URC Profile

Crossroads of Rural and Urban: MSU Extension & the MSU Product Center

(Photo courtesy of G. L. Kohuth/MSU)

For more than 100 years, MSU Extension has been applying cutting-edge research to help better the lives of residents in every corner of Michigan. Originally recognized for its contributions to rural communities, MSU Extension also has been making a difference in the lives of people in urban communities.

Through adaptation of traditional services, MSU Extension provides a number of educational programs uniquely tailored to children and adults living in Detroit’s neighborhoods, and maintains a satellite office at the popular Eastern Market.

“The Wayne County MSU Extension office develops programs to reach families in a very direct way through education and exposure,” District Coordinator Richard Wooten said. For example, it offers courses that help people learn how to grow and buy nutritious food, improve financial literacy, and even cope with stress.

4-H image – Courtesy of James Ribbron, Circa 1980s image of Wallace Ribbron, a volun-teer of the 4-H Community Center in Detroit since 1970.

Courtesy of James Ribbron, Circa 1980s image of Wallace Ribbron, a volunteer of the 4-H Community Center in Detroit since 1970.

Generations of Detroit youth have been exposed to gardening, cooking, camping, fishing and other traditional 4-H activities, as well as more contemporary skills including leadership development, robotics, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Detroit Zoning Board of Appeals Director James Ribbron is a former St. Clair County Extension educator who grew up near the historic 4-H Center in Detroit’s north end. He was active in 4-H from the time he was 13 and credits the 4-H Center with keeping him off the streets, exposing him to higher education, endowing him with a deep commitment to serve his community, and teaching him to lead.

“Living in Detroit, I’ve seen the ups and downs. Now I have a seat at the leadership table. It is hard work at the table, but you can never give up. This is my home and I see the opportunities for Detroit if we recognize our collective resources and work together,” he said.

As the city works to eliminate neighborhood “food deserts” and rebuild its business base, it is looking to food entrepreneurs to help fill the gap. The MSU Product Center, another statewide MSU program associated with MSU Extension offers one-on-one business counseling and other resources to assist food entrepreneurs commercialize, produce, package, and distribute their products. It has held almost 2,000 counseling sessions in Detroit with more than 350 entrepreneurs, helping to create more than 100 jobs and supporting more than $11 million in investments.

Product Center client Nailah Ellis-Brown of Ellis Island Tropical Tea represents one entrepreneurial success story. She started out selling tea made with her grandfather’s secret recipe from the back of her car. With the help of the MSU Product Center, she now sells her tea at upscale grocery stores throughout the Midwest.

“They gave me that push to become a ‘real business’ for lack of better words, because when I came to them I was an out-of-my-trunk business and now we’re getting ready to be national,” she said.[1]

Note: 4-H image – Courtesy of James Ribbron, Circa 1980s image of Wallace Ribbron, a volunteer of the 4-H Community Center in Detroit since 1970.