As I write this, we just celebrated the Centennial of Cooperative Extension yesterday. On May 8, 2014 the Smith-Lever Act was passed which was introduced by Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia and Representative A. F. Lever of South Carolina to expand the vocational, agricultural, and home demonstration programs in rural America. It was designed to disseminate information from the land grant universities to the people. One hundred years later, we are still doing this, only through different methods and delivery systems.
In 2014, we celebrate the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service, a unique educational partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the nation’s land-grant universities that extends research-based knowledge through a state-by-state network of extension educators.
All of this got me wondering what was extension like in Fillmore County
in the beginning so I looked at our archives and found some interesting information. The first reports I found were from 1918 with the first county agricultural agent being J.L. Thomas. Some of the projects he worked on were wheat smut control, soybean inoculation, poultry judging, hog cholera control and black leg control. April 1, 1918 was when the “Fillmore County Farm Bureau” (now known as Fillmore County Extension Board) began active work in Fillmore County.
An excerpt had the following:
“The county board of supervisors assigned to J.L. Thomas a large well lighted, well heated and well ventilated, as well as a well located room on the first floor of the court house, for his office. The farm bureau board at the time Mr. Thomas was selected made arrangements with him to employ his wife, Mary E. Hall Thomas, on half time as office assistant. At the first meeting of the board held on Monday night, April 8th, 1918 the agent was instructed to purchase needed office supplies and equipment.” Some of the emergency projects assigned to him were “testing of seed corn and finding a substitute for sugar which included, keeping of bees, catching of all new swarms, production of sugar cane, location of sorghum mills in the county and making and use of sorghum.”
Thinking back to what was happening in 1918, World War I ended in November 1918. When the U.S. entered WWI, food had become a weapon and no other country produced more food than the U.S. In order to have enough food to feed the allies, Americans were urged to conserve food and eliminate waste, thus the importance of finding sugar substitutes, etc. Also, life on most farms consisted of no electricity or indoor plumbing. Each family member had chores such as milking cows, harnessing horses, gathering eggs, etc. Farm families looked forward to the fun of school programs, trips to town, church gatherings and other social events.
In the 1918 narrative it describes that work began at a very busy time of year (planting) and continued until October when it was planned to hold meetings for the community, but at that time the Spanish Influenza caused public schools to be closed and all public gatherings be postponed for five weeks. Organizational work was one of the first things to occupy the county agent in the next year. Some of the first youth programs focused on pig, chicken and garden projects. Canning teams and a war bread team were organized.
Also interesting in the narrative was that “the domestic science department of the Milligan school canned ten bushels of peaches and three bushels of tomatoes and did not lose a quart of the peaches or tomatoes.” It was a dry year as many members appeared to have lost their gardens completely and the pig projects didn’t do as well as some died and some youth were too busy with work in the fields. “Fifty dollars in prizes was given to the project members by the County Fair Board. Six pigs, one calf, one crate of chicks and some garden products were entered by club members.”
As I found some of these interesting points, trying to imagine what it would have been like in 1918 intrigues me. Thinking of how much more travel time across the county was required to reach people and the difficulty of getting things organized and promoted compared to the ease of the Internet we now take for granted. While there were definitely many challenges, extension managed to overcome them, just as our current extension system evolves with new delivery modes and remains strongly committed to “the people”. For 100 years, the Smith-Lever Act has stimulated innovative research and vital educational programs for youth and adults through progressive information delivery systems that improved lives and shaped a nation.