Jason Challandes

For the month of April, Delaware State University Cooperative Extension highlights the work of Jason Challandes, SARE educator, for his promotion of work in the virtual space.

Jason Challandes is a Delaware State University (DSU) alum. He has been a staple in Cooperative Extension since his days as an undergraduate student, working with faculty and staff in the Agriculture and Natural Resources mission area. This author remembers distinctly how dedicated Jason was to his work; on one occasion, he was culling seeds from Scotch Bonnet hot peppers. If you know anything about Scotch Bonnets, you know…fire! The pungent and caustic fumes permeated the Extension garage workspace where Jason worked quietly and diligently to complete the task, seemingly unbothered by the gagging fumes!

Flash forward to 2009, the year after Jason earned his B.S. in Environmental Science and when he began work as a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) educator stationed at his alma mater. SARE, a USDA program present on each land-grant campus, allows Jason the capacity to promote the availability of grants for research and education, and provides educational programs in the areas of profitability, farmer and community lifestyles and environmental stewardship.

Ten years later, in 2019, Jason completed his M.S. program in Natural Resources while continuing his Extension-related work. Through his efforts, Jason has helped heighten awareness of other agriculture-related programs and events hosted by DSU Extension faculty and staff. He and John Clendaniel, principal investigator on the SARE grant, were in the throes of planning the annual, in-person Profiting from a Few Acre$ (PFFA) conference last March when COVID hit.

“A guest speaker from Massachusetts was prevented from traveling by her university, so I already decided her presentation would be virtual,” Jason said. “We then quickly adapted to make PFFA 2020 fully virtual after receiving word from Governor John Carney about the state’s stay-at-home order. Megan (Pleasanton) and I decided to continue plans to host the conference, instead of canceling it completely. That event showed us what was possible with the existing technology.”

COVID has helped professionals and school children alike, across the nation and around the world, realize the benefits of virtual technology in bringing people closer when we must be physically farther apart. Since last March, Jason has used Zoom to meet virtually with the SARE Executive Committee and with his colleagues at DSU. Last August, he helped plan the virtual farmer panel for Sussex County Conservation District’s Soil Health Field Day and the Soil Health Solutions Webinar, which he hosted via a virtual platform, including breakout rooms for group discussion.

In November 2020, Jason partnered with eXtension to host, “How to Host Engaging Webinars,” which drew participants from across the country. Last month, he hosted the “How to Make Effective Videos,” which will be followed with another webinar on video editing.

Testimonials, like those below, demonstrate the impact virtual programs can have.

“These events are always useful. When I hear of an event, I don’t think about if I would like to go, I just make plans to go because I always get something to try on my farm” - Delaware Farmer

“This was such a great way to do a training. Having the breakout rooms allowed our small group to have an interesting discussion. And getting to think about the farm situation and talk about ways that we would advise farmers was great. I have thought about this and other workshops and the Soil Summit sessions I attended when I work with farmers. I am more confident to help farmers.” – Maryland Conservation Planner

Future Plans

Jason said the virtual sessions are aligned with his current grant focus, adult learning.

“I’ll probably host a session monthly; attendees appreciate the convenience of virtual meetings and they provide SARE and Extension with a broader, more diverse audience. When the COVID guidelines allow in-person meetings, I’ll probably still offer online sessions, adopting a hybrid model for program delivery.”