Upcoming Events

Volunteers Needed for the 2017-2018 School Year!

Volunteers Needed for the 2017-2018 School Year!

Volunteer educators present environmental lessons to Baldwin County students 2nd – 6th grade.  The training is August 17 from 8:30 am – 3:00 pm. CALL us at 251-937-7176 to register and for more information about this free training. Registration is required to attend.

 Training and materials provided!

  • Recycling
  • water cycle
  • groundwater pollution
  • energy
  • aquatic nuisance species
  • nonpoint source pollution
  •  invasive plant species
  • backyard wildlife habitat

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome! Baldwin County Extension programs are supported by the Baldwin County Commission.

Healthy Holidays



Stay healthy during the holiday season with more attention to food safety.   This is the season of sharing food with family and friends.  Whether you plan to take your favorite dish to a party or host an event at your home, it is important to follow some basic rules to keep everyone safe from bacteria and food borne illness.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety offers entertainment serving tips on the website, www.fda.gov  or with a toll free telephone line (1-888-SAFEFOOD).  The FDA recommends multiple steps to safe handling of food.  The first step in the process is cleaning.  Washing hands, sanitizing surfaces and utensils, are important in avoiding contamination and in limiting the spread of germs.  What is the best way to clean?  The answer is simple, hot soapy water.   The second food safety tip is to avoid cross-contamination.  Keep knives, trays and cutting boards separate, if you use them in preparing raw meat.  Clean thoroughly before transitioning from cutting raw meat, to cutting vegetables or other food products.    The third step in food safety is proper cooking temperature.  Use a food thermometer to be sure that foods reach a safe temperature.   Visit the website: www.aces.edu and search the publication tab for a printable article, “There’s No Place Like Home for Food Safety.”   This download provides recommended cooking temperatures for various products as well as a guide to warming leftovers.   The final step to consider in keeping food safe is refrigeration.   Avoid leaving food at room temperature for more than two hours.  Chilling is important for such foods as dips, cheese, and other dairy products.

Serve your holiday meals and maintain buffets at the appropriate and safe temperature of 140F for hot foods.  Cold foods should be kept at 40F or colder.  Holding cold foods in the refrigerator until the last possible moment before serving, helps assure safer food.   When it is time to add more food to your buffet or party area, bring a fresh portion in a clean dish.  Remove the previous serving dish and clean it.   Generally, it is up to the host or hostess to monitor the temperature of the foods in your home and the length of time your food selections are left at room temperature.  Build a habit of watchfulness so that your family, friends, and guests enjoy the freshest and safest holiday offerings.

Sweet Potato Contest Winning Recipes

One of my favorite foods that we can purchase locally during the fall is sweet potatoes.   Sweet potatoes contain these nutrients, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and dietary fiber.

Each year since 1998, our Baldwin County Sweet Potato Growers, Baldwin County Farmers Federation, and other sponsors have coordinated a Sweet Potato Recipe Contest.  Middle and High School students from Family and Consumer Sciences and Culinary Programs in the county have the opportunity to participate.  I look forward to seeing the creative and delicious recipes.  The students are asked to prepare a recipe using at least one cup of sweet potatoes.  The students participate in a local contest at their school.  The county contest is held at the Baldwin County Fair.     The judges for the 2016 contest were Hope Cassebaum, Baldwin County Farmers Federation; David Holloway, Alabama Media Group; and Chef Hurtubise, Faulkner State Community College.

The students placing in the Junior Division (6th-8th grade) were 1st place, Rucker Beasley, Daphne Middle; 2nd place, Paulette Wallace, Foley Middle; 3rd place, Zander Prevatt, Gulf Shores Middle; Honorable Mention, Austin Evans, Spanish Fort Middle and Marli Ridaught, Central Baldwin Middle School.

The award winners in the Senior Division (9th-12th grade)  were 1st place, Braswell  McMeans, Gulf Shores High; 2nd place, Grace Ellison, Robertsdale High; 3rd place, Melissa McFeely, Spanish Fort High; Honorable Mention, Zechariah Defee, South Baldwin Center for Technology; Malia Fanning, Foley High; and Michaela Thompson, Fairhope High.

Un “Brie” lievable Grilled Cheese

Braswell McMeans-Gulf Shores High School
1st Place-Senior Division-2016

Bread Ingredients:

1 ½ cups white sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup dried cherry cranberries
½ teaspoon salt
& honey toasted pecans

Combine sugar and oil; beat well. Add eggs and beat. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture alternately with water. Stir in sweet potatoes, cranberries, and pecans. Pour batter into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until done.

