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If you’re a gardener, you know the value of having the local county extension office on speed dial. But you might wonder what it’s all about if you’ve never heard of it.
County extension offices have a rich history of supporting local farming and gardening communities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Today, they offer various services, including research-based information, classes, and programs for small business owners.
Don’t miss out on this valuable resource! Keep reading if you want to learn more about your local county extension office today.
Brief Overview of County Extension Offices
In 1914, the U.S. Department of Agriculture joined forces with publicly funded, land-grant universities nationwide to establish a partnership known as the Smith-Lever Act. The act aimed to better manage crops in a time when 50% of the population lived in rural areas, and 30% were engaged in farming.
Out of this partnership, “extension” offices emerged to teach farming communities about better crop management through classes and community lectures based on the knowledge of existing agriculture clubs and societies.
These extension offices diversified their offering in the early 1970s by establishing the renowned Master Gardener Program in the U.S. and some Canadian territories. This hands-on horticultural training program played an instrumental role in reintroducing home vegetable gardens to the public.
One of the most well-known programs offered by county extension offices is 4-H. 4-H is a youth organization that offers countless opportunities for young individuals to engage in several fields of interest. From health and science to agriculture and civic engagement, 4-H empowers over 6 million kids across America. Join the esteemed program to unlock new skills and growth opportunities that prepare you for a brighter future.
15 Free or Cheap Things You Can Get at Your County Extension Office
Now that you know the history of county extension offices, it’s time to explore what they can offer. We’ve compiled a list of 15 free or cheap things you can get from your local county extension office.
Discover the Wild Through Forestry and Stewardship Courses
If you’re passionate about exploring the wilderness and pushing beyond the map’s limits, look no further than your local extension office. Here, you’ll find a wealth of information and courses on trail maintenance, forestry, fire suppression, climate change, and more.
For instance, Utah State University ensures responsible trail management through its “Trail Master Steward” program. This program trains and educates volunteers on upholding the principles of responsible trail management.
The University of Idaho also offers a “Master Forest Steward” certification, which trains volunteers to work closely with landowners and educate the public. The course consists of 70 hours of training that cost just $40.
Meanwhile, the Georgia Master Naturalist course provides a hands-on environmental education experience. Regardless of your interest or focus, expert knowledge and skills are within your reach.
Improve Your Garden Through Soil Testing
If your attempts at gardening or maintaining your lawn have been unsuccessful, it may be due to issues with your soil. Compacted soil or imbalanced pH levels can harm plant growth and leave your yard lacking.
Luckily, you can easily discover the composition of your soil at your local county extension office. A soil sample kit can be obtained and analyzed to determine the state of your soil, providing expert insight into any necessary treatments.
In many cases, soil testing is offered for free. However, a small fee may be associated depending on the location or time of year. Take advantage of this opportunity to improve the health and beauty of your outdoor space.
Consult the Extension Office for Pest Problems
If you’re dealing with pests, hold off on calling an exterminator. First, consider reaching out to your local extension office for help. These specialists educate the public on handling and monitoring invasive plants and pests of all kinds, including winged invaders.
Take the Orange County extension office in Florida as an example. After Hurricane Ian caused an influx of mosquitoes, the office distributed two free mosquito traps per household to help manage the problem.
By collaborating with your extension office, you can save money and avoid unnecessary exterminator visits. Consult them today to see how they can assist with your pest issues.
Health and Nutritional Resources
At the heart of county extension programs is a commitment to fostering healthy communities. As a natural extension of this mission, many programs now offer fitness classes and nutrition resources.
At Cornell’s Clinton County Cooperative Extension, older adults can join virtual workout routines, including the famous “Chair Chi.” The Extension Get Fit strength training program costs just $20 annually in Arkansas.
Penn State hosts a series of online classes for those looking to improve their cooking skills. And in Minnesota and Michigan, extension offices offer Cooking Matters courses for adults, families, and teens.
Join your local county extension program to access a range of resources to help you lead a healthier, happier life.
Get Advice on Your Lawn and Garden Design
Transform your landscaping from sparse to lush with sustainable ideas from your local Extension Office. Get expert advice from extension agents and volunteer master gardeners on drought-resistant plants, native plants, composting, vegetable gardening, and more. Whether you’re looking to plant new shrubs or trees or want to freshen up your lawn, our team will help you achieve beautiful, sustainable results. Visit us today and see the difference in your yard!
Learn How to Safely Process, Preserve, and Serve Your Garden’s Bounty
Get certified in food handling or take canning classes with your extension office. This educational resource offers comprehensive training in safely handling perishable goods- from your garden and beyond. Don’t let your hard-earned harvest go to waste- enroll in extension classes today.
Learn New Skill Sets as a Small Business Owner
You may be surprised that this valuable extension service grew from an effort to support farmers. Through UCSC’s Silicon Valley extension office, small business owners and entrepreneurs can access affordable certification programs in a variety of key areas, including business administration, human resources, marketing, procurement, and project management. Enhance your skills and grow your business with these essential training opportunities.
