University of Arizona Cooperative Extension is celebrating 100 years of serving Arizonans through programs designed to support agriculture, business, community health, the local economy and more.
On May 8, 1914, Congress signed the Smith-Lever Act, establishing the Cooperative Extension Service as a national priority. The act created a unique educational partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the nation's land-grant universities to extend research-based knowledge through a state-by-state network of extension educators.
When the UA's extension program set out on its mission a century ago, educators traveled the state by train, exhibiting livestock, produce and the latest in farm machinery and sharing advice for more efficiently managing businesses and homes. The goal was to improve outcomes for farmers, small business owners and families, and ultimately benefit the state’s economy.
Although that mission remains, the impact of UA Cooperative Extension, housed in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has grown to be much more diverse and broad today than it was 100 years ago.
"The entire state is our campus," said Kirk Astroth, assistant dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of Arizona 4-H Youth Development.
In 2013, for example, more than 585,000 Arizonans took part in Cooperative Extension offerings, with 190,405 young people participating in 4-H and other youth development programs.
Those programs cover a wide variety of areas, ranging from sustainable food production and childhood nutrition to science, technology, engineering and math.
Earlier this month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a state budget that allocates $3.5 million to UA Cooperative Extension in the 2015 fiscal year to support the program's critical activities throughout the state.
"The work of Cooperative Extension is never done," Astroth said. "As soon as one problem is addressed, new challenges arise that require the application of science, research and practical education to find solutions. We bring the University to the people and work together to solve challenges."
While extension agents, specialists, staff and volunteers continue to share knowledge in classrooms and homes and on fields and farms, technology has allowed Cooperative Extension to connect with people digitally too – through tools such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and mobile apps.
Today, UA Cooperative Extension operates in all 15 Arizona counties, on five reservations and on four military bases, with support from extension faculty based in every department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as thousands of volunteers. UA Cooperative Extension employs nearly 500 people, and approximately 70 percent are funded by external dollars.
"For every dollar invested, Cooperative Extension increases that funding through external sources," said Jeff Silvertooth, director of Arizona Cooperative Extension and associate dean for economic development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "Therefore, Cooperative Extension provides a direct and positive economic impact that creates jobs and local cash flow."
The original intent of land-grant institutions like the UA was to further science and education in agriculture and engineering. While that goal still holds true today, equally as important is providing information and support to nurture healthy individuals and families.
In addition to offering long-standing, traditional agriculture production programs, UA extension agents help farmers battle new varieties of agricultural pests, provide support for grandparents raising grandchildren, work to combat rising obesity rates in children and adults, and develop leadership skills in the children of deployed military members.
"Our problems have changed and our public has changed dramatically in the past 100 years, but we continue to bring education to the people and bring science to bear on practical problems and find solutions," Silvertooth said. "That is what we are here to do and I think we do it better than anyone else at a land-grant institution."