Grilled Cheese Ingredients:

4 oz. Brie Cheese
Fig Jam

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Place a slice of buttered bread with about 1.25 oz. of brie cheese into the pan. Add the second slice and spread fig jam on one side and butter on the other on top. Cook each side until browned and the cheese is melted.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Rucker Beasley-Daphne Middle School
1st Place-Junior Division-2016


3 cups sweet potatoes
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup melted butter


½ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup melted butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans


Combine first 6 ingredients. Pour into buttered casserole dish. Mix remaining ingredients together and sprinkle over top. Bake 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until hot and brown.


The Family and Consumer Sciences and Culinary Teachers with students participating in this year’s Sweet Potato Recipe Contest are:  Ms. Benton, Dr. Coker, Ms. Newton, front row

Back row:   Ms. Bernasconi, Ms. Ojard, Chef Herndl, Ms. Taylor, Chef Navarro, Ms. Thorjusen, Ms. Hopper and Ms. Carpenter.  Not shown:  Ms. Leverett

Top Five Sanity Savers for Back-to-School

children in school.4H org photo library

As the summer winds down with its lackadaisical lifestyle, families gear up to return to the more regimented school year. Gone are the options of sleeping in, or late night TV binging.   The excitement of a new school year places stress on both children and parents.  Getting off to a positive start requires good communication with your kids.  Take the time to explain how life will change with the challenges of the new school year.  Exert your role as a parent with a review of the house rules to make life easier on everyone.

  1. For starters, reinforce the importance of a school year bedtime rule. Rested children concentrate better and will benefit from a structured schedule. Where can parents go for advice on how much sleep is ideal? Try the National Sleep Foundation or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web sites. School aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.   This includes teenagers who need about 10 hours of sleep to function ideally.
  2. Try to use the weekends to prepare for the upcoming school week. Wash and hang uniforms for the coming school days. Do what you can in advance to shop and prepare healthy food for the week. Make school days less stressful with long-lasting staples for refrigerated storage such as green salads, chicken salads, and other quick and economical items to get your family through each day of the week.   Stock up on healthy breakfast foods such as whole grain cereals, bread, and fruit because children who eat breakfast perform better at school.
  3. Set a time and create a quiet place in your residence for homework. If your child is enrolled in an extended day program or after-school center, talk to the management about its role in assisting with homework. These supplemental programs can help tremendously in guiding your child to complete homework. However, be prepared to take an active role in checking your child’s homework efforts. This helps open communication about your child’s current learning topics and gives you a means to reinforce the learning with your insights and input.
  4. Maintain a family calendar. Use an online calendar suitable to everyone’s phone or set up an old-school, large paper calendar (still available at most office supply stores). As activities and commitments rapidly multiply during the school year, a calendar saves your sanity.
  5. Take care not to overcommit in extracurricular, after-school activities. Discuss priorities with your children and let them know that the time commitment and expense of activities is limited. Working parents, with multiple children, can quickly become overwhelmed with too many commitments and not enough time, energy, or resources.   Everyone suffers when activities originally intended to be enjoyable, become exhausting and a source of contention.


Steel yourself for the regiment ahead and all will be well. The best-supported children have parents with a plan.  A nice bonus publication is available from the United States Department of Education called School Success: A month-by-month guide filled with the advice, tools and  online resources you will need to help your children have a school year packed with fun and learning.  This downloadable file contains greater organizational tips for a successful school year.

Controlling Debt

Money-Management-Calendar-467x350 1

Most everyone now has to manage a monthly budget. Wages and income are not increasing for most people and the cost of living continues to go up. If a family has ongoing debts such as a mortgage or loan payments, there needs to be a way to save money on theses debts if possible.

There is an internet financial program that was developed by the Utah State University Cooperative Extension called Power Pay. This program is free to use and you can go online and find it under powerpay.org. You can do a monthly budget on this site and it will tell you what percentage that you are spending on housing, transportation and other household expenses. There are calculators that can help you compart mortgage loans or car loans. The most important calculator will help you determine when a loan will be paid off if you add an additional payment or payments.

More and more people are trying to get out of debt and pay off their mortgage sooner rather than later. As a general rule, the longer the term of the loan will determine the greater savings for paying extra payments. For instance, paying an extra mortgage payment per year will reduce years off of the end of the mortgage loan. If your loan permits extra payments, all that you have to do is take one payment and divide that number by 12. Take that amount and add it to your monthly payment principal. This will yield one extra payment per year. Check with your loan provider and see if they have any penalties for pre-payment. You can use the power pay calculator to see just how much you will save and how early the loan will be paid off.

