As a former horticulture agent, I’m a firm believer in the services provided by Cooperative Extensions. But when I first started working at one, was I really disappointed to find out that so many gardeners are completely unaware of this amazing resource. When I would tell people I worked for an Extension office, they’d tilt their heads to the side and give a long drawn out “oooohhh,” as if to say, “I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.” When I’d ask them if they knew what an extension was, nine times out of 10 the answer was “no.” So here’s my “Reader’s Digest version” of the history of Cooperative Extension:

Cooperative Extension Office

While the face of cooperative extension is different in every county, rest assured there’s an actual facility where you can go to get excellent gardening information.

Photo Credit: Sarah L. Ivy

Annual Trials Ohio State University

Each Extension office nationwide offers research-based information on plants that can be grown in its particular region.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

The Morrill Act of 1862 granted federally controlled land to the states to fund organizations we know as “land-grant institutions.” The mission of these institutions was to teach agriculture and other practical subjects to the working classes so they could obtain a college education.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 broadened the land-grant institutions’ mission to include Cooperative Extension services. The purpose of these branches was to get the land-grant colleges’ and universities’ research and practices (mainly in farming) to the rest of the state through their agents. Cooperative Extensions certainly have changed since their inception, but their duties are still as relevant as ever.

Not only does your local Cooperative Extension office serve as your link to a land-grant university in your state, it’s a physical location to go and receive sound gardening and other nonbiased, research-based information.

Probably the most well-known service of local Cooperative Extension offices is that they do soil-sample tests. But let me tell you that your Extension is much more than that! I particularly love the fact that instead of trying to sell a particular brand of product to the public, Cooperative Extension offices are in the information business. All the recommendations and information you receive is based on university research – not the research of a company trying to sell you their products.

Extension offices have a number of agents who specialize in specific subjects. Horticulture is represented in most offices, and these agents design educational programs to meet the needs of the people who live in their county. Extension offices also often hold gardening classes, demonstrations and workshops open to the public. What’s more, many times these events are free (but always check in advance).

So don’t be shy – call up your local Extension office and find out what services and classes are offered in your county. You may be surprised to find an information gold mine in your own back yard!