N.C. Cooperative Extension Service Celebrates a Century
For 100 years, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has been educating farmers and non-farmers about many of the things that enrich the lives, land and economy of North Carolinians. And now, it’s time to celebrate.
This year marks the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which established cooperative extension services at universities throughout the country. North Carolina Cooperative Extension is marking this monumental occasion, though even before 1914 it was helping citizens learn about agriculture, family life and personal growth.
“There has been a lot of change, but also a lot of similarities over the past 100 years,” says Dr. Joe Zublena, associate dean of North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Sciences and director of the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. “When Extension started, it brought knowledge to the community. There was a focus on food, prosperity of families, energy and more. We are still strong in all those areas and they’re all still very important.”
The roots of Extension were planted before the passing of the Smith-Lever Act in 1907 when the first agricultural demonstrations began in the state. James A. Butler was appointed as the first county agent, serving in Iredell County. Fast-forward 100 years, and now every county in the state, plus the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, has an Extension agent.
SEE MORE: N.C. Extension Through the Years
The service made great strides through the years, with accomplishments including Tomato Club programs for women, where they learned about canning and food preservation; the development of forestry programs, bringing electricity to rural parts of the state; building a foundation in agricultural education through 4-H clubs and much more. Zublena says embracing change has been the key to success from the beginning.
“The breakthroughs in agriculture have been tremendous,” he says. “Extension has adapted and is still adapting to each region of the state, as North Carolina is very diverse. We’ve done a great job of finding different commodities farmers can grow in each region and keeping our agriculture industry on the cutting edge of technology.”
Zublena notes an important part of Extension history is bettering the family consumer side. “North Carolina had the first female agent that really helped lead women in the state,” he says. “She taught them about canning and gardening, along with health and education. Women in Extension helped start some of the first libraries.”
SEE MORE: N.C. Extension Plans the Next 100 Years
Extension stays true to those values today, connecting farmers and non-farmers together with their programs. “The interdependence on the farming side is critical for non-farmers,” Zublena says. “A lot of people don’t think about it, but national security is a factor in the sense that we can provide for ourselves in emergencies.” He adds that they focus on home horticulture and gardening, cooking, food safety, family finance and nutrition for non-farmers, plus different aspects of youth development such as leadership and citizenship skills.
The N.C. Cooperative Extension Service joined the rest of the nation on May 8 in Washington, D.C., for a celebration of the anniversary. They plan to continue looking to the future and bettering the roles of Extension for North Carolinians for years to come.
– Rachel Bertone