Extension’ means ‘reaching out’ — to the most local of levels

From Press Reports

“Extension” means “reaching out,” and — along with teaching and
research — land-grant institutions “extend” their resources, solving
public needs with college or university resources through non-formal,
non-credit programs.

These programs are largely through county and regional Extension
offices, which bring land-grant expertise to the most local of levels.

Congress created the Extension system nearly a century ago to address
exclusively rural, agricultural issues. At that time, more than 50
percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas, and 30 percent
of the workforce was engaged in farming.

Extension’s engagement with rural America helped make possible the
American agricultural revolution, which dramatically increased farm
productivity:

• In 1945, it took up to 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of
corn on 2 acres of land.
• By 1987, it took just under 3 labor-hours to produce that same 100
bushels of corn on just over 1 acre.
• In 2002, that same 100 bushels of corn were produced on less than 1
acre.
That increase in productivity has allowed fewer farmers to produce
more food.
Fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living today, and only
17 percent of Americans now live in rural areas. Yet, the Extension
Service still plays an important role in American life—rural, urban,
and suburban. With its unprecedented reach—with an office in or near
most of the nation’s approximately 3,000 counties — Extension agents
help farmers grow crops, homeowners plan and maintain their homes,
and children learn skills to become tomorrow’s leaders.
The roots of U.S. agricultural Extension go back to the early years
of our country. There were agricultural societies and clubs after the
American Revolution, and in 1810 came the first Farm Journal. It
survived for only two years, but in 1819 John Stuart Skinner of
Baltimore began publishing the American Farmer. Farmers were
encouraged to report on their achievements and their methods of
solving problems. Some worthwhile ideas, along with some utterly
useless ones, appeared on the pages of the publication.
Over the last century, Extension has adapted to changing times and
landscapes, and it continues to address a wide range of human, plant,
and animal needs in both urban and rural areas. Today, Extension
works in six major areas:
• 4-H Youth Development — cultivates important life skills in youth
that build character and assist them in making appropriate life and
career choices.
At-risk youth participate in school retention and enrichment
programs. Youth learn science, math, social skills and much more,
through hands-on projects and activities.
• Agriculture — research and educational programs help individuals
learn new ways to produce income through alternative enterprises,
improved marketing strategies, and management skills and help farmers
and ranchers improve productivity through resource management,
controlling crop pests, soil testing, livestock production practices
and marketing.
• Leadership Development —trains Extension professionals and
volunteers to deliver programs in gardening, health and safety,
family and consumer issues, and 4-H youth development and serve in
leadership roles in the community.
• Natural Resources —teaches landowners and homeowners how to use
natural resources wisely and protect the environment with educational
programs in water quality, timber management, composting, lawn waste
management and recycling.
• Family and Consumer Sciences —helps families become resilient and
healthy by teaching nutrition, food preparation skills, positive
child care, family communication, financial management and health
care strategies.
• Community and Economic Development —helps local governments
investigate and create viable options for economic and community
development, such as improved job creation and retention, small and
medium-sized business development, effective and coordinated
emergency response, solid waste disposal, tourism development,
workforce education and land use planning.

Regardless of the program, Extension expertise meets public needs at
the local level. Although the number of local Extension offices has
declined over the years, and some county offices have consolidated
into regional Extension centers, approximately 2,900 Extension
offices remain nationwide. Increasingly, Extension serves a growing,
increasingly diverse constituency with fewer and fewer resources.