Learn How to Beekeeper in Your Backyard
Backyard beekeeping has been creating a lot of buzz for a few years, and it’s still a highly sought-after hobby. If you’re interested, many extension offices offer classes on bee care, where you can meet fellow beekeepers and start your hive mind.
For those looking to take their beekeeping skills to the next level, Oregon State has a Master Beekeeper Program offering apprentice, journey, and master-level certifications, along with a group of highly skilled students readily available to relocate colonies. Join the thriving community of bee enthusiasts and enjoy the sweet rewards of beekeeping.
Learn How to Sew and Quilt
If you want to get creative, extension offices offer various classes, from sewing basics to advanced quilting. The Wake County Extension Office in North Carolina offers free courses on making reusable produce bags and upcycling t-shirts into throw pillows. Make something unique for yourself or give handmade gifts to family and friends. You’ll find plenty of inspiration and resources at your county extension office.
Learn How to Raise Chickens
If you’re interested in raising your own chickens to save money on eggs, consider attending classes offered by your local extension office. These classes will cover topics such as raising chicks and maintaining the health of your flock.
For those hesitant about raising chickens, Penn State offers a certification course for becoming a poultry welfare officer. Additionally, Maryland offers helpful information on how to process chickens properly. With these resources, you can confidently start your backyard coop and save money on eggs in the long run.
Learn How to Forage
Foraging is a fun way to become more knowledgeable about the environment and gain access to nutrient-rich foods that can’t be found in stores. Your local extension office may offer classes on identifying edible wild plants, fruits, and mushrooms. You’ll also learn proper foraging techniques to ensure you’re picking sustainably.
Learn Proper Field Dressing to Protect Your Meats from Diseases
Hunters, fishers, and farmers certainly wouldn’t want to waste their toil by risking the loss of their meat due to improper field dressing. Aside from that, there’s always the potential for the spread of disease. Fortunately, extension offices offer training on the appropriate disposal of diseased carcasses and how to safely field dress fish and game. Kentucky’s Field to Fork program provides a comprehensive guide on what you must know to hunt effectively, from turkey calling to deer processing.
Gain the necessary knowledge and skills to ace your field dressing game, keep your meat out of harm’s way, and ensure you savor every last bit of your hard-earned hunt.
Get Free Water Testing Kits
Having clean and safe water is an essential part of life. If you need more clarification about the quality of your tap or well water, don’t worry. Many extension offices provide free testing kits for homeowners to check their water for contaminants like nitrates, lead, arsenic, and E. coli. Ensure your family drinks safe, clean water, and get free testing kits from your local extension office.
Enjoy Free Gardening Workshops
Gardening is an enjoyable way to get outdoors. The bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables you’ll reap can save hundreds annually at the grocery store. Extension offices often offer workshops on urban gardening that educate attendees on how to plant, maintain and harvest their own food. For example, the San Antonio Master Gardeners program offers free classes on composting, growing vegetables in containers, and attracting beneficial insects to your garden.
Learn How to Prepare for Natural Disasters
No matter where you live in the United States, natural disasters are an ever-present risk. Extension offices often host events to help you prepare for potential storms, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other emergencies. For example, the Virginia Cooperative Extension offers classes on creating a family disaster plan and building an emergency supply kit.
Don’t Know How to Find Your County Extension Office? Here’s How:
If you’re new to your county and need help finding your local extension office, start by doing a quick search online. Simply type in your county’s name and “county extension” to get contact information about offices near you. You can also call the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Office of Extension at 202-720-2791 for help finding a local office.
Can You Use Other County Extension Office Services if You Live Out of County?
Yes! Although you will need to do more research, many extension offices now offer services to people outside their county. Check with your local office for more information on accessing these resources elsewhere.
Other Things Your County Extension Office May Offer:
- Free expert advice on a wide variety of topics, such as animal husbandry, soil science, home food preservation, and urban gardening
- Classes on how to can or freeze produce
- Information about local 4-H clubs and other community events
- Access to research materials via the library or online databases
- Resources for local businesses that need help expanding or starting up
- Assistance with grant applications and other paperwork
The Bottom Line
As you can see, county extension offices offer a wealth of resources for gardeners, farmers, and anyone interested in agriculture or environmental education. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to expand your knowledge, these offices are a great place to turn for affordable and reliable expertise. Don’t hesitate to contact your local extension office today and see how they can help enrich your gardening experience.
- Extension offices offer various services beyond weed and pest control, like water testing kits, gardening workshops, natural disaster preparedness classes, and more.
- It’s easy to find your local extension office. Just quickly search online or call the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Office of Extension for help.
- Many extension offices now offer their services to people outside their county. Check with your local office for more information.
Extension offices are a great source of affordable and reliable expertise. Don’t hesitate to ask how they can help you with your gardening experience.