As Ohio State University Extension celebrates the 100th anniversary of the nation’s Cooperative Extension Service on May 8, its leaders hope the occasion provides the opportunity to broaden people’s understanding and awareness of what today’s Extension organization has to offer.
“I firmly believe Extension is needed more today than it was in 1914,” said Keith Smith, director of OSU Extension and associate vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State University. “With so much information that’s hitting the public these days and coming at us so fast, people have to ask, What’s true? What can I rely on? What’s going to be best for me?
“People need an unbiased, research-based foundational source that will help them make informed decisions about what’s best for them, their family and their community. That’s where Extension comes in.”
The Smith-Lever Act that established the Cooperative Extension Service was passed in 1914, but the roots of Extension began more than five decades earlier. When Congress passed the 1862 Morrill Act, it created land-grant universities in each state to provide practical education in agricultural and mechanical fields. And 25 years after that, Congress passed the Hatch Act, establishing funding for land-grant universities to operate agricultural experiment stations and conduct research related to agriculture and rural life.
In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act formalized the outreach that was already taking place to “extend” the knowledge generated at land-grants, and supported that function with cooperative funding from the federal, state and county levels.
In the early days, Ohio Agricultural Extension trains traveled the state carrying agricultural exhibits and offering presentations on modern farm practices. In 1911 alone, 16 trains made 418 stops and reached more than 45,000 Ohioans. Today, Extension personnel provide information not only in person but through county and statewide websites; YouTube videos; Facebook, Twitter and blog posts; e-newsletters; e-challenges and many other methods.
With an office in every county, OSU Extension is the official outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, with additional faculty and staff in the College of Education and Human Ecology and the College of Veterinary Medicine.
In addition, OSU Extension funds the OSU CARES program, which provides grants to faculty across the university to work on outreach projects with Extension. Since the program started in 1996, faculty members from every college at Ohio State have participated.
Still, the core of OSU Extension focuses on four areas: enhancing agriculture and the environment; strengthening families and communities; advancing employment and income opportunities; and preparing youth for success. Work on these issues is done through Extension’s four program areas:
Agriculture and Natural Resources
“When people think of what we do in agriculture, they probably think of growing corn and maybe think of gardening. But Agriculture and Natural Resources is so much more than that,” said Andy Londo, Extension’s assistant director for the program area. “Our work encompasses all areas of growing crops and raising livestock in economically sound ways, while also protecting environmental quality.
“It’s also about forest and wildlife management, water quality, and other measures of environmental quality.”
Extension personnel in Agriculture and Natural Resources work on these issues by:
Conducting educational programs dealing with crop and livestock production and management.
Providing research-based, unbiased information through publications, websites, blogs, webinars, mass media and other means.
Collaborating with state and federal agencies to ensure farm profitability while protecting the environment.
Working with forest landowners, wildlife enthusiasts and others to ensure sustainable management of forest, wildlife and water resources.
Assisting women farmers (Annie’s Project).
Assisting communities to grow food in urban areas.
Working with the nursery and turf industries for sustainable landscapes.
Training Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV) in each county.
Providing agricultural law advice and training.
For details on OSU Extension’s Agriculture and Natural Resources programs, see agnr.osu.edu/anr-commodity-issues-teams .
Family and Consumer Sciences
“People think we give out recipes and teach people how to sew, but that’s not what we do,” said Karen Bruns, assistant director for Family and Consumer Sciences, which until the 1990s was known as Home Economics. “What we do is help people improve their diets, their finances and their relationships.” FCS issues include:
Nutrition and food safety. FCS focuses on broad aspects of food-related health and wellness concerns, including living with diabetes, proper methods of home food preservation and keeping food safe, and preventing childhood obesity. “Sometimes we may give you an example to help you see how to make a recipe healthier,” Bruns said, but Extension’s nutrition information goes far beyond what to cook for dinner.
Family relationships. FCS provides information on many aspects related to the family, Bruns said, including child development, aging, parenting, co-parenting after divorce and strengthening relationships.
Personal finance. “We don’t teach people how to sew as a way to save money, but we teach people how to manage their money, whether that is putting together a budget, cleaning up their credit or being a wise consumer,” Bruns said.
For details on OSU Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences programs, see fcs.osu.edu.
“People think community development professionals are just involved in industrial parks and subdivisions,” said Greg Davis, Extension’s assistant director for the program area. “But we do much more to help local businesses and communities.” Activities involve issues such as business retention and expansion; alternative energy, such as solar and wind power and shale development; and local and regional food systems. Extension personnel work on these issues by:
Offering leadership development to local elected and appointed officials and current and emerging community leaders.
Studying community trends and issues to increase the knowledge base for individual and community decision-making.
Collaborating in community research.
Enhancing understanding of community and regional economies.
Strengthening nonprofit and quasi-public organizations.
For details on OSU Extension’s Community Development programs, see comdev.osu.edu.
4-H Youth Development
“People think 4-H is cows and cooking, but 4-H is a lot more than that,” said Tom Archer, Extension’s assistant director of 4-H Youth Development. The 4-H model of hands-on, experiential learning meshes perfectly with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) projects involving everything from robotics to exploring ponds and forests, Archer said, whether it’s in a rural or urban area and whether it’s an individual 4-H project, a classroom, an after-school enrichment program or a special event. Even more, 4-H helps young people develop lifelong skills, including:
Learning to speak in public.
Conducting science experiments.
Keeping accurate records.
Leading a meeting.
Making healthy lifestyle choices.
Serving local communities.
Acquiring social skills.
Gaining independent living skills.
Exploring interests that may lead to their future careers.
Practicing problem solving and critical thinking.
This spring, Ohio 4-H is sponsoring an Extension Centennial Video Contest for its members to show what Extension means to them. For details on Ohio 4-H, see ohio4h.org.
Currently, the college is spearheading a Conversation on the Future of OSU Extension to develop a vision for the organization’s second century. Supporters, alumni and friends are encouraged to help shape that future by participating in an online survey available at go.osu.edu/Ohio2035.