Is the meadow on our property suitable for an orchard? Where’s the best place to plant asparagus here on our land? The hill next to our utility road seems to be slipping. Would it help if we planted trees there? What types of trees? What animal is eating out of our garden and how can we stop it? Can you show me how to prune raspberries?
These are just some of the questions that our local Agricultural Extension Agent answered for us. These are not just general questions about what grows in the local area, but unique questions about a specific property in the local area.
We can find a lot of questions answered on the internet or in a book. This is the information age after all. But there’s nothing quite like talking to a real person. Obviously, local questions like those we asked can’t be found in any database or article.
Luckily for new gardeners, there is a local person willing to answer questions without charge. He or she will not only answer questions, but will likely recommend publications for a deeper understanding of a topic, recommend workshops or classes, and sometimes even come out to your location to give very specific advice.
You never know what extra information you might gain from a visit. Our extension rep once gave me a few thornless blackberry plants he pruned out of his own patch and recommended the best spot to plant them in. He also gave us extra information we would not have thought to ask about when he saw our land.
It isn’t just for farmers or rural gardeners either. With the rise of urban farming projects, the Agricultural Extension Service reaches out to anyone wanting to grow any type of plant.
The Extension Service began in the 19th century, but was formalized in 1914. Today there are six areas of focus for the Extension Service: 4-H Youth Development, Agriculture, Leadership Development, Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences, Community and Economic Development. Here is a description of the agriculture focus of the Agricultural Extension Service on the webpage at USDA:
Agriculture —research and educational programs help individuals learn new ways to produce income through alternative enterprises, improved marketing strategies, and management skills and help farmers and ranchers improve productivity through resource management, controlling crop pests, soil testing, livestock production practices, and marketing.
Although the main focus is to help farmers, ordinary gardeners can find help too. Be sure to ask about workshops that you might be interested in.
Do you have a story about how an extension agent helped you? Please share.