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Virginia Cooperative Extension reaches 2.6 million people annually

Since the 1914 Smith-Lever Act established the national Cooperative Extension System, Virginia Cooperative Extension has delivered the knowledge and resources of the state’s two land-grant universities — Virginia Tech and Virginia State University — to the people.

Society and its issues have changed during the past 100 years, but Extension’s mission has never wavered.

"We still work with people where they live and deal with the issues they face every day. We help them use the knowledge from the land-grant universities to improve their quality of life and economic prosperity," said Edwin Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. "The biggest difference between now and then is that today’s issues are much more complex.”

   

4-H participants in Alexandria, Va.,  learn about GIS mapping technology as part of the 4-H National Youth Science Day. 4-H participants in Alexandria, Va., learn about GIS mapping technology as part of the 4-H National Youth Science Day. Photo courtesy of the National 4-H Council.

Today, Extension expands beyond the farm fields and the kitchens of rural Virginia. Faculty members in 107 county and city offices conduct programming in classrooms, workplaces, and online. In 2013, they reached more than 2.6 million participants statewide.

Sarah Burkett, senior family and consumer sciences agent in Pulaski County, said she sees first-hand the challenges in the communities where she works.

In a typical week, Burkett conducts more than 10 educational programs for children and adults. During the school year, she provides nutrition lessons to second- and third-graders.

"I never planned on doing school nutrition, but my advisory committee chair, who happened to be the assistant superintendent, recommended doing school programs so I could reach both the children and their parents," Burkett said.

Shared knowledge

Burkett and other agents enlist the help of volunteers to extend Extension’s presence in the community. Nearly 30,000 people volunteered in 2013, contributing more than 966,000 hours of service valued at more than $23.8 million.

Among them is Andy Hullender, a bank manager and a Master Financial Education volunteer for the last four years. He helps Burkett teach classes on basic banking, how interest is calculated, managing credit and identity theft, and negotiating with debt collectors, among others.

Hullender said he particularly likes programs that tie financial education with nutrition. "Finances and health go hand in hand," he said. "When people aren’t working, they don’t have an incentive to be healthy."

   

Cattle producer Joey Davenport, at left, talks about upcoming educational opportunities with Phil Blevins, agricultural and natural resources Extension agent in Washington County, Va. Cattle producer Joey Davenport, at left, talks about upcoming educational opportunities with Phil Blevins, agricultural and natural resources Extension agent in Washington County, Va.

A trusted network

While Extension expands its knowledge base to address economic, environmental, and social concerns, agriculture remains a core component of the program.

Cattle producers such as Joey Davenport say they rely on Extension’s ability to provide relevant industry information.

Davenport manages a 200-head cow-calf operation in Washington County for Bill Hayter Farms. Davenport and other producers use programs such as the Master Cattleman Course to influence most of their management decisions. The course, offered throughout Virginia, helps new and experienced producers enhance their knowledge of beef nutrition, reproduction, marketing, herd health, genetics, forages, and economics.

"If it weren’t for Extension, I’d be lost. They bring the education out to us and help us apply it," Davenport said. "Extension remains the go-between, bringing research and new developments to the field."

Lessons on leadership

Perhaps no other component of Extension has greater impact than its 4-H programs for young people.

Through hands-on experiences, youth discover and build their abilities to make good decisions, manage resources, work effectively, and communicate successfully.

"4-H has helped me gain leadership skills," said Kate Belcher of Abingdon, Va.

Belcher, a first-year Virginia Tech student majoring in animal and poultry sciences and agribusiness, has been involved with 4-H for 13 years and is a past president on the Virginia State 4-H Cabinet.

"4-H has helped me develop teamwork skills and taught me how to work with different personalities to reach a common goal." she said. "I'm more open to others' suggestions and ideas, and I've learned how to take criticism and bring others to consensus."

Jones said educating youth is at Extension’s core.

"Our programs help prepare Virginia’s youth to take on today’s challenges and contribute to their communities," he said.

Those challenges will continue to get more complicated, he said, but through Extension’s access to cutting-edge research and a network of more than 3,000 local offices, the organization will be able to find answers to issues and shape solutions.

  • For more information on this topic, contact Lori Greiner at 540-231-5863.

About Virginia Cooperative Extension

    Virginia Cooperative Extension

Through a network of faculty members at Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, 107 county and city offices, 11 agricultural research and extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers, Virginia Cooperative Extension helps individuals, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build better futures. 

Learn more about Extension's programs and services at its website or its Agency 229 Annual Report.

Celebrate 100 years

    Virginia Cooperative Extension celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act.

Join Virginia Cooperative Extension as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the national Cooperative Extension System. 

Activities are being planned throughout the state to commemorate the centennial. Events will be held in communities, Extension volunteers will be recognized, and a Virginia Cooperative Extension Day is set for May 8, 2014. Visit the Extension Centennial news website for upcoming events.

Video: Virginia Cooperative Extension

    Virginia Cooperative Extension

Edwin Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, talks about what Extension does and how it works.

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