A Centennial of Cooperation

It is State Fair time in Minnesota and that’s got me thinking about 4-H and the United States Cooperative Extension Service. I am a longtime volunteer in the Scouting movement, begun in England in 1907, but I was born on a farm and my parents grew up in 4-H. At fair time we see the fruits of the labors of 4-H members, from craft projects to farm animals, with the best being recognized with their trademark blue ribbons.

By immersing kids in learning and leadership activities and instilling a healthy spirit of competition through project judging, 4-H contributed directly to the nation’s leadership position in world agriculture and other industries.

The Extension Service is marking it’s Centennial year in Minnesota:

In 1909, state legislators saw fit to enable the University of Minnesota to take the latest research from University labs into people’s lives. For a century, Extension faculty have extended the reach of the University into every corner of the state, providing Minnesotans with access to practical, research-based information to help improve their lives.

Extension has contributed greatly to rural communities, inventing and re-inventing itself over the years, from county ag extension agents to value-added agricultural processing cooperatives and high-powered economic and social research.  Two UM Extension educators in the Community Vitality program, Ben Winchester (Morris) and Jody Horntvedt (Roseau), talked to Minnesota Public Radio at a community meeting up in Grand Rapids earlier this summer. There’s always things that need to be done and in many communities there’s more and more groups yet fewer and fewer people willing to step up and get them done. 

Communities’ …reason for existing has changed over time.  The reason towns were spaced so close together was that was where the railroads needed to stop…  Communities say “we want to attract new people.”  Well, that’s great, but why does your community exist? 

Difficult questions.  They taked about things that make small towns work, about community groups and welcoming newcomers.  There’s some difficult questions about the future of the service and fraternal organizations, but that’s a blog of its own.  Overall, it comes down to communities re-inventing themselves like Extension has had to over the years. If you’ve got 50 minutes it’s worth the listen.


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4 Responses to A Centennial of Cooperation

  1. cat says:

    I don’t have 50 minutes, but I did have time to read your blog. Intriguing.

    I grew up in 4-H. While I was no model 4-Her, a lot of agricultural and business principals somehow sunk in by the time I reached adulthood.

    Sadly, my son had no interest in it by the time he came of 4H age.

    My dad, who is 85, says that fraternal organizations started losing members when televised sports became available. Ask around, most old men agree.

  2. John says:

    Ben Winchester is doing some interesting work looking at volunteer organizations, how they adapt (or don’t), and what that tells us about community vitality. We add more and more, yet are loath to close up the doors on them that went before.

    Cat, it’s like you wrote about the Elks in January. There’s a fine line between reinventing ourselves and remuddling.

    Communities can be the same way. If you can’t answer the question “Why does your town exist?” why should anybody else?

  3. John says:

    A sad note: About 120 4-H members were sent home early yesterday from the State Fair when some were diagnosed with H1N1 flu. I’m not a big fan of the big fair, but that would rot to do all that work and get drummed out through no fault of your own.

  4. Pingback: Redefining the Rural Narrative - JC Shepard(dot)comJC Shepard(dot)com

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