A century of science and service
California Agriculture 68(1):8-15. https://doi.org/10.3733/ca.v068n01p8
Published online January 01, 2014
On a warm Friday, May 8, 1914, in Washington D.C., two pieces of new legislation awaited President Woodrow Wilson's signature: a proclamation establishing the second Sunday each May as Mother's Day, and the Smith-Lever Act. The honoring of mothers dominated the news that day, but Wilson recognized the importance of the Smith-Lever Act, calling it “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by government.”
Sponsored by Sen. Hoke K. Smith and Rep. Asbury F. Lever, the bill was the result of national efforts to create a new educational model for U.S. agriculture. At that time, land-grant universities ran farmers institutes and short courses taught by lecturers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered its own form of Extension work that focused on pest control field demonstrations in the South and farm management in the North. Yet there was no consistent or efficient way to deliver important knowledge from the university campuses to the communities that needed it. Passage of Smith-Lever launched a century of innovation in U.S. education that continues to this day. In California, the educational model born out of the legislation is UC Cooperative Extension. For 100 years this statewide network of UC researchers and educators has developed and provided science-based information to solve locally relevant challenges in the areas of economics, agriculture, natural resources, youth development and nutrition.
The presidential roots of Cooperative Extension
Over the course of more than half a century, Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson signed bookend legislation that created the land-grant institutions and Cooperative Extension. Despite very different backgrounds and political ideologies, they reached very similar conclusions about the vital nature of agricultural education to U.S. prosperity.
President Lincoln, a Republican, who signed into law the Morrill Act, creating the nation's system of public higher education and land-grant institutions, and President Wilson, who signed the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative Extension service, were both shaped by the American Civil War. Lincoln experienced the war firsthand, serving as president of the United States when the South seceded from the Union, and brought the nation intact, although battered, through 4 grueling years of war. Lincoln was born and raised on a farm, and his lack of formal education influenced his ideas about educational access for Americans. Life on the farm also influenced his ideas about the importance of creating a federal-level agency (the USDA, what Lincoln termed “the people's department”) to manage agriculture, of opening up land to settlers by means of the Homestead Act, and of creating a transnational railroad system to promote commerce.
A Democrat, Wilson was born in Virginia. At the end of the Civil War, when he was only 8 years old, he watched the former Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, brought through his community in chains. As a youth he saw how local farmers struggled after the war. He attended elite educational institutions, including the University of Virginia and the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University), and received a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. Wilson was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile. He never forgot his firsthand observations of the economic challenges Southern farmers faced in the post-Civil War era; these experiences strongly influenced his ideas about scientific agriculture and the importance of Extension education.
Agriculture has always been vital to America. In 1860, at the outset of the Civil War, farmers made up 58% of the U.S. labor force. It was that demographic that created the impetus behind the 1862 Morrill Act, which gave each state a grant of land to establish a college that would teach practical subjects such as agriculture and engineering (see California Agriculture, April–June 2012, pg. 42). A key role of those colleges was to develop knowledge that would help farmers produce enough food and fiber to meet the needs of a growing nation.
In 1887, the Hatch Act was passed to further this mission; it provided land-grant colleges with funds to develop agricultural experiment stations, where research was conducted. Passage of the Adams Act in 1906 doubled funding to the research stations, while requiring a new funding commitment from state sources. The infusion of federal and state capital facilitated agricultural research, education and innovation, and generated increasing interest in U.S. agriculture among policymakers concerned about food security and increasing economic opportunities.
Five years of debate had preceded the Smith-Lever legislation. The McLaughlin Bill, proposed in 1909, left no clear role in Extension work for the USDA. Opponents of that bill were familiar with the work of early Extension educator Seaman A. Knapp and argued for his model, which emphasized demonstration work on farms. The final Smith-Lever legislation was a compromise, facilitated by USDA Secretary David Houston, that proposed a single Extension service from the USDA's agricultural Extension system and land-grant education, and created a federal, state and county funding formula for it that persists to this day.
