Looking Back on Extension’s 100th Anniversary

2014 has been a memorable year for number of reasons–some good, some not so good. But for thousands of Extension agents in Florida, and tens of thousands more across the country, 2014 was notable for one very important thing: it was the 100th Anniversary of the Cooperative Extension Service in the United States. In 1914, the U.S. Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which established the funding states needed to bring science-based agricultural and home economics education from land-grant universities to the public. Smith-Lever represented a huge leap forward in improving public education, the production and safety of agriculture, and the quality of life for millions of Americans. A birthday this significant could not go uncelebrated. Centennial events throughout the year served as an opportunity to raise public awareness about Extension, as well as discuss Extension’s role in providing education to solve the problems of the next 100 years. But mostly, it was an opportunity for people to have fun and celebrate Extension’s 100-year history of service to the people of Florida. The anniversary year actually began in the fall of 2013, when a group of full-sized standup photos of Seaman Knapp, Hoke Smith and Asbury Lever began circulating through county Extension offices around the state.
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NOTE: The Family Dairy Day at the UF/IFAS Dairy Research Unit in Hague for October 25 has been CANCELLED.

When the Florida Agricultural Extension Service started in 1915, many agricultural commodities already had a long history in the state, such as beef cattle, cotton and citrus. But in the case of dairy farming, it was virtually nonexistent when Extension arrived on the scene. In a way, you could say that Florida’s extension service and dairy industry grew up together.

Building a Dairy Industry

At the turn of the century, Florida had no dairy industry to speak of. The few commercial dairies in the state were small operations. Farmers only owned as many cows as they could milk by hand, and the milk was collected into steel cans and hauled by horse-drawn wagons directly from the farm to customers, or to milk distribution depots. In some areas, the “dairyman” was just a man who would lead his cow into town and milk it directly into a pail for customers.

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The new school year is beginning, and so, inevitably, are jokes about food fights, mystery meat and ketchup-as-a-vegetable. School cafeterias have been a part of public education for such a long time that it’s easy to take them for granted. But what you might not know is that school lunches are the result of a decades-long struggle waged early in the last century to get nutritious food into the nation’s schools. In Florida, home demonstration agents from the Agricultural Extension Service were leaders in the struggle to establish school lunch programs.

Before Cafeterias

Of all the new vocabulary words students encounter when they begin school, the first they learn are probably lavatory, cafeteria, and gymnasium. It’s impossible to imagine, let alone navigate, an elementary school without them. Yet up until the 1940s, many schools in rural Florida were lacking some or all of these vital facilities. Students brought food from home if it was provided, and took their bathroom breaks in outdoor privys or in the same fields where they played during recess. Conditions at home were not likely to be better. As a result, many children in the rural south were malnourished and susceptible to diseases such as anemia and hookworm. A 1930 study of schoolchildren in five Florida counties revealed that 45 percent of children suffered from dental caries, tonsillitis and hookworm, while 30 percent had enlarged lymph glands, conjunctivitis, anemia, or were under-weight. Less than 25 percent of children in the study had adequate diets that included milk, leafy vegetables and fruit. Recognizing this problem, many government, church and civic organizations mobilized to improve health and nutrition in the state’s public schools. One of the most experienced and best prepared of these was Florida Extension’s home demonstration agents.

Wisdom in a Can

The Agricultural Extension Service officially started in Florida in 1915, but years earlier, home demonstration agents had begun giving nutrition and food preparation advice to hundreds of rural families, thanks to the popularity of home canning. In 1909, Agnes Ellen Harris of the Florida State College for Women gave a cooking and food preserving demonstration to women in Ocala. The success of the event led to other “canning parties,” and by 1912, Harris had enrolled more than 500 girls and women in “Tomato Clubs” across the state. In tomato clubs, girls would grow tomatoes on 1/10th of an acre of land, harvest them and preserve them in glass jars or metal cans. Tomato seeds, canning equipment and instruction were provided by Harris’ team of home demonstration agents, women college students or school teachers who worked with the clubs in the summer. They organized regular meetings and field trips, contests within and between clubs for who could can the most tomatoes, and helped club girls make money by selling their canned tomatoes at state fairs and local markets.

Tomato canning club demonstration on the UF Campus, 1912. Smathers Archives.

Tomato canning club demonstration on the UF Campus, 1912. Source: Smathers Archives.


Girl’s Tomato Club display, 1912. Source: Florida 4-H photo archives.

It was all meant to be fun, but there was a serious intent behind it. Tomatoes were chosen for club work in part because they were rich in nutrients and easy to grow in home gardens. One of the great ironies of the time was that, while Florida was a rich food-growing state, most of its agricultural population suffered from malnutrition. The fact is that while most rural families worked the land, they either neglected to cultivate a garden for their own tables or didn’t preserve their vegetables, subsisting through the winter on what one agent described as a diet of “fat bacon, collard greens and corn pone.” Harris, who studied nutrition at FSCW and later at Columbia, knew that rural families needed a more varied diet, and hoped that tomato clubs would encourage more households to grow and preserve their own vegetables.

