Hopkins ’77, ’96G Expertise Benefits Mainers, Especially During Maple Season

Kathy Miller Hopkins ‘77, ’96G is in her sweet spot. Each March, the Cooperative Extension faculty member feels energized by Maine’s maple production. Only the second Mainer to be inducted into the North American Maple Syrup Council’s Maple Hall of Fame, Hopkins joined the University of Maine Cooperative Extension – Somerset County as a 4-H Community Education Assistant in 1993 after teaching elementary school for a few years. She became a faculty member four years later, working in the Skowhegan office.

With offices throughout the state, UMaine Cooperative Extension puts university research to work in homes, businesses, farms, and local communities. Cooperative Extension work focuses on the food system and youth development and leadership through the 4-H Club and afterschool programs. Cooperative Extension provides Mainers with direct access to University of Maine expertise and research-based information from across the nationwide land grant Cooperative Extension system.

In layperson’s terms, what are your research and scholarship interests?   

My interests are in maple production and quality control and investigating whether traditionally accepted production practices meet new food safety guidelines.

I am also interested in best practices for transferring knowledge and incorporating research results so that producers can incorporate best practices in their production techniques.

Why did you choose to pursue those interests?

I became interested in these topics when I received a question from a maple producer about an anomaly that appeared in a product. The question was very interesting and challenged some accepted conventional wisdom. That led to a partnership with Cooperative Extension staff and with University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture researchers and students who have participated in the research portion of several grants that I received from the North American Maple Syrup Council’s Research Fund.

Given your research interests, do you feel a sense of “March Madness” when the sap is running and being processed into syrup and treats?

Oh, yes! There is always great excitement when the sun is warming, the birds are singing, and the sap is flowing. The woods are beautiful as the snow recedes and sugarhouses are in full production.

What is the most enjoyable part about being a member of Cooperative Extension?

The most enjoyable part of Cooperative Extension is working directly with people who are living in Maine communities. Every day is a gift and an adventure because you never know each day what question will arise that someone is facing and how you might be able to help with Cooperative Extension resources or connections.

What is your most memorable event or experience as a member of Cooperative Extension?

One of the most memorable questions I ever received was whether I could definitively identify bear scat over the phone if the caller described it for me. Answer – No.

My most memorable experiences have been working with the people of Maine and beyond investigating real-life issues and finding answers. It has been rewarding to work with campus faculty and students to address the needs of Maine people and food industries.

Of all the subjects you’ve studied (and challenges you’ve addressed), which one do you enjoy the most? Why?

I have enjoyed working with the people in the maple industry in Maine and across the North American maple producing region. They are the sweetest people you can find! I have also enjoyed worked with Master Gardener volunteers who continue to inspire me with the differences they are making in their own communities with the knowledge they acquire in their training. It has also been my privilege to connect with campus faculty to explore issues that affect food producers in Maine.

What is your favorite place on campus or within your Cooperative Extension region (Somerset County and beyond) to spend time?

My favorite place is the woods and I don’t spend nearly enough time there.

Aside from your faculty role, what are your interests or favorite things to do?

I enjoy spending time with family and especially my grandchildren. They keep me young and inspire me with their infectious smiles and positive outlook on life. I like to garden in the summer and like to compare heritage vegetables with newer varieties.

Any other advice or comments?

Life is filled with opportunity and challenges. Keep moving forward, focus on the positive, and do your best. None of us is perfect and we get things done by helping each other develop a richer understanding of what is happening around us.

Sponsored by the UMaine Alumni Association and University Credit Union, the Faculty Excellence Award is given monthly to a faculty member whose work contributes to UMaine’s national reputation for excellence. Selections are made in consultation with the university’s academic deans.