The intent of the Smith-Lever Act, like earlier agricultural legislation, was broadly democratizing. Initially, Extension focused on improving and reforming rural life, partly in response to the findings of the Country Life Commission, created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The Smith-Lever Act was rooted in the Progressive philosophy of helping people help themselves, a philosophy that continues to inform Cooperative Extension's work today, and it demonstrated Progressive Era beliefs in the value of public-private partnerships and shared funding models.
In the case of Cooperative Extension, the model included federal (USDA), state (land-grant universities) and local support (county funding, and the organization of a local Farm Bureau to sponsor the work). This relationship with the Farm Bureau was a vital component in Cooperative Extension's formation and identity; their growth and partnership has been extraordinarily successful in advancing American agriculture. Local farmers and Cooperative Extension shared ownership in this shared model and the knowledge produced, and they still do.
What is difficult to comprehend today, 100 years later, is the sense of urgency surrounding the need to improve U.S. agriculture in 1914. The nation's agricultural sector faced difficulties in a number of areas, including production, yield, labor sources and distribution. Rural areas were depopulating, and the number of farmers was dropping. At the same time, an inexpensive, secure and ordered food supply was believed essential for civil order and national progress.
1914 was a momentous year. The Panama Canal opened. Ford Motor Company established an 8-hour workday and increased wages. The National Guard fired upon striking miners in Colorado. Racial tensions ran high, as did tensions between rural and urban populations. U.S. naval forces landed and occupied Veracruz, Mexico, bringing the two countries to the brink of war. By August, World War I had started, and U.S. agricultural products were sorely needed to feed and support our allies. Efficient agriculture backed by scientific solutions became a national priority.
Partners in California
Even before passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, efforts were already under way to create an agricultural Extension system in California, building on the success of the state's land-grant college, the University of California. The first UC campus, at Berkeley, had agriculture as an important early focus. In 1907, a university research farm was opened in Davisville to serve Berkeley students. That site grew into a new campus, UC Davis. The same year, UC established the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside, which was instrumental in helping California emerge as the nation's premier citrus producer, creating a second Gold Rush of sorts, as thousands flocked to the Golden State to capitalize on the opportunities that the state's agricultural and natural resource abundance seemed to ensure. The experiment station at Riverside served as the foundation for the UC Riverside campus.
By the time the Smith-Lever Act became law, new knowledge and technologies developed by UC scientists were critical to the growth of farming and allied industries around the state. UC agriculture faculty were already offering short courses at farmers institutes, but farmers were clamoring for more and eager to have a Cooperative Extension educator, known as a farm advisor, assigned to their community.
Anticipating passage of Smith-Lever, UC officials required each county government that wanted to participate in a Cooperative Extension partnership to allocate funding to help support Extension work in that community. Additionally, it was required that a group of farmers in participating counties organize into a Farm Bureau to help guide the Cooperative Extension farm advisor on the issues of local agriculture. (These grassroots groups later evolved into the California Farm Bureau Federation.) The first California county to sign up, Humboldt County, had its farm advisor in place by July 1913, before passage of the federal legislation. Seven more counties came on board in 1914, and in the following years 41 of the 58 California counties secured Cooperative Extension farm advisors.
Cooperative Extension played a critical role on California's home front during World War I, helping farmers to grow enough wheat and other crops to meet expanded wartime needs. Extension's value was quickly established as farmers came to rely on having an expert close at hand who was familiar with local conditions and crops. In addition to addressing the needs of farmers, Cooperative Extension soon expanded to provide educational opportunities for their families. Female extension agents — home advisors — were hired; they taught food preservation and nutrition and ran other programs for rural women and activities for local youth. This new generation of college-educated female home economists increased the contact and interchange between urban and rural communities, especially on social and domestic issues. Cooperative Extension also reached thousands of young people who would learn about food production, animal husbandry, cooking, science and more through participation in 4-H clubs.
