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Guest Opinions

UW Extension celebrates deep roots, influence in Wyo

I’m spending more time with my Dad lately, even though we live a state apart. As the scope of his life has narrowed, we are both finding the time and the motivation to look to the future as we consider the past. Through his words, I am living his experiences as a young soldier returning from war to a waiting sweetheart – my mother – and a place on the family farm. I was mildly surprised to learn of the Extension farm management trainings he took and what he learned that helped him as a beginning farmer. He mentioned record keeping, fertilizer and input use and farm programs – topics you would find in Extension training for beginning ranchers and farmers today.

Growing up on that small dairy, sugar beet, small grain and bean farm in southern Idaho, I always knew I would go to college – probably because my mother told me I had to. She was hopeful for better opportunities for her children whether on the farm or in town. As it turned out, I never left the university – college, graduate school and then teaching and research in ag markets and policy.With a need for learning and a love of agriculture and agricultural people, it isn’t surprising I have spent most of a career in Extension at the University of Wyoming.

Understanding how Extension’s mission of improving lives and communities through lifelong learning played out in my own family before I was born has been gratifying. I wish I could ask my grandfather about his experiences with Extension. He was there at Extension’s beginning. 

UW Extension is a part of the cultural fabric of the ranches and farms, homes and communities of Wyoming. 

We are at the centennial of the University of Wyoming Extension. The first Extension agent was hired for Fremont County in May 1913 and the second, for Sheridan County, followed in July. 

In some ways it has been a short 100 years. You may remember Stella McKinstry, our long-time family and consumer science educator from Sublette County. She retired a few years ago after 63 years of service and lives in Pinedale. Stella worked with every director of UW Extension starting with the founding director Albert Bowman. Stella and more about our centennial can be viewed in this three-and-a-half minute video at bit.ly/uw100years

You may also read stories and see photos about our centennial in the CONNECT magazine at bit.ly/extension100

This year marks 100 years of Wyoming 4-H, too, with the first 4-H club organized by the UW College of Agriculture in the summer of 1913. And it gets better. The Smith-Lever Act enacted in 1914 added staying power to the budding Extension service by forging a funding partnership between the university, county governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This partnership is the genius of the Extension system, with the interests of county government and the state’s university keeping Extension focused on local needs and issues and providing a connection between problems on farms, ranches, homes and communities and the research and problem solving capacity of the University. 

Our celebration of Extension’s first 100 years kicked off at the 2013 Wyoming State Fair. Having the fair as the backdrop for the celebration is fitting, as Extension, 4-H and fairs have been tied since Extension’s beginnings. If you’ve ever attended the Wyoming State Fair, you know it is all about young people, animals and 4-H. 

4-H and Extension developing contemporaneously in Wyoming is not surprising. The mission of Extension at its start was to “give instruction and practical demonstrations in Agriculture and Home Economics to persons not attending” the land-grant college. 

Extension agents of the time recognized older folks were sometimes resistant to new ideas or ways of doing things. The 4-H movement was an effective way to improve agricultural efficiency and the quality of rural life without directly challenging adults’ traditions and customs. Teach the 4-H’ers and they would either influence their parents or at least carry the learned practices into adulthood. 

The adoption of the “new” hybrid corn provides an example of this educational model. Provide 4-H members hybrid corn seed and then watch the surprise as the children’s corn out-produced their parents. Computers provide another of many examples where 4-H’ers led the way for innovation.   

Extension is not just 4-H youth development but also agriculture, natural resources, food, nutrition, communities and rural living. It’s about learning for a more satisfying life. UW Extension’s centennial celebration will be complete with the 2014 Wyoming State Fair, at which we will celebrate the UW, county and USDA partnership that has given UW Extension so much strength, staying power and success. 

See you at the Wyoming State Fair!