploration here. There is another structure located to the north but I elected not to check it out as there was activity in the area.

Exterior and interior of rolling mill

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Post written by former Extension intern, John McDonald. More of John’s writing can be seen at writtenonthelandscape.wordpress.com

Celebrating Connecticut’s Makerspaces

 

Spark Maker Space, New London March 2016
Spark Maker Space, New London March 2016

Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity visit several “makerspaces” and “makerlabs” in both Wisconsin and Connecticut and have been eyeing this growing movement from the sidelines. Just a couple of weeks ago I visited the new Spark Makerspace in New London as well as some downtown highlights including the funky freewheeling performance art venue, Hygienic Art  and Fiddleheads Natural Food Coop.  My tour was organized by  colleagues Hannah Gant of Spark, Anna Perch from New London Main Street and Tammy Daugherty from the Office of Development and Planning.  The galleries, murals, theaters and coffee shops tucked into New London’s charming main street district are evidence of a long lived and growing creative culture here.

Maker spaces seem to have their origins in the cooperative hacker movement in the 1990’s in Europe primarily for computer programmers to share information and ideas.  Over the years maker spaces evolved from these origins to include spaces or organizations that share tools and technology such as 3-D printers, software, craft or hardware supplies, tools, as well as resources and and infrastructure like meeting and work spaces.  Also called “techlabs” or fablabs”   these spaces are governed by their own set of rules but, according to  www.makerspaces.com, “…at the core, they are all places for making, collaborating, learning and sharing.”  Maker spaces have been promoted as a strategy for entrepreneurship  to reduce the costs of startup, product  development and design.   As centers of research, innovation and creativity, many libraries have even joined this movement to offer permanent or temporary maker labs for children and adults.

During my visit to Spark in New London I was greeted by three lively young men who were busy renovating the former El n Gee nightclub into a community run workshop. A brightly lit room was filled with wood working equipment and tools, much of which had been donated or procured from basement clean-outs and yard sales.  While the learning center is open to the general public, members pay monthly dues and may access a wood shop, commercial kitchen, 3D printers, CNC machine and laser cutter, robotics lab, screen-printing equipment, shared office space, and retail space.  Spark acquired the space in October 2015 and hopes to open  in the Spring of 2016.

Spark is not the only makers space in Connecticut and I hope to have the opportunity to see how other spaces are building a creative culture in Connecticut’s communities!  Read a 2013 article on the rise of the Maker Space movement by Hartford Courant’s Matt Pilon  or check out whiteboardct which also maintains a list of co-working space, incubators, and maker spaces.  Here are links to other Connecticut maker spaces (don’t see your link here?  Let me know!)

  • Spark Maker Space – New London, CT http://www.spark.coop/ “Spark Makerspace is a community run workshop and learning center open to the general public. Members pay monthly dues and get access to a full woodshop, commercial kitchen, 3D printers, CNC machine and laser cutter, robotics lab, screen printing equipment, shared office space, retail space and much more.”
  • CT Hacker Space – Watertown, CT http://www.cthackerspace.com/- CT “Hackerspace is a DIY and Technology oriented group located in the US State of Connecticut . Our Mission is to provide a physical location where community members interested in technology can gather to collaborate on projects both physical and conceptual.”
  • MakeHartford – Hartford, CT http://www.makehartford.com/ “It’s a gym for geeks and creative people. Instead of free weights and dumbbells we have 3d printers, CNC machines, and a wood/metal shop to build and create in. MakeHartford is Hartford, CT’s first maker space, i.e. community of artists, technologists, and entrepreneurs for hands-on innovation.”
  • MakeHaven – New Haven, CT http://www.makehaven.org/ “MakeHaven works to educate the community through interest-driven projects and hands-on skill building experiences in mechanics, electronics, crafts, art, design, programming, cooking, biology, chemistry, fabrication, metalworking and woodworking.”
  • Westport Library Makerspace – Westport, CT “The MakerSpace opened July 2012 as a place for people to connect, invent and create. It’s a great way to use your Library, in addition to finding books and movies, working, viewing art, meeting friends and attending programs. Stop by and learn about the 3D printer, which prints physical objects from digital files. People of all ages have come to watch demonstrations of the printer, and to learn how to design and print their own creations! See the calendars below for all of the Maker events.”
  • Danbury Hackerspace – Danbury, CT http://danburyhackerspace.com/- “The Danbury Hackerspace @ the Innovation Center is a hackerspace and co-working facility at 158 Main Street, connected to the Danbury Library. The City of Danbury has graciously provided the space to help launch the hackerspace and build a community of entrepreneurs, makers, craftspeople, & artists. We are now open for membership.”

