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Extension celebrates 100th anniversary with open house

Whether you frequently partake in its offerings or aren't quite sure what it is, the University of Maryland Extension, Carroll County Office is inviting the public to an open house from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the national extension service.

Jeff Myers, area extension director for Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties, said the open house is part of a series of county extension office celebrations offered throughout the month in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1914, which created the extension service.

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But to fully understand what the extension service is, you have to go back to 1862, when Congress passed the Morrill Land-Grant Act, Myers said. The Morrill Act created the land-grant university system, in which a university or college in every state was designated to do agricultural and engineering research that would improve the lives of Americans.

"That got started because they were trying to figure out how they were going to feed the country as the population was expanding and [lawmakers realized] that they needed to do something to support agriculture and the feeding of a nation," Myers said.

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Researchers at the land-grant universities started making great strides in increasing and improving agricultural production, he said, but they realized that the information wasn't doing any good unless they could introduce it to farmers and show them how to put the research to practical use.

"A lot of times, the research doesn't quite make sense, and at that point in time, the agricultural community would not have been nearly as educated as they are today," Myers said.

So the Smith-Lever Act created the cooperative extension service — an "extension" of the university located in the agricultural communities — with a county agent who could serve as an educator and work alongside farmers to put the university's research directly into action, Myers said.

"From that point, then you had the extension [branch] into our youth development program, which is 4-H, and into horticulture, into food and nutrition, and into all the other arenas that we work in today," Myers said. "But they all relate back to research-based information that's being done at the university."

Visitors to Thursday's open house will get to learn about all of the fields of study that the Carroll extension office is involved in, including agriculture, home horticulture, family and consumer science, and the Master Gardener program — the 4-H youth development program — said Becky Ridgeway, a 4-H youth development educator for the Carroll office and coordinator for the event.

"All of our extension educators are going to be providing a glimpse into what we work on within extension," she said. "The extension has some benefit for every person in the community."

In addition, several 4-H clubs with specific interest areas will be present and giving demonstrations, including a shooting sports club, a robotics club and a rabbit club. Community clubs, which are geographically based rather than focused on special interests, will also be present with crafts and activity tables.

Master Gardeners will be giving tours of two of their gardens located just outside the Carroll County Agriculture Center, Ridgeway said, and the family and consumer science agent will have information about "Smart Choice," a nationally recognized program that can help walk people through selecting the right health insurance for their families during the open enrollment period.

Because the tour is about the history of the extension as well as its current work, the library of the extension office has photographs and newspaper articles from the past century, showing what the research and projects of the extension office have been like over the years.

"It's very interesting going back, looking through some of the pictures because some of the research that was happening back in 1917 through the '20s is still research that our educators are doing here today," Ridgeway said.

For example, there are several old pictures of the county agent's research on orchard health and apple varieties from the early days of the office, and Bryan Butler Sr., principal agent in agriculture and natural resources, still does orchard studies today, Ridgeway said.

Although a century has passed since the extension service was created, Myers said it still remains relevant to society.

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"At the heart of it, as far as transferring knowledge, the process is exactly the same," he said. "The research changes all the time, but that early research, some of it is still perfectly accurate and serves as the foundation point by which other research gets done, no different than any other field from that standpoint."

If you go

What: 100 Year Anniversary Open House

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: University of Maryland Extension, Carroll County Office, Carroll County Ag Center, off Gist Road, Westminster

Cost: Free

For more info: Call the extension office at 410-386-2760

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