Some time ago I read that the Cooperative Extension services in some areas were falling by the wayside.
As agriculture has declined, a domino effect has caused the Extension services to lose both audience and political support and funding.
In my mind, this is a great loss for those of us who like to live close to the land and grow our own food.
Cooperative Extension agents are among the greatest resources available to help us. Along with books, magazines, and websites such as GRIT, Extension offices offer support with both traditional and alternative methods for agriculture and rural living. Much of the information is offered without cost, while a reasonable fee is charged for some publications and courses.
Cooperative Extensions are unique in that they offer information tailored for their specific regions in addition to general resources. Face-to-face classroom experience and phone consultations are available from many offices. Some are even able to send agents to a home, farm or ranch to assist with assessments or answer questions.
Decades ago, Cooperative Extension services were established for the purpose of teaching agriculture practices and passing on results of research projects. Education in home economics was integrated, and in recent years, services have expanded to include topics related to health, business, the arts, and recreation.
No longer just for rural education, Extension offices offer resources in urban and suburban areas as well. There is at least one Extension service in each state of the U.S. and some provinces of Canada.
Our family has personally benefited from the Extension services in three counties of two states. Our youngest daughter was involved in both dog and horse 4H programs, and I was a volunteer leader in both programs as well.
Living in town, we first sought out 4H as a social connection for our homeschooled daughter. But we discovered that it was so much more than social. We’ve found 4H to be one of the best youth organizations around. Young people learn not only about their specific areas of interest, but also about community service, leadership, and public speaking.
The Cooperative Extension offers a lot for adults, too. Jim and I have taken several short and long courses through our county Extensions. We’ve studied livestock care, horticulture, small farm and ranch planning, forest stewardship, and land succession processes. Some of these classes gave us a head start and kept us busy learning while we waited to move to our farm.
These days we continue to attend Extension classes and summits in our current county, learning a great deal and contributing as we can. Recently we’ve been involved in community discussions about beef marketing, commercial processing kitchens, and nonprofit organization structures.
While the Extension services have always given face to face assistance and education, the Internet age has opened up a new way they can share information. Many county Extensions have their own websites, while state and national websites connect the county offices.
When it comes to research, keep in mind that on the Internet, anyone can present an opinion as fact. Often I find conflicting information on topics I’m studying. Personally I rely heavily on the Extension resources for their wealth of scientific research-based information. I trust in the accuracy and integrity of information provided by the Extension Services.
This is especially important to me when it pertains to how I’m raising my family, my animals, and the food we eat. I frequently consult Extension articles when writing informative and how-to posts on our blog, Rural Living Today. We read newsletters from our local Extension office and make use of the education and publications offered on a regular basis.
Have you discovered what Cooperative Extension has to offer you in your rural living pursuits? Get acquainted with local programs and volunteer opportunities. Find out what you can do in your own backyard. If you’re waiting to make a move to the country, learn all you can before you go. If you’re already where you want to be, you can learn how to use your property more efficiently and productively.
Since its early days, Extension presence has grown across North America. Perhaps your grandparents and great-grandparents were assisted by Extension agents. Today that help, training, and education is available to you and your family. We personally hope it will be here for our children and grandchildren too.
Funding to keep Cooperative Extension going is determined to some degree by evaluation of resource usage and event participation. We encourage you to help keep the Extension services alive and well by getting involved on a local level.
As you increase your knowledge base you will simultaneously be supporting Cooperative Extension services in your county and across the country. It’s also a great way to meet like-minded people in your community.
To locate your county Extension office, see http://www.csrees.usda.gov/extension. Collective research-based information drawn from all U.S. Cooperative Extension offices is available at http://www.extension.org.