The day of May 8 marks an important anniversary for American agriculture and our nation’s communities: it’s the 103rd anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act.

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the nation’s Cooperative Extension Service (CE), a partnership between the federal government (USDA), each state (via the land-grant universities; learn more here) and local interests (originally the county Farm Bureaus, but now typically county government).

If you’re a farmer, you have likely benefited from CE’s practical research. Or maybe you’ve called a Master Gardener helpline for advice on integrated pest management, or enrolled your child in a 4-H program…all of which are services provided by CE offices in every state.

A National Network of Scientists – Connecting Campuses to Communities

But first, what is “extension?”

That term refers to “Cooperative Extension” – also sometimes called “Agricultural Extension” or the “Cooperative Extension Service.” Cooperative Extension is a national network of scientists, researchers and educators who are affiliated with land-grant institutions. They work in communities to conduct and apply research that addresses a broad range of issues across agriculture, natural resources, human nutrition and health, and youth, family and community development.

Cooperative Extension in California

In California, Cooperative Extension (UCCE) is operated by the University of California’s division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) This is a network connecting the people of California to the University. UC ANR has 1,000 researchers and UC faculty at four campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Riverside – and most recently – Merced. UCCE operates 57 county offices, 9 research stations spanning the geographic and climatic diversity of the state, 8 statewide programs and 2 institutes.

The organization’s strength is providing practical, non-biased research. There’s a lot going on, from nutrition education at schools, to poultry research, Master Gardener demo classes, farm trials, integrated pest management projects, public policy (in all areas, but a very strong presence in water and nutrition), etc.

UC ANR has several Twitter accounts; follow the main handle to stay apprised of what’s going on in your community and across the state.


A UCCE Farm Advisor chats with a farmer. Copyright, University of California.



How UC ANR Can Help You

Here’s just one example of how UC ANR can help you: through the Master Gardener program. These trained volunteers provide free science-based gardening advice to thousands of gardeners throughout the state.

A Bit More About the Smith-Lever Act
For more about this act and its impact on the nation and California, here’s an excerpt from an article about UCCE’s history that I co-authored with Rachel Surls for California Agriculture:

“On a warm Friday, May 8, 1914, in Washington D.C., two pieces of new legislation awaited President Woodrow Wilson’s signature: a proclamation establishing the second Sunday each May as Mother’s Day, and the Smith-Lever Act. The honoring of mothers dominated the news that day, but Wilson recognized the importance of the Smith-Lever Act, calling it “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by government.”

Sponsored by Sen. Hoke K. Smith and Rep. Asbury F. Lever, the bill was the result of national efforts to create a new educational model for U.S. agriculture. At that time, land-grant universities ran farmers institutes and short courses taught by lecturers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered its own form of Extension work that focused on pest control field demonstrations in the South and farm management in the North. Yet there was no consistent or efficient way to deliver important knowledge from the university campuses to the communities that needed it.

Passage of Smith-Lever launched a century of innovation in U.S. education that continues to this day. In California, the educational model born out of the legislation is UC Cooperative Extension. For 100 years this statewide network of UC researchers and educators has developed and provided science-based information to solve locally relevant challenges in the areas of economics, agriculture, natural resources, youth development and nutrition.”

Read the full article.

Asbury Lever. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Harris and Ewing.

A Hat Tip to Asbury Lever – Farmer and Visionary

Asbury Francis Lever was one of the two sponsors of the Smith-Lever Act. A native of South Carolina, he is buried on the Clemson University campus. In 2014, Clemson World Magazine wrote a piece about Lever:

 Interred in a shady plot along the periphery of Woodland Cemetery — a short punt from Death Valley and a pebble’s throw from Clemson family names like Sikes, Poole and R.C. Edwards – lie the earthly remains of one of the most influential Americans whose name you may have never heard.

Asbury Francis Lever — Frank to family, friends and constituents alike — was born on a family farm near Spring Hill in Lexington County on a winter day in 1875. Within 40 years the South Carolina farm boy would transform agriculture in the United States. All it took was a stroke of a pen and a vision for the future.

Thanks for your efforts, Mr. Asbury Francis Lever. Your impact is still felt today and helping the people of California and around the nation.

Editor’s Note: Another good way to stay up with UCCE’s latest research is by subscribing to California Agriculture, an open-access peer-reviewed research journal. It has been published by UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources since 1946. (It’s worth a dive into Cal Ag’s digitized archives to learn more about the history of agriculture in California.)  Executive Editor Jim Downing recently told me this about the publication:

“California Agriculture still has a sizable print circulation of 10,000, primarily in California — and it has a unique audience for an academic journal. Print subscribers include researchers in a variety of fields, but also many legislative and agency offices in Sacramento, local officials around the state, as well as farmers, ranchers, land managers, teachers and more.”


Have a great week!