The saying goes, “When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade.” According to Itawamba County Extension Officer Marie Rogers, that’s exactly what you do in the midst of a pandemic.
“It’s been interesting, that’s for sure,” Rogers said with a laugh. “It’s forced us to do things in a different way, to step out of our comfort zone.”
Rogers wears many hats – extension service officer, 4-H agent, natural resource extension agent, wife, and mother. Even Rogers herself couldn’t imagine adding another hat to her collection. Then came COVID-19 and the canceling of their office’s many meetings and trainings … the very lifeblood of the office itself. As it was with a lot of organizations, the unforeseen event pushed the extension service and its employees into new territory.
Nowadays, Rogers can add screenwriter, producer, videographer, and internet personality to her list of titles.
“I have never done anything like this before,” Rogers said. “It has definitely been a learning experience.”
Extension agents across North Mississippi are creating and posting online instructional and advice videos for those who would typically come to their offices for information. Rogers told The Times this novel way of reaching the public works well, even if being in front of the camera is a bit nerve-racking for her.
“With the first several videos, we had over 22,000 views,” Rogers said. “That’s good news and means it’s working.”
In Rogers’s first video, she reaches out to her 4-H’ers with instructions on making an indoor greenhouse as part of a celebration of National Ag Day. In it, she encouraged the participants to garden with their families. In other segments, she teaches identifying venomous snakes found in Mississippi and she gives helmet safety tips for bicycle and ATV riders.
“That one was very important to me since I’ve known children who have been in accidents,” she said. “I something I hope will benefit families.
Rogers’s three children, Bo, Clara Beth, and Jack Henry, helped their mother demonstrate the safety measures. If there’s something positive to be found during a global health pandemic, Rogers’s believes it’s being able to see more of her children.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend more time with them,” she said. “It has given me an opportunity that I would not have had otherwise.”
Rogers said even though the crisis has afforded her more time with her children, she still misses the personal interaction she had with the public.
“I really miss the 2nd-grade health and safety fair. That has always been fun and very beneficial to the kids” she said, disappointment overtly in her voice.
Rogers recently held knitting classes via Zoom with a group that usually meets at the Extension Office. It works, but it’s no replacement for the person-to-person interaction of the pre-COVID-19 world.
“I miss the people I saw on a weekly basis, knitting, quilting.” Rogers said. “We knit, we talk, we share our lives. We would average three meetings a day, then it dropped to nothing. When that happened we knew we needed to reach out.”
Rogers said the pandemic may have halted the in-person meetings but the calls for information have ramped up. More people are at home with time on their hands. That’s translated in people who may have never tried their hands at gardening before are giving it a swing.
“The calls about gardening are skyrocketing,” Rogers noted. “We’re expecting to get a lot of calls after gardens come in for methods of processing and preserving vegetables and fruits.”
Itawamba County Extension Office Facebook page also shares instructional videos made by agencies across north Mississippi. Viewers can find everything from help with finances, to building a salad garden table and making cheesecake in an Instapot.
“We are sharing a lot from other counties, so we’re all not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Rogers said with a laugh.
Currently, the MSU Extension Service is continuing operations as it has through the statewide shelter-in-place order, but is still canceling all face-to-face events, meetings and training through Aug. 1 due to COVID-19. That’s something Rogers says she completely understands.
“Both my grandfather and grandmother have battled COVID-19,” she said. “They both are recovering and doing well.”
Rogers also shares COVID related tips on the Extension’s page covering social distancing, mental health, and preventative measures.
“We hope folks will find the information they need and then some on our page. We are always looking for suggestions too,” she said. “This is new territory. We’re all just trying to make lemonade from the lemons. We’re in this together.”