Extension Goes to School

The tomato clubs were a huge success, and when Florida’s Agricultural Extension Service was formed in 1915, its home demonstration agents were already familiar faces in households and schools throughout the state. Recognizing the value of home economics education, the Florida legislature also passed a bill that year authorizing county boards of education to make appropriations for canning and tomato clubs in public schools. With added legitimacy and funding, Harris was able to hire full-time, highly trained agents and begin work on a more ambitious program to improve the lives of Florida’s rural families. At a state meeting in Gainesville in 1916, the new agents gathered to establish a plan of work, with nutrition, infant care, home sanitation and vegetable gardening high on their list of priorities.

By the end of that same year, schools in 30 of Florida’s then-33 counties were working with Extension home demonstration agents, who were setting up canning clubs and nutrition programs in home economics classes.

Working so closely with schools, agents immediately recognized the poor state of school lunches. Students usually brought what was left over from the family’s last meal, so hardboiled eggs, ham hocks or biscuits were common; but milk, fruit or leafy vegetables were rare. It was a short step from teaching nutrition to seeing where it could be improved—right there in the classroom. Agents would keep stressing the importance of eating better at home, but if they could help provide a warm, healthy and satisfying meal at school, the students would carry the message home with them.

A Good Hot Lunch

Many teachers and school boards were concerned about the cost and practicality of cooking hot meals for their students, so in 1917 extension agents in Lee, Duval and Santa Rosa counties devised a plan to teach students to prepare one meal at home and bring it in a jar to school where it would be reheated by boiling. These hot dishes would be supplemented with a bottle of milk and an orange, provided by the school with the help of donations.

The hot dish lunch programs were a success in these counties, and gradually over the next two decades, more and more schools adopted them. As the popularity of the lunch programs caught on, schools began working with home demonstration agents to build kitchens and lunch rooms. In 1920, one high school in Brandon even built a lunch room on school grounds and hired a kitchen manager at $100 per month.

By 1931, 139 schools in 21 counties were working with Extension home demonstration agents and 4-H clubs to serve hot lunches to more than 30,438 school children.

1928 report (2)

Students line up for a hot lunch served by a home demonstration agent with help from 4-H club members, 1928. Source: 1928 Extension Annual Report

As the school lunch movement grew in Florida, extension agents and 4-H clubs played an increasingly vital role in improving the health of schoolchildren. They developed recipes and menus for more nutritious meals and special programs for underweight or malnourished children; raised funds for kitchen facilities; kept records of students’ weights and heights and assisted health department studies; organized milk and orange juice campaigns to promote drinking healthy beverages; published guidelines for implementing and managing lunch programs; and created posters, booklets, radio shows and films about nutrition, hygiene and the importance of eating a good hot lunch. In many cases, agents also used their influence to establish school gardens, acquire playground equipment, and install sanitary lavatories with indoor plumbing.

1930 report (2)

Students enjoy a mid-afternoon milk break, 1930. Source: 1930 Extension Annual Report

The WPA and the National School Lunch Act

School lunch programs began as a grassroots community service, supported through partnerships with local school boards, women’s groups, PTAs, civic and church organizations, growers and businesses. During the depression of the 1930s, that financial support was strained to the point where the federal government had to step in. The Works Progress Administration, a New Deal agency created in 1935, began buying up surplus milk, meat and grain, distributing it to school lunch programs and hiring many unemployed women to staff the lunch rooms. The influx of federal support helped home demonstration agents establish lunch programs at a faster pace, with 241 schools serving hot lunches to 53,000 students by 1941. The WPA dissolved not long after the depression, with unemployment and farm surplus dropping due to World War II.

After the war, another buildup of surplus farm goods led to the National School Lunch Act of 1946, a federal law which subsidizes school lunch programs in all states to this day. Extension nutritionists and home demonstration agents continued to offer support and nutrition education for school lunch programs throughout the 1950s. Beginning in 1963, Extension home economics began expanding its nutritional emphasis to low-income families in Florida’s growing urban areas, and in 1968 it inaugurated the Expanded Nutrition Program, which provides nutritional education to families receiving financial assistance.

Farm to School, School to Farm

Today, the concern in school lunchrooms is not so much malnourishment as childhood obesity and inactivity. Here Extension still plays a big role in bringing nutrition education to Florida’s schools, with programs that help students learn about their food, encouraging them to make healthy food choices and engage in regular physical activity. For example, Youth Understanding MyPlate (YUM) is a curriculum designed by faculty in UF/IFAS’ Department of Family Youth and Community Sciences that introduces children to MyPlate, the USDA’s system for building healthy meals with balanced portions of the major food groups. YUM encourages kids to make informed choices about what they eat though active games, stories, experiments and recipes for healthy snacks.

