When we have a backyard farming guest on for Mamavation TV, it’s fairly common that he or she will recommend that you contact your local extension office for answers specific to your area. But are you familiar with the County Extension Service, what help they can provide, and where to find your local office? Rich in history, Extension Services spread knowledge and practical applications of agricultural and home economics topics in every state through a partnership between the USDA and land-grant universities that can help you with your backyard farming woes.
The “Organic Act” and Morrill Act of 1862 were the beginning of the story for Extension Services. The USDA was formed in the “Organic Act” and the Morrill Act of 1862 created land-grant universities in each state dedicated to teaching citizens about agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts and practical professions. In 1902, Seaman Knapp was sent to Texas to set up a demonstration farm that showed how to combat the cotton boll weevil, a demonstration that was well-received and the ideas from which spread quickly. In 1911, girls’ Canning Clubs were formed to demonstrate proper food preservation techniques to lower the incidence of food poisoning due to improperly preserved foods. The success of these programs as well as the success of Farmers Boys’ Clubs since 1908, led to what some consider the most responsible laws ever passed by Congress – the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. This act formed a partnership with the USDA and the land-grant universities while providing matching federal and state funding to allow research in agriculture and home economics with the mission to share the results with the community.
One of the most popular programs that Extension offices hold is the Master Gardener program. Started in 1972, the Master Gardener program includes classroom and hands-on instruction from experts as well as a volunteer hour requirement. For the first year, the volunteer hours are generally equivalent to the amount of time spent in training, but in later years there are fewer volunteer hours required. As volunteers, the Master Gardeners provide a phone hotline in your local area, so if you have questions you can call and ask and expert. Master Gardener programs are offered in all 50 states and some provincial areas. Some Extension offices also offer additional programs like the Master Composter program, soil testing, and even testing of your canner’s pressure gauge for home food preservation. You can find your local Extension office on this interactive map.
In addition to the local county Extension offices, there is an excellent resource on the web known as Extension.org. It features a very awesome “Ask And Expert” button that allows you to put your backyard farming (or agriculture/home economics question) before Extension experts online. They also have webinars available through the site with some very interesting topics. You can see the full schedule of upcoming webinars here. And as if that weren’t enough, they also have a plethora of articles on topics that are of interest to backyard farmers, families, parents, and even kids.
Backyard farming and sustainable living are very broad topics that have so much information it is often daunting – too many questions and not enough information. But when you have a trusted, reliable resource like Extension offices that combine learning and demonstration to provide practical information for consumers, it’s easy to get a grip on the situation. Whether you want to attend training events, become a Master Gardener, or just ask a few questions about nutrition, gardens, animals, or even personal finance, Extension services are very helpful. So the next time you have a backyard farming dilemma, reach out for some FREE advice by contacting your local Extension office or visiting eXtension.org for answers.
Remembering the ‘People’s Department’ on SeedAlliance.org
Exploring Our Roots – A Short History of Extension and the Master Gardener Program
Featured image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net