By Sue Moore
A little-known nook and cranny office upstairs in the Vicksburg Community Center houses a well-known Michigan State University Extension district director, Julie Pioch, and administrative assistant, Laura Trombley.
They’re known throughout a seven-county area of southwest Michigan that comprises District 13 of Michigan State’s Extension service. And Trombley is known in six more counties.
Pioch administers the MSU Extension offices and the staff who deliver an array of programs as an arm of MSU’s resources. They include agriculture and agribusiness, nutrition and health, community, food and environment and youth development.
Why locate this office in Vicksburg? It’s in the middle of a district which includes Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties. In a 2010 restructuring, MSU Extension divided Michigan’s 83 counties into 14 districts. At that time the district office found a home within a Kalamazoo MSU Extension office on the former Nazareth College campus. But when that office moved to downtown Kalamazoo, there was no room for Pioch. She looked for space for a single office, settled on Vicksburg and brought Trombley, her administrative assistant, with her. Trombley’s territory also covers six counties to the east: Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe and Washtenaw.
The programs of MSU Extension have evolved over the years. But its core mission is to bring research and evidence-based education from the university to local communities throughout Michigan. “We bring knowledge to life, with education for every sector of this economy,” Pioch said. This is the most important outreach offered by all of the land-grant universities across the United States, with MSU being the first in 1855.
“A few years back we were mission drifting,” Pioch said. “The change from having a county director in all 83 counties to just 14 district directors covering a wide expanse of geography tidied things up a bit. The reorganization is still firmly rooted in education and research. The districts are the connectors for the local Extension offices in each county.
Trombley is the administrative liaison for her 13 counties. “We don’t do bug identification, soil testing or 4-H enrollment out of our Vicksburg office but we provide administrative support to the professionals in our county offices who do,” she said.
The 14 ag educators from throughout the seven-county district offer dairy education, farm financial management, swine education, fruit and field crops education, integrated pest management, and support to Kalamazoo’s greenhouse industry, Pioch explained. Other programs that are more commonly known include master gardening classes and 4-H. There is also an emphasis on food, health and nutrition, water quality and public policy through the Institutes headquartered on the MSU campus in East Lansing.
Pioch began her career in 1994 as a resource recovery agent for the Extension office in Van Buren County where she taught composting and developed community recycling programs. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a masters’ degree in industrial psychology. Her expertise with MSU evolved into economic development, community food systems and public policy and she served as the county Extension director in Van Buren until the reorganization. Pioch is a resident of Paw Paw. Trombley moved to Vicksburg in 2017.
The big change came when many extension educators focused their expertise and began to serve statewide; the local funding formula shifted. That formula is focused on grants, state appropriations, county investments, federal cooperative extension dollars with a small amount from the MSU general fund. Funding totaled $85.35 million in 2017.
“We are having a big district meeting on April 30 at the Community Center,” Pioch said. “It will be fun for my staff to come to Vicksburg and see what a great environment this building offers. I liked its funky atmosphere from the start. It’s a very productive office space.”