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Well, you’ve heard of 4-H clubs, most likely. But did you know that 4-H is implemented by 106 Cooperative Extensions across the country? And did you know that Cooperative Extensions are the outreach component of land-grant universities and offer a range of inexpensive or free educational services?
What Is Cooperative Extension?
Cooperative Extension might well be the best-kept secret around. Who knew that a lawn and garden expert from your local Extension office could come out to look at that disturbing brown patch spreading across your grass? And who knew you could call and talk to an Extension nutritionist about your kid’s eating habits?
Since its beginnings, Cooperative Extension has been considered a trusted source for educational programming and answers to questions. Cooperative Extension is the result of three important pieces of federal legislation. The 1862 Morrill Act said that at least one college in each state had to be established to teach courses in agriculture and home economics—the establishment of land-grant universities. The 1887 Hatch Act launched the connection between USDA and the land-grant universities, providing federal funding for “experiment stations.” The 1914 Smith-Lever Act funded the administration of agricultural extension education—an effort to increase farm productivity and improve rural life.
“The Smith-Lever Act addressed the concept of how we could provide outreach education—to take that research out to the people where they live,” says Paul Brown, Associate Director of Rural and Traditional Programming at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). This final piece of legislation, Brown explains, reinforced the land-grant mission—“providing education to the masses and to segments of the population who can’t afford it otherwise.”
And the mission remains the same today. Here’s a look at some of the main educational programming areas through Extension:
Cooperative Extension Programming
- Youth and teens (in-school, afterschool, and community clubs and individual classes)
- Agriculture (farm management)
- Horticulture (yard and garden)
- Natural resources and environment (forestry, water, wildlife, etc.,)
- Community and economic development (leadership, community organization)
- Financial health (money management, debt management, estate planning)
- Nutrition, health, and wellness (food, exercise, health care system, caregiving)
Youth and Wellness Programming
Budget cuts are forcing Extensions across the country to take a closer look at their finances. And Brown notes that ACES is responding to the significant cuts in Alabama by conducting a needs assessment to understand which programs and outreach efforts are most critical. “I see that some of the issues families are facing nationally are becoming more and more complex, but also more consistent,” Brown says.
He points to issues such as healthcare, wellness, and nutrition as overarching concerns for individuals as well as researchers and educators at Extensions. “We’re looking at wellness and lifestyle changes to help us as a society make better choices, and we’re trying to instill those choices in our youth,” he says. Programming in these areas will remain top priority for ACES, Brown says, including 4-H and youth programming to reach the younger generation.