Friday, March 11, 2022

The Agricultural Extension Office

Last week I mentioned local Agricultural Extension Offices as a source of information about renting land to garden on, but that's not all they're good for: most states with a significant agricultural market will have some form of Extension Office to assist farmers and gardeners, one of the few uses of our tax dollars that can directly benefit us.

A little history first, since I like to explain where things come from. Back in 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act that established land-grant colleges and universities to promote better opportunities in the areas of agriculture and the mechanical arts. The politics get a bit sticky since this was right at the start of the Civil War, and it was one of the federal vs. state control issues that brought about that conflict. Basically, the 1862 Act sold off federal land and granted the proceeds to the states to fund the creation of public colleges and universities. Each state received 30,000 acres per federal Senator and Congressman from that state, with the Confederate states being exempted until after the war. 69 public colleges and universities were founded this way, creating an alternative to private schools. After the war in 1890, a further Act established colleges and universities for the newly-freed black population (things were still segregated), and in 1994 it was expanded further to create advanced schools for native Americans. A list of all such colleges can be found on Wikipedia.

Land-grant colleges exist to teach agricultural best practices and other things, so they're a source of information and assistance that we're already paying for. Most of them have some form of Agricultural Extension Office system with offices scattered about the state; ours is at the county level with a physical office in every county. With over 150 years of study and research in their archives, they are a great resource for information about your local soils, crops, pests, and animals. If you find an unidentified bug eating all of your plants, taking a specimen to the local office (in a jar, please) is a good way to find out what it is and how to eliminate it.

Identifying weeds and invasive animals are also part of their job. Many of them publish hard-copy identification guides for local pests along with other books, maps, and documents that can help you grow food. Hardcopy is my preferred method of storing information, since it doesn't rely on electricity and can't be remotely altered or deleted.

Iowa was the first state to accept the land-grant college system, but Kansas was the first to establish one. Iowa State University is not known for its sports teams, but is well-known for graduating veterinarians and agricultural managers. They run our state Extension services, and the web page gives you a clue as to how much that covers. Expanding local markets and encouraging local production of foods is a part of their focus right now, so if you're looking to grow food in quantity, they have helpful information and they will share it with out-of-staters. Here's an example of what they offer just to commercial vegetable producers. This can become a rabbit-hole of research, so set yourself limits before diving in.

Reach out to your local Extension Office and see what they have to offer. It's going to vary by state and personnel, so I can't guarantee a good response, but you should be able to get something useful out of them.

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