An organization that shaped much of the state, including its largest farm organization, the Alabama Farmers Federation, will celebrate its centennial this month.
On May 8, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) turns 100, and in addition to building on its past is looking forward to what lies ahead.
“What I’m really excited about and proud of is, since 1914 the mission of Extension has not wavered,” said Gary Lemme, Ph.D., Extension director for Alabama. “Our mission has been to provide research-based education relevant to the needs of today, to improve the economy and quality of life for all Alabamians.”
Although Extension formally started with the Smith-Lever Act, its roots trace back to the 1890s when Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver of the Tuskegee Institute saw a need for educational outreach. They designed a mobile classroom that served as a model for the soon-to-be Cooperative Extension. To foster relationships with farmers across the state, ACES helped establish the Alabama Farm Bureau Federation in 1921.
“The history of the Alabama Farmers Federation is so closely intertwined with the Cooperative Extension System, it’s hard to imagine one without the other,” said Federation President Jimmy Parnell.
Extension System agents helped farmers by demonstrating the latest in farming techniques developed through research at land-grant universities. That revolutionized farming by introducing hybrid crop varieties, tillage practices, livestock nutrition and soil health. Ultimately, Extension offices were established in every county and spread nationwide.
Extension continues to focus on educational programs in six areas: youth development, agriculture, leadership development, natural resources, family and consumer sciences and community and economic development; but it started from much humbler beginnings.
Retired Extension agent Tammy Powell said the organization helped change lives.
“We have focused on things that have really benefitted the community as a whole,” Powell said. “Not only agriculture, but also economically for homeowners. We taught people how to can (preserve) and how to freeze, and those are still some of the things Extension teaches people.”
Powell said those tools are important, but Extension has one ultimate purpose.
“It’s a family affair,” she said. “Even as an Extension agent, your family is involved, and you are working with people who are parts of families. It may be through economics, 4-H, nutrition, but whatever it is, it’s trying to make the family better.”