Calendar year 2010 marks a century of University of Tennessee Extension and 4-H in Tennessee. That’s 100 years of educational outreach and service to the state’s farmers, families and youth to enhance their quality of life.

Extension and 4-H in Tennessee predate the passage of the 1914 Smith-Lever Act through which Congress established a national network of professional agricultural agents and family and consumer scientists to help in the education and economic development of rural America.

In 1910, two individuals were employed as county-based agents to help with cotton production and home canning, and in early 1911 the movement to help rural Tennesseans on the farm and in the home spread to six west Tennessee counties. On July 1, 1914, some 20 county agents, 22 home demonstration agents, and eight additional staff and faculty were organized under the Smith-Lever Act as part of the University of Tennessee Division of Extension.

Today, as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture, UT Extension operates an office in every county and delivers educational programs using research-based information to farmers, families, youth, and communities in both rural and urban settings. Educational programs range from gardening and landscaping to nutrition, animal health and family money management. The programs are available to all county residents, often at no charge.

“For 100 years Extension agents have represented a two-way link between Tennesseans and university specialists, scientists and researchers,” says Tim Cross, Dean of UT Extension. “That special relationship and the education and economic development that it fosters are the hallmarks of Extension,” he said.

“Last year UT Extension had more than 4.8 million contacts with Tennessee citizens and the overall economic impact of these activities returned more than $343 million in estimated economic benefits,” Cross said.

In announcing a year-long Centennial Celebration of Extension and 4-H to faculty and staff, Cross emphasized the importance of commemorating 100 years of the organizations’ combined service to the citizens of the state. “While the economy continues to show little to no growth and additional state budget reductions are likely, a Centennial only happens once in an organization’s history,” he said. “Recognizing this unique opportunity, we will observe our Centennial throughout 2010, acknowledging the anniversary during our everyday programs. We will acknowledge the many impacts we have made while being good stewards of our financial resources.”

He hopes the celebration will also serve to increase awareness of UT Extension programs and therefore expand their outreach to new audiences, including youth.

With the help of local adult volunteers, Extension's 4-H youth development program helps young people from 9 to 19 develop self-esteem, leadership and citizenship skills and gain knowledge in a wide range of subjects. From health to public speaking or photography or GPS tracking, 4-H programs supplement traditional learning with directed projects that encourage advanced education. With nearly 302,000 members statewide, Tennessee has one of the largest 4-H memberships in the nation.

In addition to school-based and local activities, three 4-H camps throughout the state offer youth summer camping experiences and school-based outdoor science educational programs.

Throughout 2010 UT Extension and 4-H will celebrate the organizations’ first century of accomplishments. What might those include? Just one example from the agronomic perspective is how Extension education and better farming practices have helped increase yields of corn in Tennessee from 25 bushels per acre during the early part of last century to an average of 139 bushels per acre in 2009.

USDA statistics record that total corn production in the state was the same in 2009 as it was in 1910 (80.6 million bushels versus 82 million bushels). However, in 2009 only about one-fifth of the land was needed to produce a similar harvest (about 3.3 million acres in 1910 versus about 590,000 acres in 2009).

Cross says each county will offer local activities that will offer individuals a chance to join the celebration. He hopes to involve all state residents in Centennial celebration events. “We will be integrating our celebration into our ongoing programs at the club, county and state levels all year long,” he said. “Everyone’s invited!”

For more information, about UT Extension activities contact your local county UT Extension office. The telephone number can be found in the government or “blue” pages of the local phone book, in the “county” section under “Agricultural Extension” or “UT Extension.” Contact information is also available online at the UT Extension Web site: http://utextension.tennessee.edu. Follow the link to County/Regional offices.

Information about the UT Extension Centennial can be found online at http://utextension.tennessee.edu/100years.