What Puts the “Cooperative” in Cooperative Extension?
For more than a century, UNH Cooperative Extension worked with New Hampshire residents, always ready to help in making life better in the Granite State. Whether it was through an Extension forester who helped a landowner get more out of a timber sale, an Extension agent who identified a pest, or a 4-H leader who helped a kid grow into a confident leader, Extension’s help has always been only a phone call away.
What you might not know, however, is that these services are available at little or no cost to citizens. How is that possible? Take a trip with us back about a century and a half to find out.
A Land Grant College Legacy
In the 1800s, many private colleges focused on helping young men leave a rural farming life and start urban careers as lawyers, doctors and community leaders. Federal government officials were concerned that innovation and research in agriculture and engineering would suffer. To address this, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862, which gave each state some federal land that they could turn around and sell to build a public college focused on agricultural and engineering research.
New Hampshire sold its 150,000-acre federal land allotment to create the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1866 at Dartmouth College. However, Durham farmer and businessman Benjamin Thompson was not happy about the college’s remote location, and so he willed his farm to the state under the condition that the college move to Durham. The University of New Hampshire was born, and the first classes began in 1883. They’ve been going strong ever since.
Knowledge Needs Real World Application: Hello Extension
The land grant college system flourished across the county, spawning fine research institutions like Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. However, for research to be useful, there must be a way to share findings with the public and demonstrate how science-based information improves our lives.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Extension Service and provided federal funds for education and outreach activities. But there was a catch. The act required that each federal dollar of support, be matched by a dollar from non-federal sources. In other words, states had to cooperate with the federal government.
Cooperation Extends to the Counties
New Hampshire officials followed the lead of other states and set up Extension offices in each county. Thanks to New Hampshire’s can-do attitude, county government offices agreed to make room for Extension staff and work with UNH to provide what the citizens needed. It was 1913 when the first agricultural Extension agent started work in Sullivan County, and soon after agents were deployed statewide.
For decades, this cooperative arrangement between the federal, state and county governments held strong with a shared understanding and a handshake. But a more formal arrangement was desired, so in 1957 a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed by UNH and the County Conventions to establish County Extension Advisory Councils as the sponsor of Extension work. Now the two organizations negotiate and sign a MOU every six years.
Each signing reaffirms the Smith-Lever Act’s commitment to bringing cutting-edge research, trusted information and helpful advice to New Hampshire’s communities. In an era in which institutions change rapidly, UNH Cooperative Extension continues to fulfill its mission to unite state, county and university leaders under a common cause: helping New Hampshire residents be more successful in all areas of life.
Extension’s Story Continues
The next chapter in UNH Cooperative Extension’s history begins with the 2018 MOU signing on Sept. 18 at the New Hampshire Association of Counties’ annual meeting in Newbury, New Hampshire. Attendees at the signing ceremony include the Chair of the County Commissions, Delegation Chairs, County Extension Advisory Council Chairs, the Dean and Director of UNH Cooperative Extension Ken La Valley, and the new UNH President Jim Dean.
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Lead Photo: Signing of the Grafton County MOU in 2012.