Extension- A Hundred Years of Memories- Can the Next Hundred Years Be Better?Sun, 13 Apr 2014 07:43:05 CDT
It was a day of remembering the past and considering what the future holds for the Extension Education concept at the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service’s Centennial Whistle Stop and Festival in Wellston on Saturday. Estimates of over a thousand folks drove or rode the train to Wellston for this "out in the field" gathering that showcased some of the ways that Extension personnel have impacted the lives of Oklahoma over the past 100 years.
Helping to explain the good old days to those who gathered was W.D. Bentley, who is considered to be the "father" of Cooperative Extension in Oklahoma. He started his extension efforts in Texas in 1904- was a specialist in helping farmers cope with the ravages of the boll weevil and ended up being appointed as the head of extension efforts for the state of Oklahoma in 1908, just months after statehood.
According to a profile of Bentley in the online State Magazine, "Bentley often showed his demonstration methods to young farmers, who were more receptive to the new ways than their parents were. His supervisors initially reprimanded him but eventually encouraged the outreach to the next generation of farmers.
"Bentley shared his experience with USDA Secretary James Wilson during a trip with Knapp to Washington, D.C., in the fall of 1908. Wilson told Bentley’s story to President Theodore Roosevelt, who had earlier admonished the USDA for not doing enough to help farm families.
"Bentley supported the development of agricultural clubs for boys. In 1909, he signed up 50 young men to raise corn on demonstration plots in Johnston County, Okla. Boys in other parts of the state joined cotton clubs, and eventually participants would grow into the thousands and form the foundation for 4-H Clubs in the state."
While Walter Bentley is just a memory here in 2014- he was brought alive by Dr. James Trapp, current head of Extension efforts at Oklahoma State University. Farm Director Ron Hays talked with first Bentley and then Trapp during the festival at Wellston and you can hear their conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR below.
Bentley set the bar high as he helped establish the extension model for Oklahoma and the entire country- and Dr. Trapp says those early days of helping farmers figure out what was next for their farm operation continues today. He cited as an example the need to help cotton farmers in southwest Oklahoma who have depended upon irrigation water that has not been there for several growing seasons to consider what other enterprises might work as a dryland alternative.
As to why celebrate extension in a dusty field in central Oklahoma, Dr. Trapp told Hays there were a couple of hoped for outcomes for the Saturday event. "For the people who work in Extension, it's a chance to get together and enjoy themselves see each other and visit" while for those outside of extension who attended "it's a chance to show them what today's extension is all about." Dr. Trapp worries that the historical model of financial support for Extension of local, state and federal dollars may be in trouble, with fewer people living on the farm or in rural areas of the state then ever before. He adds "One of the things we are trying to tell people is that the next hundred years may not have the progress of the last hundred years if we don't find a way to keep extension funded."
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