For more than 100 years, the Extension Service has helped improve the lives of Florida’s citizens through research, education, and the application of practical knowledge to solving everyday problems. During this year’s National Agriculture Week, we are celebrating the contributions Extension has made to not only Manatee County’s agricultural industry, but to the individuals and families who live and work in our community. Since 1918, when Extension was established in Manatee County, our faculty and staff have helped people save water and money, improve agricultural practices, promote healthy lifestyles, protect the environment, cultivate civic engagement, foster economic development, and prepare strong and capable youth for a vibrant and productive adulthood.
The history of Extension in the United States really began in 1862 with the signing of the first Morrill Act, which established the land-grant university system. Land-grant universities were created to provide education in agricultural and mechanical sciences and to prepare (at that time) young men for military service through ROTC. The 1862 land-grant university in Florida is the University of Florida, located in Gainesville. A second Morrill Act was signed in 1890, which established land-grant universities for African-Americans. Florida’s 1890 land-grant university is Florida A & M University, located in Tallahassee. Today, these two universities work together to provide Extension education in all 67 counties in Florida.
The next milestone in Extension history occurred with the development of the Hatch Act, which was signed into law in 1887. This act awarded $15,000 to each land-grant university for the establishment of agricultural experiment stations. These experiment stations performed research primarily in the areas of soil nutrients and plant growth, which was then shared with farmers to help them improve their yields. Today, important research in areas such as range cattle, citrus, vegetables, strawberries, plant diseases, and tropical fruits is performed at 13 research and education centers around the state. The data collected at these centers is then shared with clientele from the Panhandle to the Keys with the help of Extension faculty and staff.
The Cooperative Extension Service was officially created in the United States in 1914 through the Smith-Lever Act, which was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. The act established a widespread informal education system within the existing land-grant university structure where research developed at the university was delivered to folks out in the community through a network of agents who would take it directly to the people where they lived. The Extension Service is a three-tiered partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture, the land-grant universities, and county government. In Florida, the primary state-level partner is UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), which employs hundreds of Extension researchers, professors, agents, and support staff.
The original focus of Extension programming was on helping rural families improve farming techniques and implement the latest technologies on the farm and inside the home. But as the population grew and changed, the scope of Extension programming grew as well. Today, the UF/IFAS Extension Service in Manatee County educates both urban and rural clientele on everything from healthy cooking to integrated pest management, workforce development to cattle management. Our faculty and staff work closely with citizens to troubleshoot problems and find unbiased, research-based solutions. Our areas of expertise include livestock, commercial vegetable production, nursery production, commercial and residential landscapes, water conservation, marine resources, parenting and family economics, health and wellness, and youth development through the 4-H program. Our strong core of volunteers helps expand our reach and promote our mission within the greater community.
The Extension Service has been going strong for more than 100 years and the future continues to look bright. With strong leadership and dedication to the mission, Extension will continue to not only meet the current needs of our clientele, but will grow and adapt to our rapidly changing world. As the future becomes the present, Extension looks to stay perched on the cutting edge of new research and technologies that will help make positive and lasting impacts on the quality of our lives and the health and sustainability of our environment.
The Manatee County Extension Service is located at the fairgrounds at 1303 17th Street West in Palmetto. We are open Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 5:00pm. For more information about what we do and what classes are available give us a call at (941) 722-4524 or visit our website at http://manatee.ifas.ufl.edu. All Extension classes and events are open to everyone without discrimination, most at low to no cost.