The rapid urban growth in many areas of the United States, coupled with an increased interest in the environment and home gardening, prompted an ever-increasing number of homeowner questions for County Extension Service agents to answer. Many of these questions are seasonal in nature and are answered relatively easily, assuming that one has horticultural training.
In 1972, an innovative Extension Service Agent in the State of Washington reasoned that well trained volunteers could respond to many of the everyday homeowner questions, thus freeing him and his colleagues for more technical and difficult problems. Volunteers, such as Extension Homemakers and 4-H Leaders, had always been a part of the Extension Service, but volunteers had never been used in the area of environmental horticulture. This Extension Agent selected, trained, and certified volunteers as Master Gardeners. The volunteers soon succeeded in meeting his desired objectives-in fact, they exceeded his expectations. And so it was that the Master Gardener Program began.
Since that time, the Master Gardener Program has grown and is now active in over 45 states. Florida's program began in 1979. It has been a tremendous success and is active in 56 of Florida's 67 counties. The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) of which the Cooperative Extension Service is a part, sponsors the Master Gardener Program in Florida.
Just what is the Cooperative Extension Service? For a more complete understanding of this unique organization, we must go back to 1862 when the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act, which established colleges in each state to be financed through grants of land form the Federal Government. They became, and are still known as, the 'land grant colleges'. These colleges would emphasize teaching practical subjects such as agriculture and home economics. The 1887 Hatch Act provided for experiment stations at Land Grant Colleges to conduct research aimed at solving each state's agriculture problems.
The Smith-Lever Act in 1914 created the Extension Service as a part of these colleges, to serve as a means of disseminating the practical knowledge gained through agriculture research. The University of Florida at Gainesville is Florida's Land Grant College; the Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences (IFAS) is that part of the University which has responsibility for teaching, research and extension in the agricultural and environmental sciences.
The term 'cooperative' refers to the method by which extension services are funded. In Florida, three cooperating tax sources provide funds: the U.S. Department of Agriculture; the State, through legislative appropriations; and the counties through appropriation by county governments. The word 'cooperative' also implies a sharing of information generated through sound research programs at the federal and state levels. The term 'extension' defines this organization's purpose-to extend the information generated at the state and federal levels to people at the local level in the form of a 'service'. The Cooperative Extension Service is an information education organization, which provides information in three main areas: Agriculture, Home Economics, and 4-H Youth. Community Development, Marine Science and Energy are associated programs. The motto of the Cooperative Extension Service is "Helping People Help Themselves".
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