In 1914, the U.S. Congress formalized what is now called “Extension” through the Smith-Lever Act.
It established the U.S. Department of Agriculture partnership with land-grant universities (Colorado’s is Colorado State University – go Rams!) with a combined goal of providing education in agricultural endeavors. Remember, back in the early 1900s more than 50% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas and 30% were involved in farming (in 2020, about 83% of our population is now urban, and farmers and ranchers make up only 1.3% of the labor force).
Extension taught people how to farm and ranch, how to preserve food safely and, in 1924, formally created the 4-H program (even though clubs had been meeting since 1902). We provided a link between the university and the community, making available research, information and expertise by those on campus as well as the expertise provided by the “county agent.” Our goal is to solve problems and improve your quality of life.
Fast forward to today, and I hope we still build off the same building blocks our predecessors did. We have home gardening classes such as the Master Gardener Program, agricultural classes such as Building Farmers and our beef, small acreage and weed workshops in the winter. We still teach food preservation (with topics about fermentation and pressure cooking thrown in there) and how to do it safely with classes like Cottage Foods and ServSafe. We also offer classes about how to eat wisely (Dining with Diabetes) and affordably (Shopping on a Budget).
Our youth development – through either 4-H or STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) – is not only active in our schools with programs such as the Junior Master Gardeners, but also in the daily lives of our community’s youths, with events such as Improving Our Mindset and yearlong leadership training. Our 4-H livestock judging team is competing at a national level, and many of our county fair participants also took home top honors at the Colorado State Fair.
Years ago, when I decided to get into Extension, I did so because I saw the difference it made in the daily lives of so many people. I studied at land-grant universities – Montana State University and Cornell University – and my two jobs since I decided to be an adult were with the University of Florida and Colorado State University, both land-grant universities. I witnessed the potential impact we could have for a small-scale vegetable producer, a new landowner or a kid trying to raise an animal and a kid seeing the self-confidence gained when put in a leadership role.
I still see all of that. Even in these rapidly changing times, and as we have become so reliant on computers and phones, I still feel our relevance. I see what we can do to bring a community together that is often perceived as divided. We are part of the food chain from growing it, selling it, saving it and getting it to those that may not have it. We are interwoven into a community that has become part of a quilt that makes Colorado so unique.
So as we, as a community, face changes, know that La Plata County Extension is here for you, regardless of which patch of that quilt you call yours.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at [email protected] or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter