With Cooperative Extension on the chopping block in Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2011-12 state budget, Pennsylvania joins many states in the debate on funding Extension. There has been discussion about whether Extension is relevant in today’s high-tech wired, agricultural consultant world. As a product of Extension, I would say yes.
The Smith-Lever Act created the Cooperative Extension service to take the education at the nation’s land-grant universities and move it out to the countryside in 1914.
Extension agents have taught farmers the newest farming practices, addressed women’s issues and established the 4-H club system. In our colleges, they connect with agriculture students and shares their research work. They inspire 4-H’ers to pursue careers in agriculture.
So, is Extension relevant? I look at how it has benefited me and say, "Absolutely." As a child it was the 4-H programs that taught me how to raise my dairy cattle and explore other agricultural ventures. The public speaking contests challenged me to grow. The 4-H program connected me with rural youth from across the state. My agricultural reporting career started in the Falls 4-H Flyers as the club's news reporter, learning how to write news stories at my mother’s typewriter at the age of 10.
At the farm today, while the Extension educator roles have changed, their value is still there. Extension educators provide nonbiased suggestions on farm management in publications and they host meetings. Extension researchers tackle the difficult issues to help improve farms both productively and environmentally. Extension is also the backbone for many agriculture industry programs – Extension educators serve as breakout workshop speakers, provide suggestions for keynote speakers and serve as volunteers. When you listen to a talk show on TV or radio about gardening, home canning/freezing or backyard agriculture – you are always told to contact the local Extension office for more information.
Asking myself, what would the world be like without extension, I find it a world hard to imagine.
--Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade, Special Sections Editor