By SARA ARTHURS
The Ohio State University Extension turns 100 this year and the Hancock County office will be celebrating at the Hancock County Fair.
A display highlighting the extension’s work can be seen in the Youth Building throughout the fair’s run. An open house will be held Saturday at the fair.
Conceived as a way to share the resources of land-grant universities with the public, the OSU Extension offers education in four areas: 4-H and youth development; family and consumer sciences; agriculture; and community development. Hancock County has educators in the first three categories.
OSU Extension educators lead programs and classes on topics related to their areas of knowledge and are also available to answer questions from community members on everything from pest control to preserving food. Shawn Ochs, extension educator, family and consumer sciences, said she never knows what to expect when the phone rings.
The Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative Extension Service, was signed on May 8, 1914.
Extension educators operate all over the country and are employees of their state’s land-grant universities. In Ohio, that is Ohio State University. Land-grant universities were established under an 1862 law in which institutions were granted federal land that they could develop or sell to raise funds for an endowment, according to a 2012 Associated Press story. They initially focused on teaching agriculture, science and engineering but many have now branched into other areas. Most remain public.
The Cooperative Extension Service is an educational partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture and the nation’s land-grant universities that extends research-based knowledge through a state-by-state network of local extension professionals. Funding comes from county, state and federal sources.
“It creates a partnership,” said Gary Wilson, retired extension educator, agriculture and natural resources.
Hancock County got its first extension “agent,” as educators were called back then, in 1921.
“We’ve had a presence ever since then,” Wilson said.
The Hancock County office was housed in several places before moving to its current location at 7868 Hancock County 140 in 1999.
The family and consumer sciences educator position, previously known as “home agent,” dates back locally to the 1940s.
“Hancock County’s got a rich extension history,” said Cassie Turner, the county director and extension educator, 4-H youth development.
OSU Extension creates partnerships with many other organizations including schools and nonprofits.
Wilson said land-grant universities were finding that although they had a lot of knowledge it wasn’t getting out to the community as a whole. The extension strives to bring “the best research, the best technique, the best ways to do things to the people.”
OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at OSU. Statewide, the extension makes more than 1.5 million educational contacts each year and reaches Ohioans in each of the state’s 88 counties. It forms partnerships with individuals, families, communities, business and industry and organizations. OSU Extension works with more than 240,000 youths in 4-H programming and connects with more than 29,000 volunteers.
Each extension office can choose to direct its energies toward the needs of its particular community. Turner said the Hancock County extension office has been working on projects related to obesity, identified as a need in the community health assessment. OSU Extension is also part of the Halt Hunger initiative, which is working to eliminate food insecurity.
“Extension is all about collaboration,” Turner said.
Turner said the 4-H and youth development branch of OSU Extension focuses on the values that 4-H stands for “heads, hands, health and heart.” There are more than 40 community clubs in the area ranging from Cloverbuds for children in kindergarten through second grade all the way up to teenagers. Turner finds that youths in 4-H learn to work in groups, learn communication skills and perform community service.
Part of Turner’s role includes managing the volunteers.
“I’ve got close to 200 very passionate volunteers,” she said.
Turner said what she loves about her work is “all the energy” that goes into educating people on so many topics.
OSU Extension also offers outreach into area schools with programs such as Real Money, Real World, which teaches financial skills, and Breads and Harvest, in which children learn to make bread.
Family and consumer sciences focuses on healthy relationships, healthy people and healthy finances, Ochs said.
The “healthy people” component is nutrition-driven. OSU Extension, Hancock County has on staff a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program assistant focusing on children receiving free and reduced lunch as well as working with other organizations such as Head Start, Hope House, Chopin Hall and the City Mission.
The financial component of family and consumer sciences includes Hancock County Saves, an effort to teach community members how and why to save money.
The agriculture and natural resources part of OSU Extension includes many different components. Educator Edwin Lentz gets calls to go out to a farmer’s field and offer assistance. There is also education on topics like pesticide certification and other skills.
The county’s master gardeners are also part of agriculture and natural resources. The volunteer coordinator takes phone calls with all types of gardening-related questions. Each master gardener offers many hours of community service.
Extension educators take pride in being able to give people relevant information. When she receives a call from a community member, Ochs asks if they have a computer and, if so, directs them to OSU’s OhioLine website which has fact sheets on many topics including clothing, food, family, relationships and finance.
Turner said that, although “in the age of Google” anyone can look up information, OSU Extension offers information that is trustworthy.
“What we bring to the game is information that is research-based, is factual and safe information,” Turner said.
Wilson has been familiar with OSU Extension since he was in 4-H as a youth in the 1960s. The county fair was “a big focal point” for the community then, too.
In those days, however, it was mostly “cows, plows and cooking,” Wilson said. Turner said today there are many projects related to natural resources and science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Scrapbooking and quilting are also popular locally.
Wilson looks back on what he learned as a child and realizes “young people are still learning that today,” and that in many cases learning by experience in 4-H can help as they seek out careers down the line.
A celebration of the Smith-Lever Act took place during the Cooperative Extension Centennial Convocation May 8 in Washington, D.C. Among those representing Ohio was Britta Fenstermaker of Hancock County, a 4-H Teen Advisory Council member.
The Hancock County 100th anniversary open house will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the Youth Building at the Hancock County Fair. Light refreshments will be served. Previous Hancock County staff will be on hand to share their memories.
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