 

NVision2020 event focused on how communities can build on their assets

palacetheater3Last week partners in the Naugatuck Valley gathered at NVision2020 in Waterbury to discuss asset based strategies for regional development with a focus on transportation infrastructure.  The event was appropriately hosted at the beautifully renovated Palace Theater in downtown Waterbury– a true gem!

 

CT Post article about the event by Hugh Bailey

“Just as few regions prospered as much as the Naugatuck Valley at the height of industry, few were as damaged when the factories left town.

But previous eras left behind the kind of downtowns that companies are once again seeking in the new economy, local leaders said on Thursday, while acknowledging that persuading businesses to come won’t be easy.

“Compact, walkable, vibrant town centers rose around industry,” said Mark Nielsen, director of planning at theNaugatuck Valley Council of Governments. With those kind of communities again in demand, he said, the region has plenty to offer to companies and younger workers.

 

The conference Thursday was organized by NVCOG and featured an array of state and local leaders who described how the economy has changed and what towns can do to get ahead. Though the Valley is marked in many ways by its past, in terms of closed factories, depopulated Main streets and an aging populace, its towns are poised for growth, speakers said.

“Amenities are primary to attracting talent,” said Laura Brown, a planner with the University of Connecticut’s extension program. “In the new economy, we have to embrace what we already have, and the waterfronts, the downtowns and the people are what we have.”

 

Read more at http://www.ctpost.com/business/article/Valley-looks-to-prosper-in-new-economy-6791320.php

Brownfield Revitalization as a Community Development Catalyst

Brownfield redevelopment has become a hot topic of late. The issue can be examined through a number of different lens. A project in Middletown, Connecticut will focus on the health outcomes of brownfield conversion in inner-city neighborhoods. Middletown’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development has been awarded a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control. One of the aims of this initiative is to increase recreational opportunities on unused brownfield properties in order to address health disparities including childhood obesity and associated illnesses in several of Middletown’s urban areas. This is a very interesting take on the subject, and the process of creating playgrounds from brownfields can serve as a powerful symbol of neighborhood revitalization. The Middletown initiative also seeks to educate community residents about the potential hazards posed by contaminated buildings and land. This latter task is also being done in Waterbury through the Waterbury Environmental Health Fund.

As Hugh Bailey, a journalist for Hearst Media and urban planner who has researched brownfield revitalization in many communities across the nation and in Germany, points out, a paradigm shift is necessary when dealing with brownfields. It is not enough to see them in economic terms, but in how they can be redeveloped for the benefit of their communities. In his presentation, “Ruins Reborn”, developed from the short film and series of articles that were the product of his research, Mr. Bailey described the difference in how the Germans approach the issues of brownfields. The Germans have a more holistic view of the problem, unlike the case-by-case assessment typical of American brownfield redevelopment. Mr. Bailey discussed Landschaft Park in Duisburg, the focal point of a network of greenways and revitalized brownfields in the Ruhr Valley. This re-appropriation of the post-industrial environment is notable for its aesthetic and cultural significance. The Germans have taken what was once one of the most heavily industrialized regions of Europe, nearly rendered a wasteland by the departure of the manufacturing base, and transformed it into an area with a strong sense of place and community. This was achieved by tapping into the industrial heritage of the Ruhr Valley, which was not seen as a liability, but an important component of the region’s identity. The Germans were able to keep many buildings intact but gave them new purposes, ones that serve the greater good of the community and environment. Mr. Bailey noted that preserving buildings in place is a better solution than demolition, which releases large amounts of toxins into the atmosphere.

Mr. Bailey proposes something similar for the Route 8 corridor, and spoke of Knowlton Park in Bridgeport as a beachhead on that city’s beleaguered waterfront. He stressed the importance of connectivity, a theme frequently invoked at the Let’s Talk Trails event. If all the elements of the project are not united by a single vision or master plan, the prospect for success and overall effect of redevelopment will be much lower. Mr. Bailey brought up the necessity of using available state and federal funding to leverage private monies, but acknowledged that in-demand locations such as Boston and New York are seen as lower risk to developers than communities like Bridgeport, despite the latter city’s harbor and transportation access. Towns like Ansonia and Waterbury are considered even riskier, and the issue of connectivity is of great importance in this regard. Mr. Bailey spoke of the catalytic effect, the process by which one successfully redeveloped property changes the complexion of the surrounding neighborhood and spurs further revitalization, and hoped that Knowlton Park and O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby, in conjunction with the Naugatuck River Greenway, would have this effect in starting the transformation of the post-industrial landscape in the Route 8 corridor.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern

