Monday, April 14, 2014
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Today's feature from the LDN Spring FARM OUTLOOK

University of Illinois Extension celebrating 100th anniversary

By John Fulton

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[April 14, 2014]  University of Illinois Extension is celebrating 100 years this year!

Officially, Extension began in 1914 with the Smith-Lever Act. Many changes and additions have happened through the years. While starting with agriculture, home economics and 4-H soon followed. The first home adviser began in Kankakee County in 1915, and the first official 4-H club started in Macoupin County that same year. That first 4-H club was a pig club, but soon there were clubs focused on corn, pigs, canning, sewing, gardening, strawberries and calves.

Following are some local historical notes for Logan County:

Logan County Extension was officially chartered Dec. 1, 2017, as were Sangamon and Menard counties. The official beginning was February of 1918. It began with a farm adviser named Elmer Ebersol, who began selling county memberships in the combined Extension and Farm Bureau system that remained in place until 1954, when the USDA officially said Extension was solely a USDA program, thus ending the dual appointments with Extension and Farm Bureau in the state of Illinois.

Locally, early projects included establishment of the county Pure Bred Live Stock Breeders' Association, Pure Bred Beef Cattle Breeders' Association, Pure Bred Dairy Cattle Breeders' Association and the Pure Bred Swine Breeders' Association. Soybeans were a new crop at that time, and their planting was being encouraged. Of course, soybeans were used mainly for hay in their early years. Spring wheat was the predominant wheat crop of the time, and there were several thousand acres of oats. Farm labor was a major concern of the time, and labor placements were a major focus of Extension. The first soil survey of the county was also begun.

The Logan County 4-H program began about 1920, with the first 4-H clubs focusing on the specific projects of swine and corn. Later in 1923 there began a push for home economics-based clubs, and the push was on to identify volunteer leaders. Everything old is new again, and we have seen a return to specialized interest 4-H clubs, with local SPIN clubs including shooting sports, quilting, geology and others.

Home economics was added a few years later with the first "home adviser." Focuses were on running a household and home food preservation.

Logan County added an aggressive community resource development program in the late 1970s. This program was responsible for many of the community-wide surveys done in the early 1980s, and those surveys even led to removal of the city parking meters around the square and in municipal parking lots in Lincoln.

Extension continues to evolve as needs of residents change. Horticulture programming became more prevalent in the 1980s; nontraditional youth programs such as school enrichment and special interest clubs began in the 1980s; and the family nutrition program started in the 1990s. The first Master Gardener training class in Logan County was conducted in the fall of 2000. Web pages began to be a communication medium in 2003, and today there is an average of about 30,000 hits per month on the unit's Web pages.

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The Extension organization continues to change. Recently, the organization underwent a major reorganization brought on by state fiscal difficulties. The major impacts of the reorganization were on the organizational structure and the resulting local educators. Logan County is now part of the Logan, Menard and Sangamon Unit, which is also known as Unit 16. There are 27 units in the state, with most having three to five counties in each unit. There are educators and support staff employed locally now, instead of educators being centrally housed and funded as prior to the reorganization. Unit 16 has five educators for youth; metro Springfield youth; small farms; horticulture; and nutrition and wellness, and budgeting for low-income families. Twelve support staff members provide assistance in these program areas and also provide programming in agricultural literacy in all counties.

As Extension celebrates 100 years, we celebrate and salute the involvement of great volunteers through our history. Volunteerism is the lifeblood of Extension, whether the roles are as a 4-H leader, a Master Gardener, a Master Naturalist, a committee member, a program host or presenter, or an Extension council member. There are currently over 500 active volunteers in the unit in these roles. Funding itself is volunteer-driven, with volunteers working to pass tax referendums in all three of the counties.

We celebrate our past, present and future together because Extension belongs to the people. Extension extends knowledge from the University of Illinois and helps change lives of the citizens of Illinois.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension county director]


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