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Rutgers contributes to innovative climate change outreach program

<p>Recently, The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Rutgers a grant that would allow the University to conduct climate change outreach in agricultural areas. The program would educate farmers on ways to handle climate-change related weather changes while also building support around initiatives.</p>

Recently, The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Rutgers a grant that would allow the University to conduct climate change outreach in agricultural areas. The program would educate farmers on ways to handle climate-change related weather changes while also building support around initiatives.

As the conversation about climate change reaches a fever pitch in the United States, the Rutgers Climate Institute is turning words into action. 

In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the recipients of their National Food and Institute for Agriculture (NIFA) program grants.

Marjorie Kaplan, the associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, is one of the lead investigators taking part in the NIFA grants. She said that these programs are pivotal in educating communities about how they can adapt and respond to climate change.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program called the National Food and Institute for Agriculture,” Kaplan said. “NIFA supports research, education and extension activities through various grant programs.”

Janice McDonnell, an associate professor of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers and Science Engineering Technology (SET) Agent, is one of the select Rutgers personnel also working on the NIFA grants. She said that Kaplan asked her to join the team with her to carry out a comprehensive climate change outreach program with farmers.

“N.J. is the Garden State — the idea was to create a plan to initiate and carry out climate change focused outreach, adaptation and peer-to-peer learning with farmers,” McDonnell said. “NIFA offers grants to support the advancement of agricultural research, education and extension to solve societal challenges. Some programs administer funding and offer leadership while others focus on national leadership and collaboration.”

This year the Rutgers Climate Institute collaborated on two NIFA grant applications that were funded, Kaplan said. They participated in their capacity as the liaison between New Jersey's land grant institution, Rutgers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northeast Climate Hub.

The first grant, The Climate Adaption Fellowship, is a project that will develop a curriculum including in-person training, mentorships and specific training modules for vegetables and small fruit, tree fruit, dairy farmers and foresters.

Kaplan said that the program also extends to technical service providers in the Northeast, all in order to support farmers’ and foresters’ ability to adapt to climate change.

“Educating farmers about how to address climate change and extreme weather on their farms or the forest land they manage is extremely important to the future of farming everywhere,” she said. “So we are working to develop an education curriculum and training for both farmers and foresters in our region that will be tailored to and delivered by agricultural extension agents in the participating states. The regional partners can share information and research to develop an education program that will make sense to farmers and foresters in New Jersey.”

Climate Masters Volunteers, the other climate adaption project, is a one-year planning grant to research the need and to develop criteria for a new Extension Climate Master Volunteer Program. The program started under the grant aims to support climate-smart communities in the Northeast.

“Our second project is to conduct baseline research that will form the foundation for a climate smart communities programs,” Kaplan said. “Eventually we would like to train a cadre of citizens who can support local community initiatives on climate change adaptation and mitigation and develop materials and training to incorporate climate change into existing Master Volunteer Programs, a little bit like Master Gardeners programs or Environmental Stewards Program.”

McDonnell said that the joint climate task force has been focusing on designing an outreach and extension curriculum that will increase knowledge about climate change within networks of land managers, otherwise known as farmers and foresters. She said this will lead to broader adoption of climate adaptation practices.

The fellow universities cooperating on the grant programs alongside Rutgers include the University of Vermont, Penn State, Cornell University, the University of Delaware and Delaware State. Specifically, the University of Vermont is leading the Climate Adaption Fellowship, while Cornell is taking charge of the Climate Masters Volunteers, she said.

“Rachel Schatman Ph.D., is the lead there, at the University of Vermont,” McDonnell said. “Also Dr. Tobin from University of Penn and Dr. Marjorie Kaplan here at Rutgers.”

Other Rutgers personnel working on the climate adaptation projects include Dr. Richard Lathrop, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution and Natural Resources and Dr. Daniel Ward, assistant extension specialist. Thanks to the commitment the Rutgers Climate Institute has made to working with these universities on the NIFA grants, the University has set out to help educate Americans about climate change in this crucial time for our planet.

Daniel Israel is a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum. 

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