April 14, 2023

Everything You Should Be Using Your Local Extension Office for (but Aren’t)

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If you grew up on a farm, participated in 4-H, or went to a land-grant university, you are probably already aware of what a rich resource your county extension office is for pro tips and life skills. On the other hand, if half of that sentence sounded like gibberish, let me introduce you to the Cooperative Extension: your hyper-local link to the research and expertise of 112 universities across the U.S.

The cooperative extension system was formally started in 1914 as a way for researchers to help local farmers improve practices. While they are still an important resource for farming communities, every county in the country has an extension office with services tailored to the local community.

Through your extension office you have free access to information on gardening, food, natural resources, conservation, and leadership in the form of reference publications, access to experts, and community events.

All the ways to use your local extension office

  • Ask an expert anything about agriculture, community, environment, food, health, animals, and youth activities. Browse thousands of questions that have already been answered, or submit your specific query for a personal response.
  • Even if you feel like you’re surrounded by pavement in the city, the extension office can teach you about urban agriculture.
  • Some urban extension offices have programs on social justice and community engagement.
  • Find activities for kids. Besides the beloved institution of 4-H, you can find projects, printables, and events kids will love. In a quick browse, I found a STEM day, archery, painting, wildlife habitat education, and needlecraft.
  • Look for social and emotional resources for families like dealing with death or helping a child build self-esteem.
  • Take parenting classes or learn about baby brain development.
  • Learn to preserve food by drying, freezing, pickling, and canning. When you go through your cottage core stage, these skills will come in handy.
  • Plan for emergency preparedness and recovery. Hurricanes, quakes, fires, snowstorms: Your local extension office will have important advice for your region’s biggest natural threats.
  • Learn to build a pond and stock it with fish (if you happen to have a spare half acre and a backhoe).
  • Learn facts about local wildlife to impress your friends at parties.
  • Have some suspect visitors to your pantry or droppings in a deep, dark cabinet? Find tips for pest identification and control.
  • Skip generic (but pretty) gardening books that barely apply to your hardiness zone, and get landscaping, gardening, and lawn advice tailored to your specific geography.
  • If you are really into your hobby, use the extension system to become a Master Gardener or a Master Beekeeper.

How to find your local extension resources

Local extension offices were created to bridge the knowledge gap between universities and communities, with an intention of “openness, accessibility, and service.” That means the services in your county and your state will be particularly relevant to your community.

Visit this link for a list of extension programs by state and territory. Or Google “[your county] extension office.

I browsed the site for my local extension office in Bexar County, Texas, and quickly found a ton of free resources like educational booklets on theater and kid-friendly sewing projects; lists of plants that grow well in my area; contact info for robotics events; and free classes on rainwater harvesting and stress relief. I even got lost for 15 minutes down a rabbit hole pamphlet about raising actual rabbits (followed by the five stages of grief of realizing I probably shouldn’t raise rabbits).

After you’ve explored what your local extension office has to offer, click around the websites of far flung agencies in Nevada, Wisconsin, or North Carolina, because many extension resources are free and available online, no matter where you live.

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