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To Attend Penn State Extension’s Lancaster County Annual Meeting

The Penn State Extension Lancaster County annual meeting and social event will be held Thursday, Jan. 31, at the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The evening begins at 5:30 p.m. with a social hour and the sampling of lots of delicious food in the “Farm Show style” food court provided by various local commodity groups and vendors.

Throughout the evening, we will learn about the many wonderful things involving Lancaster County Extension, 4-H STEM learning opportunities and a dynamic and engaging presentation entitled “Truth About GMOs and Your Food: Separating the Myth from Reality” by Dr. Troy Ott, associate director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University.

Many conversations today about food and agriculture include the topic of genetically modified, or engineered, plants and animals. You have probably heard about GE plants, but are there GE animals in agriculture? Why were they developed and are they really needed? What would be the reason a farmer would want to use a GE plant or animal? Are GE foods safe for people and the environment? Are there negative consequences of feeding GE crops to animals or humans? Can’t we just avoid GE? Should we really be modifying genomes? What about unintended consequences? What developments are on the horizon for genetic engineering?

These questions and more will be explored during Dr. Ott’s presentation and dynamic question and answer session. It’s sure to educate and entertain.

Youth activity stations will be provided by Lancaster County 4-H during the presentations.

There is no cost to attend the event, but registration is requested. To register, visit extension.psu.edu/Lancaster-county-extension-annual-meeting or call 1-877-345-0691 or 717-394-6851.

The deadline to register is Monday, Jan. 28.

To Learn Tools to Resolve Public Conflict

To help community leaders, municipal officials and others who work in the public and nonprofit sectors, Penn State Extension is offering a video series titled “Community Conflict: Finding Middle Ground.”

The free series offers practical strategies to facilitate and build trust in a community. Each short video focuses on a topic related to productive community conversations.

It is important for community leaders to create a civil environment to explore the issues at the heart of polarizing conversations, whether those difficult discussions focus on community planning, resource development or other hot button topics, according to Walt Whitmer, senior Extension educator with Penn State’s Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education. He and other Penn State Extension educators are sensitive to the importance of effective engagement and earning the trust of stakeholders for optimal open conversation.

“The research and experience of countless practitioners makes this crystal clear,” he said. “Without a purposeful and consistent effort to foster trust and build strong relationships at every opportunity, even the best-designed community engagement or conflict-management processes will fall short.”

Tom Murphy, co-director of Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, will highlight the importance of understanding risk from a community perspective. “Identifying these risks and assisting community members as they work through known facts and discover new information and benefits will provide authenticity and transparency to a community leader’s discussion,” he said. “Sorting out ‘possible’ versus ‘probable’ risks is a key component of this transparent process.”

Determining the makeup of the audience and perceived risks will help a community leader or municipal official to understand audience members’ positions on a subject. “Identifying and appreciating all the concerns, emotions, uncertainties and fears surrounding the subject prior to a meeting can provide the best frame for a productive discussion,” Murphy said.

At times, dealing with a difficult audience or dealing with myths and inaccurate information may be necessary, pointed out Extension educator Dan Brockett. Successful coping strategies can provide any leader with the tools to handle difficult audience members or protesters.

“These strategies — along with sorting out fact versus fiction early in a discussion — can help a leader reduce negative impact and keep the dialogue focused on accurate details, likely leading to a better outcome,” he said.

Penn State Extension has made this video series available at no charge for all community leaders, officials, educators and facilitators. The series can be found on the Penn State Extension website: http://pages.extension.psu.edu/community-conflict-finding-middle-ground.

Topics include Intro to Community Conflict: Finding Middle Ground, Effective Engagement, Social License, The Role and Importance of Trust, Public Meetings, Understanding Risk, Framing the Issue, Anticipating Audience Response, Difficult Audiences, Myths and Misinformation, Combating Misinformation and Building a Network.

Quote of the Week

“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.”

— George Washington Carver

Leon Ressler is a Penn State Extension educator based in Lancaster County.