UGA Extension Service marks 100-year milestone

Brian Maddy County extension agent

May 23, 2014

Time flies.

One hundred years ago Europe had embarked on a course which led to global warfare, World War I. Great Britain began an embargo on food to all the countries allied with Germany and the Austrian Hungarian Empire. Food became a weapon of war.

On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act. How did all this impact every citizen of the United States and millions of people around the world? When President Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act he insured the food security of the United States.

The United States fed the allied armies in both world wars. We also fed a devastated Europe after the wars as well. Hoke Smith, the United States senator from Georgia, had the tremendous foresight to envision a country that could not only be food-sufficient for itself, but also become the bread basket of the world. This year the University of Georgia celebrates 100 years of providing extension service to almost every county in Georgia.

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service was founded through this act. Hoke Smith hoped that every land grant university would develop cutting edge innovations in agriculture and home economics that would improve the lives of millions of Americans.

This law established and funded a state-by-state national network of educators who bring university based research and practical knowledge to the public. By using research based improvements hybrid corn came on to the scene, which increased yields from 25 bushels per acre to over 180 bushels per acre. Soybeans as an oil crop were introduced in the 1920s and now dominate the protein source in livestock feed.

By improving yields and protein quality, growth rates in livestock increased and food prices decreased at the same time. In the 1920s a campaign slogan was “a chicken in every pot.” This was in an era where eating chicken was a delicacy and expensive. Compare that to the prevalence of chicken at many of our fast food stores.

Home economics transitioned into family and consumer science education and brought improvements in health and nutrition to many homes. Home demonstration agents provided information on cooking, canning, childcare, sewing and gardening to families across the state.

The most popular topic of the time was canning. Family and consumer science programs reach out to many diverse groups to promote healthy lifestyles and to improve living standards.

4-H has been enriching the lives of children from ages nine to nineteen for 100 years as well. Georgia’s 4-H legacy goes back to pre-1914 youth corn clubs.

These kids took the information from the UGA specialists seriously. Their corn yields outpaced their dad’s. At this point, dad became interested in these new trends and started taken extension seriously. Farm demonstrations are still important in the second millennium.

Today, 4-H helps our greatest natural resource to become self-directing, productive and contributing members of society through a potpourri of programs. These programs help our youth to acquire knowledge, develop skills and form attitudes that help them become productive members of our society.

These efforts rely on the cooperation of county governments nationwide who also recognize the importance of relaying our land grant universities research to nearly every county in the state. Many thanks go to our local Troup County Commissioners who have been strong supporters of the University of Georgia’s Extension education program. Without the support of the Troup County Commissioners, UGA Extension would not be in Troup County.

Hoke Smith’s vision of creating a secure agriculture base has come to fruition. Publicly funded research and extension efforts have been major factors in creating the safest, most nutritious, cost effective food production systems in the history of the world.