They might have years' difference in experience, but two new agents at the Cottonwood Extension District are excited about their roles in community wellness.
Both have been in the Hays office for a while, but the public will have a chance to get to know Berny Unruh, family and community wellness agent, and Lauren Walz, horticulture agent, at the Ellis and Barton county fairs next month.
Unruh, who was with Barton County Extension for 16 years, has been working out of the Hays district office for three months.
Unruh was in 4-H growing up in Belleville and has worked for Extension since graduating college, including as 4-H agent in Ellis County in the 1980s. She also worked in Atchison and Pawnee counties.
Walz, who graduated in December from Kansas State University, has been in the job in Hays for a month. She grew up in Finney County near Garden City, where taking care of the yard was part of her chores.
“Growing up, I did not like it because it was forced on me,” Walz said with a laugh. “When it came time for college, I realized I do kind of like plants.”
At first, she majored in landscape design, but then changed her area of study to the business side of landscaping. She thought she would work for a landscaping company, but internships showed her she didn’t enjoy it.
Extension work seemed more to her liking.
“I am so happy to be doing this, because it really makes me feel like everything I learned in school I’m actually able to teach people about. I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far,” she said.
Walz will spend most of her time in Hays, but as the district’s only horticulture agent, she will also spend time in the Barton County office. Right now, that’s scheduled for Wednesdays but could change as programs develop.
“My goal, as the only Extension agent, is to keep it very parallel between the two counties right now, just because I don’t have an idea of what programs look like. But trying to balance two counties, I really need to make sure that I am providing for both equally but at the same time I’m not getting too far over my head,” she said.
To that end, she plans on taking a survey at each county fair.
“I want to reach out to the community and see what they want from me, what kind of programs they’re looking for or what kind of topics they’d like me to present, just so I can really see where I need to go in my direction as far as programming,” she said.
Unruh and Walz can see their work as Kansas State University Extension agents overlapping.
“They are kind of aiming more toward family and community wellness as opposed to family and consumer sciences. That really, overall, is Extension’s mission. Our mission is knowledge for life that you’ll learn when you’re little and then go through the stages and hopefully you’re still learning when you’re 75,” Unruh said.
Helping people with vegetable gardens — perhaps even starting a community garden — is one option.
“When you do that, you know where your food is coming from, what’s in it. And that, to me, would be the ultimate healthy option is to grow your own food. We’ve gone so far away from that in the last 50 or 25 years,” she said.
Unruh is also working on programming and hopes to start some programs in Hays that she had done in Barton County.
“We’re not trying to transfer everything from one county to another, but to at least offer the option,” she said.
She’d like to offer a babysitting course, which she has taught with the recreation commission in Great Bend, and Stay Strong, Stay Healthy, a strengthening program for older adults. She will be undergoing training for that in August.
“It’s evidence-based and we have to take measurements and assessments and see how far they’ve progressed in eight weeks. I’m kind of excited about that because I think that would be a really good program,” she said.