Happy Birthday, Cooperative Extension System!

May 8, 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, important legislation signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson that paved the way for our nation’s Cooperative Extension System. Cooperative Extension was designed as a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture and 110 land-grant universities, including Cornell, Ohio State, the University of Missouri, and Texas A&M. One of the world’s most innovative and educational ideas ever, Cooperative Extension was created to extend the knowledge and research of America’s public universities to all citizens, including young people. It helped farmers learn new agricultural techniques through the introduction of home instruction.

4‑H is the youth development program of the Cooperative Extension System. For more than 100 years, 4‑H has empowered youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults, including volunteers and educators. Since its inception, 4‑H has produced millions of young people ready to step up to the challenges of a complex world. In the early 1900’s, 4‑H was a way to give rural youth new skills and introduce new ideas and technology to adults. The impact was significant. By embracing new agro-technology, 4‑H kids were able to grow three times more corn than adult farmers.

That innovation continues today in every county in America – rural, suburban and urban. In New York City, for example, there’s an urban fish farm located in the basement of Food and Finance High School thanks to Cornell University Extension and 4‑H. Students raise tilapia and other fish and vegetables in the 4‑H Hydroponic and Aquaculture Lab for distribution to the school cafeteria, local restaurants, greenmarkets, and hunger relief organizations. Nearly 2,500 miles away at the Tucson Village Farm, Arizona 4‑H’ers built and maintain an urban farm through the University of Arizona and Pima County Cooperative Extension where kids learn how to make healthier decisions by growing and preparing their own foods. In between, in Garden City, Kansas, multi-cultural college students from Kansas State University Extension started several 4‑H clubs to support the children of parents working in dairies, feedlots and meatpacking. These are just three examples of how 4‑H and Cooperative Extension are benefitting and changing the lives of more than 6 million young people in the U.S.

We believe young people are the world’s greatest single resource to create a better world. Our job at 4‑H, working in partnership with USDA, Cooperative Extension and many private companies and organizations including Farm Credit, is to grow young people with confidence and purpose. In our view, we have a responsibility to give millions more young people access to the 4‑H experience – no matter where they live: in an urban food desert, in a tight-knit small town, on a U.S. military base or on a farm.

Today’s young people are the innovators and leaders of tomorrow. Thanks to 4‑H and Cooperative Extension, millions of young people are learning skills that are preparing them to become the technological and agricultural leaders of the future.They are blazing the trail that will lead us into the next century thanks to the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. Here’s to the next 100 years!

Of note: Originally published on the Farm Credit blog, AGgregator, at http://bit.ly/Qi8eCA

About the Author

Jennifer Sirangelo

President & CEO - National 4‑H Council

Jennifer is a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world. As President and CEO, she leads National 4‑H Council in its mission to increase investment and participation in high-quality 4‑H positive youth development programs for millions of young people around the world. Learn about 4‑H’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.