Shaping Communities Through Extension
When I think of both teaching and learning in regards to our green industry and local community, I immediately think of Cooperative Extension. But just what exactly does the term Extension mean, and how do these programs benefit our local community?
As defined by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture:
Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country — to farmers and other residents of rural communities as well as to people living in urban areas. It emphasizes taking knowledge gained through research and education and bringing it directly to the people to create positive changes.
All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have a third, critical mission — extension. Through extension, land-grant colleges and universities bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families, and young people.
The Cooperative Extension System was established in 1914, with an overall mission to advance agriculture, the environment, human health and well being and communities. Today, there are approximately 2,900 extension offices nationwide. We have been fortunate here at Growers Supply to have had an opportunity to meet, collaborate and learn from Cooperative Extensions far and wide, including agents in our local communities both in Iowa and Connecticut.
Through our first-hand experiences with these agents, we have learned the value and impact these services have had and can have within our local communities. Cooperative Extension agents are not only vital for research and development, but also as an educational resource. Agents are available for individual consultations and can provide educational workshops and short-courses covering topics in agriculture, home economics, family living, nutrition, health, 4-H and other youth activities. Educational materials, including brochures, publications and videos, are also available at state and local county Extension offices for use by the general public. Services provided by county agents are generally free of charge, but some workshops and other organized activities may have a nominal fee.
What is quite troublesome is that there are some lawmakers that generally do not realize the far reaching importance of Extension work. It was truly saddening to read about the recent news of Pennsylvania’s budget crisis that almost impacted more than 1,100 people who work for the Penn State Extension. Thankfully a new state budget will save PSU Cooperative Extension offices from closing, but what does the future hold?
I don’t think anyone can say with certainty, but I do know this: many of the coop extension agents I have met over the years are smart, experienced and genuine people. They are there for growers and the community in ways the job description doesn’t dictate. They are banded together with Extension agents across the country in a grower-centric lifestyle that I’m not sure others can understand. They will persevere.
One more thing I understand is that we as an agriculture and grower community need to communicate louder and more often in the struggle to keep these valuable services alive. We have to speak up – for the future of us all as a progressive society. The scenario that PSU Extension had to endure this year is terrible, and it could have had a far reaching impact in many communities and to a group of people who did nothing to deserve it. It’s our proactive duty as members of the green industry to continually stand together to help ensure the survival of our fellow Extension associates and services nationwide. Visit your local Cooperative Extension website today, to find ways on how you can donate to projects or volunteer your time in your community.