In North Carolina and across the country, 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Cooperative Extension programs. Extension’s centennial is linked to the signing of the federal Smith-Lever Act, which provided funds for life-changing educational programs.
Today, Cooperative Extension programs in North Carolina are based in all the state’s 100 counties and on the Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. These programs draw on research-based knowledge from the state’s land-grant universities — N.C. State University and N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University – to provide education to citizens.
N.C. Cooperative Extension’s centennial website provides many resources that tell the 100-year history of this organization. Visit ncce100years.ces.ncsu.edu to see a timeline of Extension milestones, historic photos, examples of Extension programs “Then and Now,” the history of the Smith-Lever Act and much more.
Throughout the past 100 years and earlier, the organization now called North Carolina Cooperative Extension has served the state well – helping farmers overcome pests like the boll weevil and learn ways to increase crop yields, educating rural families and helping bring electricity to the state, assisting during times of war and disaster, helping families to provide safe, healthy meals and encouraging youth to develop skills that made them better citizens.
Today, Cooperative Extension continues this important role, serving communities and families, supporting agriculture and empowering youth to be leaders. Today, Extension agents help connect consumers with food produced in their communities, help families to embrace a healthy lifestyle and engage youth in science, technology, engineering and math studies.
Even before the Smith-Lever Act, agricultural Extension work had begun in North Carolina. In 1907, C.R. Hudson came to North Carolina to begin the work of agricultural Extension from Statesville. Hudson appointed James A. Butler the first county agent, and soon farm demonstration work was under way in seven other counties: Catawba, Lincoln, Gaston, Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus and Rowan.
Butler worked with J.F. Eagles and other Iredell County farmers on field demonstrations to teach better methods of growing corn and cotton, two commodity crops that continue as North Carolina staples today. Farmers were fighting to save cotton from the boll weevil, and farm demonstrations helped them to overcome this destructive insect pest.
R.E. Jones, who first served as an agricultural agent for African-American farmers, became the first full-time African American 4-H leader in 1936. Jones went on to become the top administrator for Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T State University from 1943 to 1977; the first African American inducted into the N.C. Agricultural Hall of Fame; and the first African American to serve on the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy, the panel that sets the national Extension agenda.
In the early 1900s, leaders like I.O. Schaub and Jane S. McKimmon began programs for boys and girls that were the precursors to today’s 4-H youth development program. The same programs attracted the attention of rural parents who started asking for similar education programs of their own. At N.C. State University today, buildings are named for both McKimmon and Schaub.
Schaub was leader of the state’s Corn Clubs for boys. Corn Club members planted an acre of corn using scientific methods, and many would double or triple the corn yields of their fathers. Throughout the South, adult farmers began to request seed corn from these junior farmers, hoping to see similar results in their next crops.
As Corn Club members began to earn their own spending money, girls also were looking for opportunities to earn spending money for clothing and school books. McKimmon became the first woman to lead the girls’ Tomato Clubs in North Carolina.
Tomato Club members would cultivate tomatoes on 1/10 of an acre, and these young women would sell fresh tomatoes during the summer and preserve the surplus by canning for use year round. In the program’s first year, 416 girls canned nearly 80,000 jars of food. Mothers and daughters worked together on canning food, and soon the mothers asked for their own clubs.
McKimmon also helped establish the first Home Demonstration Clubs for women. In addition to learning basic skills for running a home, the clubs provided valuable service to their communities – feeding the sick during the 1918 flu pandemic, providing early hot lunches in schools, supporting the war effort through collection drives and by promoting Victory Gardens. North Carolina’s literacy efforts received an early boost when Home Demonstration Clubs brought bookmobiles, and later public libraries, to their communities.
The legacy of Cooperative Extension is its history of helping move North Carolina forward over the past 100 years. North Carolina remains the progressive state it is today, thanks in part to the hard work of Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers. Watch the website for centennial news — ncce100years.ces.ncsu.edu — and visit your county Extension center’s website for local events: www.ces.ncsu.edu/counties.