Cooperative extension grows people and communities

As the United States celebrates its founding this July 4th, it’s a good time to reflect on how cooperative extension based at land-grant universities across the country is working to grow people and communities.

Created in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act, Cooperative Extension’s mission was to solve rural and agricultural problems. At the time, more than half of Americans lived in rural areas and about a third were engaged in agriculture.

Extension made possible the American Agricultural Revolution, which dramatically increased agricultural productivity, meaning fewer farmers could feed more people.

The extension has adapted over the past 108 years. Today, most Americans live in urban and suburban areas and pursue careers outside of agriculture. However, Extension continues to play an important role in American life. With its unprecedented reach – an office in or near most of the country’s nearly 3,000 counties – extension officers help farmers and ranchers improve operations and outcomes, help families solve nutrition problems and family, work with community leaders in economic development efforts and guide young people to become the future leaders of our country. The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports extension work in national land-grant institutions through capacity funding, competitive and non-competitive grants.

Extension’s work in community engagement and development and youth leadership helps develop an audience committed to getting involved and working to better their communities. Involved people working for the common good are essential for a strong America.

Cooperative extension at work

  • Citizenship Washington Focus is a week-long 4-H citizenship and leadership experience that brings 4-H delegations from across the country to Washington, D.C. Participants learn about the roles of Senators and Representatives and how they work together to form an effective Congress . Additionally, young people can see and experience government in action by meeting members of Congress from their state.
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension offers several youth leadership programs, including the Teen Excellence in Leadership Institute and the Junior MANRRS Leadership Institute.
  • Ricochet: An Extreme Leadership Adventure is a college leadership initiative created and sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa 4-H. The program uses adventure and experiences to foster learning. Young people develop their leadership skills by working together in a service project that benefits their community.
  • University of Minnesota Extension offers 4-H members several project areas that allow them to develop their leadership skills, including citizenship, community pride and service-learning, youth leadership, and global relations.
  • The Extension of the University of Maine offers Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills workshops to help adults become stronger leaders when working together on projects that matter to their communities.
  • Montana State University Extension brought together 24 communities through the Reimagining Rural virtual gathering program. The program organized a conference on rural community vitality for small groups of local leaders who facilitated discussions of ideas with the aim of developing action plans.
  • Oklahoma State University Extension’s community and economic development program empowers Oklahoma communities to achieve their visions through education and technical assistance. Focused on sustainable economic development, the program facilitates strategic economic development planning and provides various types of data and analysis to support local economic development efforts.
  • Extension of the University of New Hampshire worked with UNH students to create the Relative to New Hampshire podcast. Legislative issues can sometimes be difficult to understand, and the podcast covers topical issues facing the state with science as its focus.

Photo: Left image of a family of four celebrating Independence Day. Right image of a firework display and an American flag in the background. Both images courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Virginia S. Braud