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Cooperative Extension Grows People and Communities

Nifa Author
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

As the United States celebrates its founding this Fourth of July, it is a good time to reflect on how Cooperative Extension based at the nation’s Land-grant Universities works to grow both people and communities.

Created in 1914 by the Smith-Lever Act, Cooperative Extension’s mission was to address rural, agricultural issues. Back then, more than half of Americans lived in rural areas, and about a third were engaged in farming.

Extension helped make possible the American agricultural revolution, which dramatically increased farm productivity, meaning fewer farmers could feed more people.  

Extension has adapted over the last 108 years. Today, most Americans live in urban and suburban areas and pursue careers outside of agriculture. However, Extension continues to play an important role in American life. With its unprecedented reach — an office in or near most of the nation's approximately 3,000 counties — Extension agents help farmers and ranchers improve their operations and bottom lines, assist families with nutrition and family issues, work with community leaders in economic development efforts, and guide young people to become our nation’s future leaders. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture supports Extension work at the nation’s Land-grant Institutions through capacity funding, competitive and noncompetitive grants.

Extension’s work in community engagement and development and youth leadership contributes to growing a public committed to be involved and working to improve their communities. Involved people working for the common good is essential to a strong America.

Cooperative Extension at Work

  • Citizenship Washington Focus is a week-long 4-H citizenship and leadership experience that brings together 4-H delegations from across the nation to Washington, D.C. Participants learn about the roles of senators and representatives and how they work together to form an effective Congress. Additionally, youth get to see and experience government in action by meeting with their state’s members of Congress. 
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension offers multiple leadership programs for young people including Teen Excellence in Leadership Institute and the Junior MANRRS Leadership Institute.
  • Ricochet: An Extreme Leadership Adventure is a middle school leadership initiative created and sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Iowa 4-H. The program uses adventure and experiences to foster learning. Young people build their leadership skills as they work together in a service project that benefits their community.
  • University of Minnesota Extension offers 4-H members multiple project areas which allow them to grow their leadership skills including citizenship, community pride and service learning, youth leadership and global connections.
  • The University of Maine Extension offers Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills workshops to help adults become stronger leaders as they work together on projects important to their communities.
  • Montana State University Extension brought 24 communities together in the Reimagining Rural virtual gathering program. The program brought a rural community vitality conference to small groups of local leaders who facilitated idea discussions with a goal of developing action plans.
  • Oklahoma State University Extension’s Community and Economic Development program empowers Oklahoma’s communities to achieve their visions through education and technical assistance. Focusing on sustainable economic development, the program facilitates strategic planning for economic development and provides various types of data and analysis to support local economic development efforts.
  • University of New Hampshire Extension worked with UNH students to create the podcast, Relative to New Hampshire. Legislative issues can sometimes be difficult to understand, and the podcast covers timely issues facing the state with science as a focus.

Photo: Left image of a family of four celebrating Independence Day. Right image of fireworks and an American flag in the background. Both images courtesy of Adobe Stock. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Agriculture economics and rural communities
U.S. States and Territories
District of Columbia,
Iowa,
Maine,
Minnesota,
Montana,
New Hampshire,
Oklahoma,
Virginia,
Washington
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