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From ag to urban

Photo: Soils technician Richard Bembenek works on heavy metals remediation. (Photo courtesy of Puyallup Research and Extension Center).

The Puyallup Research and Extension Center, more than 100 years old, is in the midst of change. An action plan developed by the faculty and staff is shaping the center’s mission to better reflect and focus on urban issues in the surrounding community, said Jon Newkirk, director.

“The center has been here for 112 years,” Newkirk said. “When it started, it was all agriculture in the area and that was the primary focus.”

But a lot has changed in the neighborhood, he said: “We are in the midst of 60 percent of the state’s population.”

Consequently, the center, which already has a number of programs pertinent to the region, is increasing its focus on the changing urban environment and targeting problems that are most important in the area.

“The reason for the facility is to provide benefit to the surrounding community,” he said.

The center does not plan to cut out agricultural issues. Newkirk said agricultural research and other service to the ag community will continue. Agricultural workshops and programs will include organic and small-fruits research done at Puyallup and will be targeted more to the small farms audience prevalent on the west side of the state.

“There are still agricultural issues here, but they are shifting and changing,” Newkirk said.

Some of the newer projects that employees at the Puyallup Research and Extension Center have worked on include health care issues, such as obesity, diabetes and nutritional education. These reach roughly 100,000 people across the state each year. Restoration of stream banks to improve habitat for salmon is another new project.

“There is a wide range of water quality and supply problems in urban environments,” Newkirk said. “There are a lot of issues related to urban impact on water where WSU can be helpful.”

Newkirk said he sees the center as a portal to the university for people in the communities surrounding Puyallup.

“If the university is going to continue to have relevance to the people, they need to see solutions that are solving their problems,” he said. “We are simply trying to stay positioned in the best possible way to make a difference in the area.”

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