UF/IFAS Extension also works with the USDA on the Florida Farm to School Program. Farm to School connects schools with area farmers and ranchers to provide fresh, locally grown food for their cafeterias. Schools, in turn, conduct field trips to local farms so that students can learn where their food comes from. Farm to School also provides nutrition education for school curricula, and helps schools plant gardens where they can grow their own food.

With programs like YUM and Farm to School, Extension nutrition education has come full circle, reinventing the school lunch, forming bonds in the local community, and helping kids taste the satisfaction of a good, nutritious meal. It’s something that validates the efforts of hundreds of home demonstration agents from the past 100 years, something that they would recognize and approve of.


Ahmann, C.F., O.D. Abbott, G. Westover. 1930. A Nutritional Study of the White School Children in Five Representative Counties of Florida. University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Bulletin 216.

Florida Cooperative Extension. 1916 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/flag/results/brief/?t=extension+annual+report&o=10

___. 1917 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

___. 1926 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

___. 1930 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

___. 1931 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

___. 1940 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

___. 1943 Annual Report. Gainesville: University of Florida.

Farm to School Partnership. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. http://farmtoschool.ifas.ufl.edu

Gunderson, G. W. National School Lunch Program (NSLP). United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/history_4

Minor, K. 2010. “Consumed with a Ghastly Wasting: Home Demonstration Confronts Disease in Rural Florida, 1920-1945.” In Entering the Fray: Gender, Politics and Culture in the New South, edited by J.D. Wells and S.R. Phipps. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press.

Stennis, M.A. 1928. Food, Nutrition and Health for School Children. Tallahassee: Agricultural Education Service, Florida State College for Women.


Campfire Stories: Florida’s 4-H Camps

Summer’s here, school’s out, and if you’re one of more than 230,000 4-H’ers in Florida, that means four magic words: Cloverleaf, Ocala, Cherry Lake, and Timpoochee. For the uninitiated, those are the names of Florida’s residential 4-H camps. They’re strung across the state like charms on a bracelet, each situated near a lake or by the sea, each promising a week or more of fun in the sun, on the water, or around the campfire. 4-H camps have been a magnet for youth since the early years of the last century, and they have a storied past, one which winds though forgotten chapters of Florida history like a lazy river meandering through a dense forest.

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Florida is a haven for many forms of insect life, from butterflies and honey bees to termites and fireflies. Unfortunately, its miles of coastline and thriving trade also make it vulnerable to harmful invasive species, which enter our state by highways and seaports and proliferate in our warm, humid climate. The history of Florida agriculture has been a constant struggle against crop-destroying insects and nematodes that eat plant parts and spread disease. Extension has been an important player in that struggle for over 100 years.

Boll Weevils and the Birth of Extension

As a matter of fact, it was an invasive insect pest that played a key role in the founding of the nation’s extension service. The boll weevil, a beetle that eats the buds and young bolls of cotton plants, entered south Texas in 1892 and by the turn of the century, it was devastating cotton crops throughout the South. In 1902, the United States Department of Agriculture sent researcher and educator Seaman Knapp to Texas to help find a solution to the boll weevil infestation. Knapp set up an experimental farm to demonstrate to growers how soil cultivation and the use of early-maturing cotton varieties could help lessen boll weevil damage. The farm became the model for agricultural demonstration, and its influence would lead to the creation of the national Cooperative Extension Service in 1914.

Boll Weevil Poster

USDA Boll Weevil poster, ca. 1914 Source: Wikimedia Commons

In its early years, Florida Extension relied on expertise from the state Agricultural Experiment Station when dealing with insect pests such as corn and sweet potato weevils, aphids of watermelons and citrus, velvet bean caterpillars and bean jessids. In the late 1920s the extension service briefly employed specialists who split their time between plant pathology and entomology, working with growers to control rust mites, whiteflies, scale insects, and Mediterranean fruit fly outbreaks in Florida’s economically sensitive citrus groves. However, after 1931 there would be no full-time entomologists on Extension’s staff for over 25 years.

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100 Years of Extension in Florida

May 8, 2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which established America’s Cooperative Extension Service. Let’s take a brief look back at Extension’s growth and evolution in Florida, year by year.

 Before Extension

1862 President Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Act establishing a land-grant university system, funding colleges for the teaching of agricultural and mechanical arts. The first Morrill Act had actually been passed by congress in 1859, but had been vetoed by President James Buchanan.

1862 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is established by President Lincoln.

1884 The Florida College of Agriculture (later UF), Florida’s first land-grant university, is established in Lake City.

Cadet Band

1887 The Hatch Act establishes a national system of Agricultural Experiment Stations tied to land-grant universities for the purposes of scientific research. Ag Experiment Stations, together with the USDA and land-grant colleges, would form the foundation from which Extension grew.

