While the Ohio State University Extension officially celebrated its 100th birthday in 2014, the Fulton County chapter has had to wait a bit longer to blow out the candles.
But now its own centennial has arrived, and the local Extension plans to celebrate with a commemorative float in local parades and a reunion and square dance event at this year’s Fulton County Fair.
It’s been a long and fruitful journey for the OSU Extension locally. And Kaitlin Ruetz, the chapter’s summer program assistant, said the Extension’s viability is strong in the agricultural community.
“It’s very vital and necessary,” she said. “There are new things coming out every year, and we’re a great way to get information out. I’m not sure how it would be done if we weren’t here.”
From new farming protocols to new food safety requirements, the Extension is able to pass along the information on a more local level, Ruetz said. “We also provide events for you to come and learn and have a more hands-on experience.”
And in an era in which electronics and social networking seem to wrest control of most youth’s attention, the Extension continues to evolve with the times.
“We’re now educating young people about all sorts of life skills,” Ruetz said. “As times change, and the demands of the communities change, we change as well. We’re trying to help youth grow and develop and become productive citizens.”
Each of the OSU Extension chapters across the state’s 88 counties has it’s own “specialty,” or educational practices based on their county’s specific needs. But they also uniformly provide help in agriculture and natural resources, family consumer sciences, and the 4-H Club.
In fact, 4-H has been connected to the Extension since the Smith Lever Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in May 1914. It created an official link between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant universities that birthed the Extension and led to 48 boys and girls clubs that preceded 4-H.
The State of Ohio signed into the new cooperative system on July 18 of that year, but Fulton County didn’t hire Roy A. Cave as an agent to operate a chapter until four years later. At the time, the Extension was financed primarily by the Farm Bureau. That changed by 1934, when it became completely supported by county, state, and federal funds.
It was formerly called the OSU Cooperative Extension, and Cave focused on pork, poultry, and food preservation. A second agent was hired in 1937 to educate on home economics.
“They were very involved with the homemakers, in food preparation and clothing construction,” Ruetz said.
In 1947, a third agent was brought aboard to develop and maintain a local 4-H program, which today totals 39 individual clubs and 952 members.
Ruetz said 4-H enrollment tends to fluctuate with the years, but usually remains between 900 and 1,000 members. A low point was reached early on, in 1919, with only 96 members; there was a peak of 1,100 members in 1968.
Kayla Miller, county Extension educator for 4-H Youth Development, said it’s going strong despite the myriad of activities now open to youth. She said the program has a grass-roots, multi-generational effect on people.
“We’re at a pretty good point right now. We’re one of the largest 4-H programs in northwest Ohio,” she said. “Many people think youth are agents of change and are are our future. The people involved in 4-H are very committed to it and make time for it. They see the value in 4-H.”
Ruetz said the Extension’s main motivation, however, has been passing information to farmers on what research is working, and developing farm communities. In its early years, the Fulton County agents would work with Extension subcommittees on policy.
“There would be a lot of demonstrations on how to raise poultry and ways to improve egg production,” Ruetz said. “The agent would be the one in charge of teaching demonstrations or hiring someone to do it, but they all worked together for community development.”
The organization’s name changed to OSU Extension in the 1980s.
The Fulton County chapter has it own marquee events including Corn and Soybean Day, when farmers gather at Founders Hall at Sauder Village in Archbold for pesticide recertification.
The county Extension also teamed with the Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District and the Farm Bureau in 2015 to adopt a national program, Breakfast on the Farm. The biennial public event rotates to different local farms, presenting a free breakfast and showing guests different aspects of farm operation. The next scheduled breakfast is at the Henricks-Krieger Dairy Farm in Fayette in 2019.
An Extension advisory board meets quarterly to determine the county’s needs and decide what areas need focus.
Melvin Krill was a county Extension agent from 1953-64. Following that duty, he became an Extension agent for eight counties in northwest Ohio, working as a program supervisor for 4-H, retiring in 1984.
He said the challenges for 4-H have changed, “but I think it’s still very important. 4-h is the development for boys and girls. It’s still important for them to learn responsibility and leadership.”
As for the Extension as a whole, “It brings some the resources from the university to local people,” Krill said. “Things have changed to keep up with the day, but it still has the same mission.”
To celebrate its centennial, the Fulton County OSU Extension will hold a reunion and square dance Sept. 1 from 2-4 p.m. at the Veterans Pavilion at the county fairgrounds. It will also be represented by a float in various local parades.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.