Lori Meads: 100 Years of Cooperative Extension in North Carolina

By Lori Meads

The Daily Advance

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Recently, I have been working with the staff of Cooperative Extension from the counties that the Museum of the Albemarle represents to plan an educational program for the public. The program will focus on the impact Cooperative Extension has made on people nationwide through life changing education from the past 100 years and how they are preparing for the next century of Extension work.

In the process of working with the Extension on this program, I began to realize the strong impact that they had on our community. To understand better, I began reading about how the Extension began a number of programs that have and continue to improve the standard of living not only here in North Carolina, but also nationwide.

Cooperative Extension formally began in 1914. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act that provided funding for outreach endeavors at the land-grant universities, North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University. However, North Carolina had already started this endeavor by establishing the Farmers Institute that provided farmers with research information that would help improve crop yields.

The Institute expanded to include the farmers’ wives on issues concerning family, health, and home. The boys’ corn club was established, allowing boys to plant an acre of corn using scientific methods. The results were doubling, tripling, and sometimes quadrupling the corn yield of their fathers.

Boys would sell the crop, giving them extra money.

Girls’ tomato clubs were also established. Girls were expected to plant, cultivate, stake, and gather tomatoes, and men could assist with the heavy labor. Girls would gather and rotate station to station performing the jobs of sterilizing, peeling, packing, capping, and cooking the tomatoes for canning and selling.

Efforts to improve the lives of people and strengthen communities in North Carolina continued through the many programs developed through the Cooperative Extension around feeding the family, taking care of health needs through check-ups and supplementing the family income by selling surplus commodities.

Families were assisted and guided through all the challenges of both World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Extension has assisted families in family planning, healthy eating habits, budgeting, and even constructing homes. The Master Gardening program was developed through the Extension.

In 2014, the Cooperative Extension continues to improve the lives of people and strengthen communities in North Carolina just as they have in the past. The Extension supports agriculture and agribusiness through educational programs that assist them in running profitable operations that protect the environment.

The Extension also continues to grow the 4-H youth development program. The program is North Carolina’s largest organization for children that teaches and develops strong leadership skills so that they may serve their communities.

It is difficult to sum up 100 years of Extension work, so I would encourage you to mark your calendar to attend the celebration scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Museum of the Albemarle to discover the contributions, time, energy, and effort that have gone into the Extension over the past 100 years.

Lori Meads is an educator for Museum of the Albemarle.