Are You Overlooking This Source of Sustainable Living Information? Cooperative Extension

It is often hard to find reliable information trying to live a greener or more sustainable life style. There is a lot of misinformation floating out there, whether it is marketing misrepresentation or notions based on unproven folklore.

Many questions arise when one is growing and preserving their own food. What grows well in my area? How do I safely preserve what I grow? Is there an organic control for what is eating my zucchini? Where can one go to for help?

My suggestion is to start with your local cooperative extension office.

Extension services are not just for big farmers anymore and dismiss those visions of TV’s Green Acres’ Hank Kimball.

The dedicated staff and volunteers of your extension office is ready to provide you with current, research-based information covering a broad range of fields.

Extension – high quality, in-depth knowledge

The charter of extension is to transfer knowledge gained through university research and development to the general public. Information is peer-reviewed and scientifically based. The benefit is you are getting information not biased by marketing hype or commercial interests.

Extension offices are local. Staff and volunteers are acquainted to issues which may be unique to your area. What grows well in Seattle is different from what grows in Phoenix. Safely canning green beans in Boulder is not the same as canning in Miami.

Local should not be considered limited. Your local office is part of a nationwide network of other offices and university institutions. If you have a question, there is an expert somewhere that has insight.

In addition to the traditional agricultural research and education, extension provides communities with information through diverse programs as:

  • Managing natural resources
  • Home gardening and horticulture
  • Family and consumer sciences
  • Nutrition and food safety
  • Community and economic development
  • 4-H Youth programs
  • Leadership and volunteer programs

Many county extension offices are closing or consolidating due to budget pressures. Ironically, the number and variety of programs are increasing. For example, Colorado just initiated the “Colorado Energy Master” program to train volunteers to provide citizens information about energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Extension History

Extension has evolved over the last century, adapting to the changing needs of U.S citizens in both rural and urban areas.

The Morrill Act of 1862 established land-grant universities; institutions of higher learning for agriculture, home economics, engineering, and other practical professions. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act formally established Extension as a partnership between agricultural colleges and the U.S. Department of agriculture. The mandate of this cooperative agricultural extension work was to 1) develop practical applications from research and 2) spread the results of research, techniques and technology to the American farmers.

Extension services played a key role in helping farmers better feed the nation during both World Wars. During the Great Depression, the focus of state colleges and the USDA changed to reach individual farmers through local extension offices, typically at the county level. Extension agents helped farmers organize cooperatives and marketing in addition to agricultural techniques. In addition, extension home economists were teaching good nutrition, preserving food, home gardening, poultry production, sewing and other skills; skills essential for many families to sustain themselves through that difficult time.

Today’s urban homesteaders and home-owners are rediscovering these same skills. There is something appealing about the practical way our rural great-grandparents did things. Extension is a good source for learning which of the old ways worked and the modern alternatives to less effective techniques.

Accessing Extension resources

An impressive cooperative extension resource is the website http://www.extension.org/. This site is a collaborative effort of some 42 universities and their extensions. It is organized by Resource Areas maintained by “Communities of Practice” – contributing researchers and instructors in focused field. Resource Areas include gardening, organic agriculture, food safety, even personal finance and community planning.

There is also your local cooperative extension office. Local extension agents and volunteers have unique knowledge specific to your location. Contact information for your local office is typically listed under county government or search with key words “extension” and the name of your county.

Conclusion

Whether you are a master of sustainable living, budding urban homesteader, a homeowner with a plant problem, or just curious, cooperative extension services provide a lot of information and support for you and your community.