The Cooperative Extension Service is a partnership in outreach education funded by federal, state, and local governments.The program is carried out in Georgia by county extension agents from the University of Georgia (UGA) and Fort Valley State University. They rely on research-based information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Agricultural Experiment Stations, and faculty from the two universities. The Cooperative Extension Service began as a mechanism to teach farmers and their families how to improve their quality of life. Today it delivers education throughout the state in agricultural and environmental sciences, family and consumer sciences, 4-H and youth development, and related areas.
The Cooperative Extension Service was established in 1914. The congressional legislation that enabled this kind of cooperation nationwide, the Smith-Lever Act, created a means to deliver useful and practical agricultural and home economics information to all Americans. The act was coauthored by Georgia’s U.S. senator and former governor Hoke Smith.
The Georgia Cooperative Extension Service soon evolved into one of the three major thrusts of the UGA College of Agriculture, alongside residential instruction (college teaching) and research (Experiment Stations). The early years emphasized agricultural production with service-oriented programs for individual farmers, homemakers, and children. Early extension workers made personal visits to demonstrate contour plowing, permanent pasture development, and hog cholera vaccinations. They taught farm families about children’s health and nutrition, boll weevil control, mattress making, and purebred hog and cattle raising.
The roots of the Georgia 4-H Club began in 1904 in Newton County as a countywide boys’ corn club. Statewide corn- and cotton-growing contests were held in 1906. Chicken and pig contests were held in 1908. In that same year, the program was also extended to African American children. Club work for girls began in Hancock County in 1906 and consisted of garden clubs, tomato clubs, and canning clubs. By 1911 more than 1,500 girls were active in the pre-4-H Club activities.
In 1924 the nation’s first state 4-H camp, Camp Wilkins, was built on the University of Georgia campus. The Georgia Extension Service opened the world’s largest youth camp—Rock Eagle 4-H Center—in 1955. The center also serves as a training site and environmental laboratory for extension workers and other educational groups.
In the 1960s the focus of the Extension Service shifted to reflect the radically changing times. While extension workers maintained strong agricultural and 4-H programs, some expanded their teaching to low-income nutrition, urban programs, mass media, minority representation, civil rights, and family life education.
Over the decades the UGA Extension Service has developed into a complex organization with multiple functions and locations, including faculty and staff in almost all of the state’s 159 counties. The pace of modern science and business requires the flexibility and responsiveness of interdisciplinary teams to address issues.
In the early 1970s, UGA worked with Fort Valley State University to establish a unit of the extension program designed to aid the socioeconomically disadvantaged rural Black population. This program also conducted widely varying programs, including minority business seminars and youth programs. The Cooperative Extension Program at Fort Valley State University provides practical, problem-oriented learning opportunities for those persons who do not or cannot participate in formal classroom instruction offered on the campus.
The state of Georgia is divided into four extension districts. District headquarters, including a district head, program development coordinators and clerical support, are located in each of these four districts to administer, coordinate, and support extension agents. Those agents provide a link between UGA and the public and also oversee the Georgia 4-H program that provides education and leadership training for youths.
Through its staff of program leaders, specialists, county agents, county extension program assistants, and support personnel, the program at Fort Valley State University provides educational services in fifteen county offices in the four primary extension areas: agriculture and natural resources, home economics and family development, community resource development, and youth and manpower development.
The UGA Cooperative Extension Service seeks to serve the public in Georgia by providing producers, consumers, and agribusiness with relevant, accurate, and unbiased research-based information, and to improve the quality of life through youth development and lifelong education.
The Fort Valley Cooperative Extension Program seeks to identify and develop educational programs for a diverse clientele that includes the rural disadvantaged, working homemakers, small family and part-time farmers, lay community leaders, youths, small businesspersons, and other members of the general public in Georgia.
Throughout its long history, the Cooperative Extension Service has introduced methods and techniques that have enhanced economic stability in rural areas, protected the environment, guided communities through decision-making processes, and improved the health and well-being of families. County Extension Service agents are the local link between science-based education and the communities they serve. County agents introduced integrated pest management to protect the environment and help farmers control pests efficiently. They helped carry out the Boll Weevil Eradication Program, introduce research-tested varieties, collaborate with a wide variety of community leaders and groups to improve their communities, and teach classes on food safety. In addition, more than 170,000 children across the state benefit from Georgia 4-H. They learn valuable lessons ranging from traditional agricultural topics to public speaking, photography, and computers, and they gain invaluable leadership and citizenship skills.