1887 The State Normal College for Colored Students (later Florida A&M) established in Tallahassee.

1888 The Florida Agricultural Experiment Station is established at the Florida Agricultural College in  Lake City.

1890 Because many state legislatures would not admit people of color to land-grant universities,  a 2nd Morrill Act establishes African-American land-grant universities.

1891 Florida A&M becomes Florida’s second land-grant university.

1899 The first “Farmers Institute” is established in Florida to provide demonstrations in modern agricultural techniques.

1902 Seaman Knapp is appointed by the USDA to help Texas cotton farmers combat boll weevil infestation. Knapp designed “demonstration farms” that would become the basis for Extension work.

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Disaster in the Gulf

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform killed 11 workers and exposed a deep-sea wellhead that began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Until the spill was capped 87 days later, more than 210 million gallons of crude oil poured into the Gulf, with devastating effects on marine life ecosystems and fisheries along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Throughout that summer, many people had questions about how the spill would affect them. Was oil washing up on the beaches? Was wildlife dying? Was seafood contaminated? What legal and financial help was available to businesses affected by the spill? What could be done to help?

Fortunately, Sea Grant Extension agents in communities along the Gulf coast were on hand to help people understand and cope with the disaster. Sea Grant is a national network of colleges and universities engaged in research, education and extension activities to help protect coastal communities and promote responsible use of resources from our oceans and lakes. Immediately after the spill began, Florida’s Sea Grant program jumped into action, producing news releases and fact sheets to help people identify oil slicks and tar balls, decontaminate their vessels, seek financial and legal help, and understand the effects of oil and oil dispersants on wildlife and human health. UF/IFAS Extension Sea Grant agents conducted training courses on quick and accurate seafood inspection and answered public questions about seafood safety. Long-term research studies were quickly adapted to study the effects of the spill on marine ecosystems. States along the Gulf are still recovering from the BP oil spill, but that recovery would not have been possible without the help of Sea Grant.


Satellite image of Gulf oil spill, 2010. Source: NASA/GSFC, via Wikimedia Commons

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100th Anniversary of Florida Extension

Join us on April 17 as we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Florida Extension!

The Cooperative Extension System was established by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, and allows us all to benefit from the research and education of each state’s land-grant universities. Extension has helped millions of Floridians by tapping the latest information from the research engines of the University of Florida and Florida A&M University and converting it into practical knowledge we use every day.

On April 17, we’ll celebrate 100 years of Extension at the Plaza of the Americas on the UF campus with guest speakers, food fresh from Florida, activities and displays showing today’s Extension programs and information about how you can find a career helping people find solutions for the next 100 years.

About the Event:


  • 11:00 am Exhibits Open
  • 11:30 am Speakers
  • 12 noon Lunch


  • Dr. Nick Place: Dean & Director University of Florida IFAS Extension Service
  • Dr. Jack Payne: Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Florida IFAS
  • Dr. Joe Glover: Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
  • Adam Putnam: Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

 Exhibits and Activities

  • Airboat – USGS-Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
  • UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) – USGS-Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
  • Tractor – UF-IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit (students can get a photo of themselves on the tractor)
  • Live Gators – Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Office
  • Forest Art Co-lab Space – UF-IFAS School of Forestry and Natural Resources and UF School of Art and Art History
  • Solutions for the Next 100 Years – UF-IFAS Extension


Fresh-from-Florida food will be prepared by Chef David Bearl.

Menu: Seafood Chowder & a vegetarian chowder.  Homemade bread. Beverages and birthday cake!!

For more information, contact:

Lynn Max, Coordinator, Educational/Training Programs, M.S.

Email:  lynnmax@ufl.edu

Tel: (352) 281-3236


Sometimes simply asking for help can change everything. Say you’ve started a garden and it’s not thriving. You’ve checked out all the books from the library, logged hours on the internet, watched the gardening programs on TV, but nothing answers the specific issue you’ve got. At a local garden show, in desperation you turn to a real, flesh-and-blood expert, and after a few moments’ conversation, the problem is on its way to being solved. Chances are, the person who just helped solve your problem was a Master Gardener.

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Buzzing About Bees

Marineland will be buzzing with college students this weekend, but not the kind that are partying on the beach over Spring Break: March 7-8 marks the 7th Annual UF Bee College at the Whitney Marine Laboratory in St. Augustine. Bee College is a two-day event that brings together UF/IFAS Extension faculty, professional apiculturists and hobbyists interested in raising raising honey bees. This year’s schedule includes more than 50 classes on everything from how to set up your own apiary to swarm management and marketing honey. There are also special guest speakers, demonstrations, a honey show, and Junior Bee College for children ages 6-16.

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