Friday, August 7, 2009

What is Extension?

It’s a little weird to a part of an organization that’s been around for so long (since 1862), and with such a distinguished history, but also seems to have so little a collective understanding in the mind of the average citizen.

Whenever I tell a new acquaintance that I work for Penn State Cooperative Extension, the invariable response is, “What’s that?”

I can’t really blame them. When I attended my first introduction to Master Gardeners by Chris M. and Bob K. in the summer of 2001, it was the first question I had. I had heard of 4H, of course, but had not in any way connected it to Cooperative Extension. The only cultural reference that existed was the bumbling “Mr. Kimble” character from the 1960’s sitcom Green Acres, not exactly something to use to foster greater recognition in the public eye.

In many ways, it’s our own fault. Extension often appears content to be “the best kept secret” around. The problem with that, especially in times when public dollars are tight, is that secrets are by definition known only to the few, so no matter how good, or important the programs are, they’re the first to go when budgets get cut.

So, in an effort to get some information out to Extension’s first line of defense, our volunteers, and to do my bit to overcome the "secret" part, here’s a statement I came across from the excellent publication Pennsylvania Produce - A guide to quality produce grown in PA .
About Extension: All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation’s more than 100 landgrant colleges and universities have a third critical mission -extension. “Extension” means “reaching out,” and, along with teaching and research, land-grant institutions such as Penn State “extend” their resources, solving public needs with college or university resources through non-formal, non-credit programs. These programs are administered through county and regional extension offices, which bring land-grant expertise to the most local of levels. Penn State Cooperative Extension’s mission is to enhance quality of life by providing informal outreach educational opportunities to individuals, families, businesses, and communities throughout the Commonwealth. We teach people how to solve problems, do something better, live healthier, manage resources wisely, and create a sustainable future. We are dedicated to giving you the means to grow, to achieve, to compete, to go farther, and to do more. Contact us and see what Extension can do for you!
That's the best definition I've seen. So, the next time someone asks you what Extension is, refer them here. Master Gardeners are a major part of bringing that vision to fruition, and we can be proud of our role in it.

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