By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states for them to sell to raise funds to establish and endow “land-grant” colleges.
Iowa was the first state legislature to accept the provisions of the Morrill Act on Sept. 11, 1862, but the first land-grant institution actually created under the act was Kansas State University, established on Feb. 16, 1863, and opened on Sept. 2, 1863.
The mission of land-grant universities was expanded by the Hatch Act of 1887, and the outreach mission of the schools was further expanded by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 to include cooperative extension – the sending of agents into rural areas to help bring the results of agricultural research to the end users.
This year, K-State Research and Extension is celebrating the 100th anniversary of cooperative extension, and locally, Seward County Agent Kathy Bloom said the Liberal office has some activities going on in 2014, starting with the Five State Fair.
“High Plains Dairy has donated 600 cups of ice cream that we’ll be giving out at some of the fair creams,” she said. “We’ll have a little label on there about Extension.”
Bloom has been speaking to some local civic groups about Extension this year, and she hopes to continue to do so.
The agent said her history with cooperative Extension is much more than the just less than a decade she has served as an agent.
“My grandmother was born in the early 1900s, and she always said she got her college degree through Extension,” she said. “She took part in a lot of their educational opportunities throughout her lifetime. Growing up in 4-H and having a father in agriculture, we took advantage often of different programs the Extension service had. I have a strong history with Extension.”
Bloom said it has been fun seeing both sides of the Extension as a client and as an agent, and she said modern technological resources have made her job easier.
“Even in this age of computer, Internet, it’s good to have a resource you can really trust,” she said. “You can Google cooperative extension Web sites and know the information you are getting there is factual.”
Bloom said extension has evolved through the years in trying to meet the needs of its clients.
“My focus since I’ve been an Extension agent is a lot of health and wellness – diabetes education, the nutrition education,” she said. “You assess the needs of each community and see what way Extension can best meet the needs of that community. That is ever changing.”
Many people think extension is only about agriculture. Bloom said there is so much more to what is offered through extension, particularly through youth programs.
“So many think it’s just 4-H, and 4-H is only for farm kids,” she said. “That could not be further from the truth. Now, probably not even 5 percent of our kids are from farm backgrounds. There’s everything from robotics to shooting sports to the traditional projects you think of – the cooking, sewing, livestock – but certainly it’s for everyone. That stereotype is not a good one for us.”
Seward’s Extension office offers many programs, the latest of which is one with Parks and Rec.
“That was the Parks Passport,” Bloom said. “That’s helping families get out in nature. It’s not only good for physical fitness, but good for team building and families.”
In addition to Parks and Rec, Seward County Extension has many other partners in the community.
“It’s not only an Extension program, but the hospital or the health department, Parks and Rec, a lot of different partners we work with on all the different projects,” Bloom said. “Together, we have a lot more resources and can reach the needs even better.”
Liberal’s Extension office is likewise has a pilot project for its 4-H program called SPIN, or special interest, clubs.
“We’re very strong with SPIN clubs in our shooting sports program,” Bloom said. “You go ahead and join 4-H, but you’re not joining a community club. SPIN clubs meet for a minimum of six weeks. It depends on the time frame the leader change. It’s a short-term commitment for both the youth and the leader, and we have a lot better luck recruiting both leaders and youth for that. The youth are so busy, involved in sports and other things, and this is a great way to get the kids to be able to be a part of 4-H and all that 4-H offers in a short-term way.”
Another recently added program is the Extension’s Summer Fun Thursdays, which Bloom said fill up in a matter of weeks.
“We offer six or seven classes throughout the summer on Thursdays,” she said.
Bloom said she believes the Extension is the best kept secret in town, and ag agent Kylee Harrison helps with an ever growing list of educational opportunities the office has to offer, including the Master Gardner class.
“We have some wonderful master gardners trained,” Bloom said. “We just had a class of 19 graduate a few months ago. You can call the office and have either Kylee or a master gardner come out and help you with horticulture issues in your yard, whether it be a sick tree or what kind of grass to plant or shrubs, landscaping suggestions. We have all kinds of great information on that. We can do soil testing.”
Bloom said the horticulture programs offered by the Extension are simply a great resource help keep Liberal beautiful and increase property value.
“I’m all about beautiful green spaces, and we certainly help to promote that,” she said.
Bloom said there is a big demand for adult education and the education the Extension offers.
“It’s an exciting time in Seward County Extension, and it’s fun that after 100 years, we’re still very relevant and very important in helping the community be the best it can be,” she said.