Cooperative Extension marks 100 years at Delaware State Fair

This weekend, the Delaware State Fair wraps up its 95th year of rides, animals and lots of not-so-healthy food.

Every summer, more than 200,000 people head to Harrington for the Delaware State Fair. This year, there’s extra reason to celebrate: The Delaware Cooperative Extension, which helps coordinate the fair, is celebrating its centennial anniversary.

Created through the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914, Cooperative Extension is designed to take university-level research and resources to the public.

“It started with agriculture,” said Michelle Rodgers, who leads the extension at the University of Delaware. For 100 years, she explained, the Cooperative Extension has had a major part in the education, training and transformation that has taken place in agriculture.

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Rodgers hopes to use the 100th anniversary to introduce more people to the work of the cooperative extension.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to reach thousands of people with information in a public way,” she said.

And what better way to reach people at the State Fair than with food? To celebrate the anniversary, the UDairy Creamery truck is selling a limited edition flavor of ice cream, “Centennial Cherry Chunk.”

There are also displays around the fair to help visitors learn more, but perhaps the best ambassadors of the cooperative extension’s work are the kids who take part in the 4-H programs run by the extension.

Dual mission of 4H

The fairground’s ice arena has been transformed this week to display the work of 4H participants. From vegetables to science projects, and of course animals, the work of kids and teens in 4-H showcases the kind of “outside of the university” education provided by Cooperative Extension.

However, the 4H program is about more than just training future farmers.

“A lot of people think that through the 4H program and through traditional animal science like you see here, that we’re trying to raise farmers, and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Susan Gray, who works as an animal science extension agent.

“They’re also learning about other things,” Rodgers said. “Life skills, development things while they’re learning about a discipline. So it’s a combination of learning about a science-area and a life-skill development that’s so unique about 4H.”

And the kids in the program seem to get that dual mission in 4H.

“You get a lot out of 4H,” said Abigail Harrington, a 4H participant from Dover. “Leadership skills, communication skills, you meet a lot of new people and you get to learn about the people around you.”

The next 100

Over the last hundred years, a lot has changed for the cooperative extension, which began with home demonstration agents sharing canning and freezing techniques.

Since its beginnings in the early part of the previous century, the Cooperative Extension’s work has changed drastically as new technology has become available.

“We used to always teach kids to keep records on paper, then we went to records on a computer,” Gray said. “This year, I’m working on a project with some folks…to design a mobile app for iPhones and iPads to keep all your records for your market animals.”

And no matter what the next century brings, Delaware’s Cooperative Extension plans to be there.

“Cooperative Extension will continue to be meaningful in communities that we serve and be a vital part of bringing trusted information to them in the next 100 years,” Rodgers said.


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