Let’s Talk Trails Write-up

The Let’s Talk Trails event held yesterday at Torrington City Hall was arguably a gathering of the most important people involved in trail development, construction and maintenance in the state of Connecticut. Bruce Donald, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council and President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Clare Cain of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA), and Laurie Giannotti of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) all participated, offering their collective experience in a series of brief presentations. Other panelists included Bruce Dinnie, Director of Vernon Parks and Recreation, a 30-year veteran of trail construction and maintenance, and Beth Critton, an attorney who sits of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I must provide the caveat that the following synopsis does not offer a comprehensive account of this event. Readers who wish to learn more should consult our trails resources page which should be up and running very soon.

Bruce Donald’s overview of the various benefits of greenways set the tone for the morning’s proceedings. Some of what he discussed, such as economic impact and preservation and amenity value, were examined at length in the recent literature review drafted by the UConn Extension. Important topics not covered by the review but explored in detail by Mr. Donald included the role of greenways in the transportation network and in pollution and noise abatement. As Mr. Donald reported, one important new development is that biking and pedestrian activity are now considered viable transportation alternatives by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and bike/ped projects are eligible for funding as such. A balanced transportation system is now seen as one in which biking and walking play a significant role. This is reflected in such programs as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets. The pollution and noise abatement properties of greenways are directly related to their role in the transportation system, as every trip taken by bike or on foot equates to one less trip by a motor vehicle.

Clare Cain, like Mr. Donald, emphasized the importance of trail connectivity as she discussed how the state Blue-Blazed Trail System has evolved since its inception in the 1920s. While suburban development has severed existing trails and makes it difficult to connect others, the end goal of the CFPA is an interconnected statewide network of hiking trails. Ms. Cain talked at length about the volunteer cadre that is the backbone of the CFPA, a sentiment that was later echoed by Bruce Dinnie of Vernon Parks and Recreation. Ms. Cain discussed important new technological developments that have changed the way CFPA works. All new trailhead kiosks feature a QR code, enabling smartphone users to download trail maps, access the CFPA website, and report trail conditions to the CFPA. These user-generated trail condition reports can then be used to direct trail maintenance activities. The trailhead kiosks serve as the CFPA’s public interface as well as a partial trail user counting system. The CFPA’s mapping database has also been overhauled. Much of this data is publicly accessible through Google-based interactive maps. These maps indicate trail locations and length and parking information such as location, type of parking facility and number of parking spaces. These maps also alert users to trail closures and restrictions and provide a more up-to-date accounting of the trail system than the CFPA’s traditional guidebooks, the latest edition of which came out in 2006.

Laurie Giannotti gave a specific presentation about constructing trails on DEEP property, but she also discussed the benefits that being recognized by the Connecticut Greenways Council can confer upon a designated trail. These benefits include official greenway signage at all trailheads and road crossings, a higher profile for grant requests, and inclusion in the Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. Most importantly, Ms. Giannotti stressed that providing ease of access is perhaps the best marketing strategy for a trail or greenway.

Bruce Dinnie discussed his lengthy experience in trail development and maintenance as Director of Parks and Recreation in Vernon, a community with three designated greenways, numerous town-owned hiking trails and a portion of the CFPA Shenipsit Trail. Mr. Dinnie praised his greenway volunteers and talked about the role of sponsorship in trail maintenance. He also discussed some of the technical aspects of trail construction and maintenance. Mr. Dinnie veered into environmental psychology topics when he mentioned how removing trees to improve visibility along trails led female trail users to feel safer, how signs should be welcoming and not a list of do-not proscriptions, and how a mural project led to a decrease in graffiti at an underpass tunnel on the Vernon trail system.

Beth Critton’s presentation centered on the potential risks for trail users and the liabilities assumed by trail owners and organizations. After listing, in an often-humorous fashion, most of risks trail users could face, she discussed the differences in liability between non-profit and for-profit trails organizations and mentioned several key court cases and the Connecticut General Statutes with relevance to trail construction and maintenance.

I was not able to stay for the following roundtable discussion.

 

-John McDonald, Extension Intern