You can also use this web-site to determine savings. Just think how much money we can have if we pay off our debts early and commit that money to a savings or retirement account. One of the most underrated sources of financial information is your local banker. Banks and Credit Unions have financial products that everyone can use and most of these products are insured by FDIC. As a general rule, the older the age of the investor, the lesser amount of risk that they should assume because they do not have as many years to recover from a bad investment. This is where your banker can really come in and help you develop a safe savings strategy. 


Staying Safe in the Sun

Staying safe in the sun

Spring is here and with it comes warmer temperatures and sunny skies. Many people will begin to ditch their winter-wear and spend their weekends away at the beach or the lake. These days by the shore may put you in a relaxed state of mind, but it is important to take proper measures to protect your skin.

To understand the importance of skin protection, you must first know about the sun and the rays it produces. The sun gives off three different types of rays that hit your skin while outside: UVB, UVA, and UVC rays. UVB rays are most prevalent between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and hit the skin’s surface layers. UVB rays are responsible for the majority of sunburns and sun damage you get after a long day in the sun without adequate protection.

UVA rays reach the deepest into your skin. Though less intense than UVB, UVA rays are able to seep into fresh skin that is forming deep beneath the skin’s surface, which can cause serious damage. Finally, UVC rays possess the most energy of all of the rays, but they are not present in sunlight and do not penetrate through our atmosphere.

The best practices for protection from these harmful rays are applying sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and wearing a lightweight, long-sleeve shirt when in the direct sun. Also, taking breaks in the shade whenever possible is recommended.

“The key is that you use the correct SPF- probably a 30 minimum- apply it in the correct amount and apply it often,” said Donna Shanklin, a  regional agent in Human Nutrition, Diet and Health with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

“SPF is a hard concept for many people to understand, but it is important to know if you want to shield your skin from the damage that the sun can cause. When a sunscreen bottle has a certain SPF number on it, it illustrates the product’s level of protection from UVB rays.”

For example, in the amount of time that it takes an individual to burn with no protection, it would take the same individual 30 times longer to burn while using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30.

You also want your sunscreen to protect against UVA rays. When shopping for a sunscreen that protects against UVA rays as well as UVB, look for ingredients such as benzophenones, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or Metroxyl SX.

A sunscreen that lists any of the previous ingredients, has an SPF of 15 or higher and states on the bottle that it is a broad-spectrum sunscreen is adequate for protection from the sun.

According to the Skin Care Foundation, one out of every five people will develop a type of skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, in their lifetimes. Sunburn history, moles, the fairness of skin and family history all factor into an individual’s risk.

By implementing safe, sun protection procedures into your everyday life, you can greatly decrease your chances of skin damage and the development of skin cancer.

So, when you are eager to spend your days outdoors this spring, make sure that skin protection is your first priority.

Source List:

consumer decision-making guide to using sunscreen

Nourish your skin

skincancer.org website


Donna Shanklin, Regional Extension Agent, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, Alabama Cooperative Extension System


State and Federal Tax Returns

Tax Return.resized.3.9.2016


It is that time of year again when we start preparing to file state and federal tax returns. Deductions offset income and help reduce the total amount of tax due. The more deductions that you can come up with will reduce the amount of tax and increase the available refund if any is due.  For instance, if you are in a 15% tax bracket, each 100 dollars in deductions will save you 15 dollars in tax or produce for you 15 dollars more in refunds. If you no longer have many qualified deductions, you may come out better taking the standard deductions that IRS offers. This will simplify your return and you may be able to do one of these returns by yourself. You can go to www.irs.gov to download the income tax forms that you will need. Another source of income tax forms is your local library in Baldwin County.

There are also tax return volunteer groups providing Free tax preparation services in Baldwin and Mobile Counties. You can find out the sites by dialing 211 in both counties. Anyone who has $60,000 or less household income will qualify for this free tax preparation help. This group can also help you save part of your return refund.

Credits offset tax on a dollar for dollar basis so everyone needs to try and find tax credits that will qualify. Tax credits can really increase someone’s refund.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is also still available for low income families with children. The qualifying incomes for this credit change each year and the IRS web site can provide this information.

It would benefit everyone to look at the IRS web site to see what credits and deductions are available. If you have a printer, you can download and print several booklets that explain deductions and credits. If you find a significant deduction or credit that you were eligible for the past three years that you did not claim, you can file a form 1040X to claim these.

If you wind up owing IRS and cannot fully pay the tax by April 15th, you need to file the return on time anyway to prevent having to pay a penalty for not filing on time. The IRS web site will allow you to apply for a payment agreement if you cannot pay by the deadline. If you want to, you can apply for an extension on the deadline to file if you are not able to file by the deadline. The forms are available on the IRS web site.

