One hundred years ago this May, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act into law. The act established a system of cooperative extension services connected to land-grant universities. The idea was to take all the wisdom and knowledge from the land-grant institutions and make that available to people in their everyday lives – out on the farm, in their homes, in their businesses and in their communities. That was 100 years ago and here we are – we’re still at it.
From its beginning, Michigan State University Extension’s emphasis has been on agriculture. Well over half of our federal and state funds go into agricultural programming. Our network of Extension educators makes faculty expertise and university research available to communities.
We’re still involved in the same areas today but we’ve also evolved. We’ve looked for new ways to reach people where they are. We now have a presence at Detroit Eastern Market and the Grand Rapids Downtown Market where we educate the public on nutrition, gardening and food safety. We will soon have a footprint in the Flint Farmers Market. Our Michigan Fresh campaign further educates on fruits, vegetables, flowers and ornamentals as well as food safety, food storage and preservation, and gardening.
We’ve found new ways to reach out to youth. Michigan 4-H Youth Development has grown in one year from 175,000 to 200,000 youth. We are over halfway to our goal of reaching 20 percent of Michigan youth by 2020. We’re getting kids interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) outside the classroom. We’re also helping kids ‒ through a multitude of project areas ‒ develop life skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. These skills will help them become the leaders and successful, resilient adults of tomorrow.
Our placemaking team and community food systems team help communities discover how to attract people.
Any challenges we do have, we turn to opportunities. You may want to listen to my conversation with Kirk Heinze that took place March 21 on Greening of the Great Lakes on News/Talk 760 WJR. I talk about how our Michigan State University Extension programs are still life changing and relevant after 100 years. You can read the MLive article here: http://www.mlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/03/as_msu_extension_celebrates_it.html. At the end of the article, you’ll find a link to the broadcast.