A profile in excellence
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, a young UC-trained agronomist named Milton D. Miller worked as an assistant farm advisor in the UC Cooperative Extension office in Ventura County. When the United States entered World War II, Miller enlisted in the U.S. Army as a captain and was deployed to the Pacific theatre. He worked for the U.S. Subsistence Procurement Branch in Australia, where he helped farmers transition from hand-hoeing vegetable fields to using mechanical weeders, as part of the effort to boost Allied wartime food production. An engaging writer, Miller corresponded regularly with the Cooperative Extension staff in Ventura, exchanging news and thanking them for gift packages that included fruitcake, handkerchiefs and tobacco.
After the war ended, Miller returned to service with UC Cooperative Extension, working as an Extension specialist from what eventually became the UC Davis campus. His notable career spanned more than 50 years, and his work in rice, cereal and oilseed crops, and food procurement had local, state, national and international impacts. Producers here and all over the world benefited from his research on rapidly developing technologies to improve practices and increase production.
UC Cooperative Extension today
UC Cooperative Extension, part of UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), is comprised today of 320 locally based Cooperative Extension advisors, 650 campus-based Cooperative Extension specialists, 60 county offices throughout the state, and nine research and extension centers. It has rural roots, but as the nation has grown and communities have changed, Cooperative Extension has evolved, adapting programs and developing new ones to meet the needs of rural and nonrural audiences. Since the 1960s, the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) has provided free nutrition education classes in urban communities. Thousands of urban and suburban residents have benefited from the Master Gardener program, which offers workshops and advice to home, community and school gardeners; currently, more than 5,400 master gardener volunteers serve California communities. The Master Food Preserver program teaches Californians to safely preserve the healthy foods we produce. A new Master Naturalist program is training volunteers to help communities respond to complex issues in sustainable natural ecosystems; observations by volunteers in the community are recorded using mobile technologies so the data can be studied by scientists, who then respond to and help solve community problems.
All of Cooperative Extension's activities are grounded in university research and developed in partnership with local communities. After a century of service, UC Cooperative Extension continues to deliver practical, trusted, science-based solutions to Californians.
May 8, 2014: Day of citizen science
The real strength of UC Cooperative Extension is its ability to facilitate and build networks of knowledge that include scientists, producers, community members and practitioners. We learn together. This engaging process by everyone, not just the professional experts, has been an important part of our national history. Before the formalization of higher education and the specialization of scientific disciplines, much of our scientific knowledge was gathered by citizens through trial and error and then passed along to others. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson shared their knowledge of agricultural science in their correspondence and at agricultural fairs and meetings. Benjamin Franklin published scientific discoveries that provided a foundation for future technological innovation. John Bartram, a self-trained botanist and explorer, presented his plant knowledge in Philadelphia by making a garden, considered by many to be the nation's first significant botanical collection.
Citizen science is gaining traction in contemporary communities. Also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, networked science or public participation in science research, citizen science is a form of participatory scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists. Through citizen science projects, community members engage and participate in scientific research by contributing their own knowledge, observations and intellectual efforts, often using social, web-based technologies or mobile applications.
On Thursday, May 8, 2014, the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) will celebrate the 100th birthday of UC Cooperative Extension with a citizen science event – the Day of Science and Service. UC Cooperative Extension will crowd-source data for citizen science projects about water, food and pollinators. Every Californian is invited to participate in this free celebration of science.
UC ANR is developing data collection maps, and participants will be able to access them through their computers or smartphones and add their data directly to the maps. After adding data, they will be taken to a landing page with more information about why the questions are important and links to additional research in these three areas. After the Day of Science and Service, the data will be tabulated and analyzed, and the results will be shared with participants.
For more information about participating, visit http://Beascientist.ucanr.edu .
—Marissa Palin Stein