By Mark Simonson Contributing Writer
The Daily Star
---- — A lot has changed in the last 100 years, but for one local organization celebrating its centennial, its reason for being is as vital as ever.
Jeanne Darling, executive director of the Delaware County Cooperative Extension, said today’s educational programming is still centered around agriculture, which the Farm Bureau started in 1913.
“We’re very interested in local foods, from growth, production and access to them," Darling said. "We’re teaching gardening, helping to create school gardens, and nutrition. More and more people are interested in eating and having a food supply that is local."
Back around the turn of the 20th century, the state of agriculture in upstate New York was in sorry shape. Land that had been farmed was being abandoned, and prices of food were on the rise.
There had been a widespread belief that the soils of the eastern states had been permanently or materially decreased in their productive possibilities. Fortunately, this belief was false, and many set out to properly educate and train farm families so the best of the abandoned land could be put back into use.
One organization formed to help reverse this trend was Cornell Cooperative Extension in New York state. It had its origins in New York with the formation of a county Farm Bureau in Broome County in 1911. The success soon spread to other counties across the state, and Delaware County formed its organization in 1913, originally called the Delaware County Farmers’ Welfare Association, changing its name later to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County.
Throughout this year, Delaware County Cooperative Extension has celebrated its centennial with a mission that has hardly changed throughout its history, although the number and kind of people they serve are markedly different today.
In 1915, there were more than 5,000 farms in Delaware County. Today there are approximately 120 dairy farms. While still assisting farmers, Cooperative Extension does much more, including linking university research and experiential learning to the issues facing farmers and other rural residents. The Extension service draws on public and private resources to provide a variety of programs throughout the state.
During its early years, Delaware County Cooperative Extension witnessed the passing of the county’s butter industry and the advent of cauliflower as a major export crop. It saw the growth of the new national 4-H youth organization in many local communities and the start of 4-H Camp Shankitunk near Delhi in 1927. The local Extension assisted farmers and non-farmers alike in producing more food with Victory Gardens during World War II.
Part of the 100th anniversary celebration is going on this week not only in Delaware County, but with Cooperative Extensions in counties across the state and nation, as this is both National 4-H Week and National Cooperative Extension Week.
A traveling exhibit by the DCCE has been on display throughout the year at numerous sites across the county, and the decades of local farming history of Extension have been featured monthly in their publication, Extension Connection. County agents have also given numerous PowerPoint presentations to groups to share the past 100 years and what may lie ahead in the future of Cooperative Extension in the county.
DCCE programs aren’t just for farmers and their families, Darling said, and some of the diverse programs coming this fall will include a renewable energy conference, designed for small businesses, schools and nonprofit organizations; and programs on Holiday Decorations, Help in Identifying Invasive Species and Pumpkin Production.
To learn more and help celebrate DCCE’s centennial, visit www.ccedelaware.org.