100 and counting

During the hot afternoons of spring and summer, you might find Levi Morrow out in fruit fields discussing a Chinese-born pest that poses a threat to this year’s crops with farmers, just as he was Tuesday.

Morrow, the agricultural and natural resources program coordinator for the Ohio State University Washington County Extension, spends his times gathering research to educate local residents and farmers about growing tactics, gardening skills and pest trends.

As just one facet, Morrow is an example of the wide variety of resources that feed into multiple programs and educational opportunities offered in the OSU office based in Marietta.

This month the U.S. is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension Services system put in place by the Smith Lever Act of 1914, the law designed to promote land-grant colleges and the local agricultural education that allows the Washington County office to thrive.

The Congressional act established a system to allow land grant universities across the country to branch into extensions to benefit local communities and their economies through agriculture, politics, leadership, youth development and home economics.

Within just years of the law, counties in states across the nation established their own local offices.

Today, Washington County’s extension is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, OSU and county commissioners, and continues to provide its traditional forms of community education and outreach while evolving to suit the demands of today’s fast-paced world.

The extension’s four main focuses are 4-H youth development, agriculture and natural resources, community development and family and consumer sciences.

“Because we are connected to OSU, we have access to all of its research,” said 4-H educator Alison Baker. “We can bring back that current research with youth development that comes out of Columbus and distribute it to the county to help our teens and youth programs grow and expand.”

Several thousand Washington County residents have been involved in the county’s 34 different 4-H programs at one point in time, with 716 currently enrolled and more than 200 volunteers in clubs ranging in everything from gun safety to livestock.

“Everyone sees 4-H, sometimes more than anything, and for a lot of people it has been an important part of their life,” said Washington County Commissioner David White.

Many closely associate 4-H with children learning to raise and market livestock and other agricultural products, but the program has evolved over time to include safe driving programs like CARTEENS and even gun safety programs like the Shooting Sports club.

With community development, coordinators at the Washington County extension constantly to pursue grants and funding opportunities for a wide variety of community needs, like purchasing food bank supplies, building bridges and addressing local disaster relief needs.

The only difference is that the community development branch, as one of the smaller extension programs in the state, is funded solely by local dollars.

“This reaches all age levels and filters in all directions, where some things are little and some things are big,” said Darlene Lukshin, the community development program specialist. “The mission is to help the community enhance its well-being.”

With about 1,050 farms in the county, agricultural educators out of OSU have the opportunity to bring citizens and farmers important information about natural resources.

“We teach everything from pests to good agricultural practices to produce safety, and educate farmers on how to minimize risk with crops,” Morrow said. “It’s all focused on education.”

Master gardener training to keep residents up to date on gardening research and educational programs on nutrition and fair housing are other resources available through the office.

Kathy Dodrill has been with the extension office for 34 years and currently serves as the family and consumer sciences educator, and has watched the extension evolve over time.

“We have to evolve because culture has evolved, because what is important to people today wasn’t the same as what was important to them back then,” Dodrill said. “When I started, we taught classes in sewing and making draperies and how to upholster furniture, now we look and find out what makes the biggest impact now.”

The FCS branch coordinates everything from the Dining with Diabetes program to help patients cope with their illness to teaching classes on wellness and healthy eating, all through resources and research available through OSU.

“If we can teach people to be fit and be healthy, it can save them so much in the long run,” Dodrill said. “Any information can be put out there, but we want to help people know what’s true and what’s not, and what information out there is valuable.”

Dodrill said the ways the extension distributes that information has changed, as what was once done in small group settings in churches and schools is now funneled through social media and email.

“We’ve done all that without letting go of traditional venues to broaden our ways of educating to suit how people communicate,” she said.