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Celebrate Earth Week & County Government Month with Cape Cod Cooperative Extension!

Earth Week 2021 is upon us and it is no coincidence that this week we feature the work of the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension. You could say that it is Earth Day everyday at the Cooperative Extension since this department focuses on important initiatives that both protect and educate the public about Cape Cod’s natural resources.

We asked Rebecca Westgate, the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s Communications Project Specialist to help our residents learn more about her department.

Rebecca Westgate, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s Communications Project Specialist

What is the Purpose of the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension?

The Cooperative Extension Service has deep roots in every county across the United States. The infrastructure of Barnstable County’s Cooperative Extension was formalized through the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 to serve as the outreach and non-formal education branch of the Land Grant University system.

Early Extension professionals focused on community-based education to enhance the universities’ outreach in agriculture, youth development, and family sciences. The focus grew to include community resource development.

Today the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension plays a significant role in marine resources, horticulture, entomology, water quality, waste reduction, food access, and environmental education issues facing the county. Extension programs are conducted in Barnstable County in cooperation with the staff at the University of Massachusetts and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution–Sea Grant program. As the current coronavirus situation continues to evolve rapidly, our goal is to assist you in protecting the health and safety of your families, friends, and community.

How has your department contributed to the COVID-19 response time? What has your department done for the community in response to COVID-19? 

Because of COVID-19, the staff started working remotely in March 2020. However, the desire to provide research-based education and support critical industries and social services, such as aquaculture, agriculture, food access, and Covid food safety updates, never ceased. Extension educators collaborated with agency and industry leaders throughout the state to put the people of Barnstable County first.

When COVID-19 began to sweep across the country, our staff collaborated with local and regional partners to identify community needs and provide the resources. We have specialists ranging from nutrition services to household waste management. We continue to put that expertise to work to connect residents, towns, and local industries with the information they need to make it easier to survive this crisis.

What challenges has your department faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you overcome those challenges?

In light of COVID-19, our educators could not deliver in-person training and support, and we had to quickly establish new ways of communication with the public and partners. Our educators curated resources from trusted sources and collaborated with County departments to publish the most up-to-date information on websites and social media. We also leveraged relationships with towns, local organizations, and agencies to maximize publications and distribution of printed resources, virtual webinars, and phone-based technical assistance. Our focus is to continue to reach our audience through multiple platforms and provide education and information during this new normal.

Incidentally, it is not only County Government Month, it is Volunteer Month! Has your department used volunteers in the past? How have volunteers been involved? 

Volunteers are essential to Cooperative Extension. Over 400 individuals volunteer their time to a variety of Extension activities.

Through duties as diverse as teaching others to make compost, answering callers’ questions on gardening issues, or mentoring 4H-ers and youth as they acquire new skills, volunteers represent Extension’s far-reaching roots in our community.

How can Barnstable County residents become more involved with your department and programs?

People interested in volunteering can head to our website,, for the most up-to-date information on volunteer opportunities.

What is one project/initiative your department completed in the past year that the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension takes pride in?

This year our Woods Hole Sea Grant Marine staff’s primary focus is to support the local aquaculture industry through the COVID-19 crisis as aquaculture farms could not sell oysters used primarily by restaurants. The Marine staff secured funding to purchase oysters from Cape Cod growers and utilized area processing plants to shuck, freeze and deliver this product to the Greater Boston Food Bank. Our Food Access Coordinator worked to determine which local organizations were interested in receiving this donation of shucked oysters and secured deliveries to local food pantries. At the same time, our Nutrition team created the recipe and educational resources to support food pantry clients in preparing the oysters. This ongoing project helps to provide much-needed income for local oyster growers and healthy local food for those in need.

What is a resource/service your department offers that you would like people to know more about?

With so many individuals and families in lockdown, Cape Cod Cooperative Extension is working to provide resources and materials for healthy living at home. We have specialists from environmental sciences to home economics ready to connect with our residents on household waste management, tick bite prevention, food safety, youth services, coastal resilience, gardening, and more. Our educators offer advice and assistance over the phone and through print resources, video, and digital materials accessible through our website and daily updates at Facebook/ CapeCodCooperativeExtension.

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