Enjoy Guilt-Free Holiday Celebrations

Christmas bow“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere you go.”   (By Johnny Mathis)  This is one of my favorite Christmas songs I love to hear this time of year.  It really puts me in a happy mood as we go from party to party enjoying the festivities with friends and family.

However, if you are worried that enjoying a traditional holiday meal and party foods will destroy healthful food habits you have nurtured all year….then worry no more! The good news is any foods, even beloved holiday dishes, can fit into a healthful eating plan with practice and planning.

For starters, trying to lose weight during the holidays may be a self-defeating goal. Instead of trying to shed pounds, strive to maintain your current weight.

Party Pregame

Prepare small, lower-calorie meals during the day so you can eat celebration foods without overdoing your calorie intake for the day. Enjoy a small, low-calorie snack such as fruit or whole-grain toast before you head out the door to curb hunger and avoid overeating at the party.

If you’re bringing a dish, make it healthfully delicious and low-calorie. Vegetables with a yogurt or cottage cheese dip, fresh fruit or whole-grain pasta salad are sure to be crowd pleasers.

Upon Arrival

Remember, the conversation is calorie-free, and you may eat less if you settle into the festivities instead of heading straight to the buffet. Ask for sparkling water and lime, which doesn’t supply calories, and start mingling.

Wondering how to build a healthful plate at the buffet? Start by making just one trip and choose the foods you really want to eat. Try filling half your plate with lower-calorie party foods like fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, just a taste satisfies a craving or curiosity, so keep portions small.

Post-time Activity

Balance “party calories” with more physical activity. Even though it may be cold outside, these everyday activities can take only 10 minutes at a time and will help you get moving during the holidays.

  • Dance to your favorite holiday music.
  • Play actively with your children, grandchildren or pets.
  • After dinner, take a walk with your family — even if it’s just around the block.
  • Catch up with housework: wash the windows, vacuum or sweep.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • And if you work, walk to your co-worker’s office instead of emailing them.

For help staying active and sticking to a healthful eating plan during the holidays and beyond, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area. Resource: Eat Right

The following are some quick red and green fruit/vegetable combos to include in keeping with the Healthy Red & Green Christmas Holiday theme:

  • Red and green apple slices surrounding your favorite fruit dip like a wreath
  • Cole slaw with red apple chunks
  • Cole slaw with cherry tomato or grape tomato halves
  • Tomato soup garnished just before serving with a sprinkle of green onion stems, sliced into small rings
  • Small sprigs of red and green grapes used as an edible garnish around a holiday meat platter
  • Peas garnished with bits of red pimento
  • Juicy pomegranate seeds tossed atop a green salad
  • Pizza with tomato sauce topping and chopped green peppers.
  • Source: National Cancer Institute

How to Shop Safely for the Holidays

How to Shop Safely for the Holidays

If you use credit or debit cards to shop for the holidays, you may be at risk. Just this year, there have been incidents of hacking by criminal groups who hack into computer systems to steal customers credit/debit card information. Likewise, if you use your cards online to purchase presents you may get your information stolen. There are some things that you can do to protect yourself.

If you plan to purchase some presents online, make sure that the internet site is secure. Somewhere on the site will be their security backing. If you do not see this security logo, I would recommend that you do not use that site. You can purchase Visa type cards that you can load with a certain amount of money. They do not charge much for the use of these cards and they would be safer to use online or shopping in stores. If you are on a budget for gift purchases, just load up the cards with how much you budget for gifts and when the card is empty, you are through purchasing. This will also help you not over-spend for the holidays.



The internet sites are competing with each other for your business. The closer to the holidays we get, the more businesses will be putting their wares on sale. Also, there will be businesses who will offer free shipping. These sale prices along with free shipping will make your holiday budget go further. If you have to pay for shipping, it may be cheaper to shop at your local store. By shopping at your local stores, you are keeping your money in your community and benefiting you neighbors.

There are always people around us who do not have extra funds during the holidays. They would appreciate you helping them during the holidays. Also, we have a lot of troops overseas that cannot be home for the holidays. It would be great if we could help those families left behind with their holiday needs. We have emergency personnel who work during the holidays to help keep us safe. It would be great if we could help our firemen, paramedics, sheriff’s dept. personnel, and our local police department personnel. We always give our mail delivery person a little gift for the holidays and there are many others that would benefit from an act of kindness during the holidays.

When you are shopping, try to not shop alone. Also it is safer to shop during daytime hours. If you shop at different locations, it is wise to put your purchases in the trunk where they cannot be seen. It is sad, but criminals look forward to the holidays also.