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The era of modern agriculture in the United States began with the passage of the Morrill Act by the Federal Congress in 1861. This made a grant of public land to each state to establish a college for instruction in agriculture and the mechanic arts, and it has been the influence of the "land-grant colleges," more than any other agency, which has been responsible for our agricultural advancement. In 1888 the Hatch Act made an annual federal appropriation to each of these colleges for the establishment of an agricultural experiment station, whose investigations, with those of the United States Department of Agriculture, have been largely responsible for the scientific basis of modern agriculture.

From the beginning the agricultural colleges realized their obligation to bring the results of scientific investigations to the attention of farmers as well as to their own students, and their faculties spoke before meetings of state and county agricultural societies, granges, and farmers' institutes. In 1875 Michigan was the first state to make an appropriation to its State Board of Agriculture for conducting farmers' institutes, and in the next twenty-five years most of the states established systems of farmers' institutes either under their state boards or departments of agriculture or under the agricultural colleges, through which itinerant speakers addressed one or more meetings of farmers in each county every year. These institutes grew in popularity and led to separate meetings for farm women, and sometimes for children, and in some cases permanent county organizations were created for holding institutes with local speakers as well as for managing those furnished by the state. Farmers' institutes have performed an important service in the education of the rural community. Not only have they given instruction in methods of agriculture and in the problems of country life, but they have been an important means of bringing rural people together in a common cause; they are a community activity and strengthen the community bond. In many cases in isolated localities the annual farmers' institute has been one of the few occasions at which the people of the community get together, and has been looked forward to as a social event. Furthermore, it was through experience with farmers' institutes that the need of better means for bringing instruction to rural communities was appreciated and other methods were developed.

It was but a few years after the establishment of the agricultural experiment stations under the Hatch Act of 1888, that the colleges commenced to realize that the results of their investigations would not be extensively utilized by farmers unless other means were employed than mere publication of reports and bulletins and addresses at farmers' institutes and agricultural meetings. These were good, but they were felt to be inadequate and it was evident that to secure the general adoption of new methods some means of more systematic instruction and of local demonstrations were necessary. The agricultural colleges came to feel that they should have definite departments with men who could devote their time to giving instruction to the people on the land. The first appropriation for agricultural extension work was made to Cornell University by the State of New York in 1894, but it was a decade later before the leading agricultural colleges had established departments of extension work. In general the early period of the extension movement was chiefly concerned with methods of agricultural production and had no definite program for the local organization of its work. This finally came about through the county agent movement.

The county agent movement[47] had its origin in an effort to combat the ravages of the Mexican Cotton Boll Weevil as it swept through Texas and advanced eastward from 1900 to 1910. It was in 1903 that Dr. S. A. Knapp was commissioned by the Federal Secretary of Agriculture, James Wilson, to devise methods whereby the Texas farmers might be shown how they could grow cotton in spite of the weevil. He soon found that progressive farmers who were using the cultural methods which the entomologists had found to be successful for raising an early crop, were able to raise fairly good crops before injury became serious. He therefore employed practical farmers to go among their neighbors and get them to agree to give a fair trial to the methods advocated by the government, i.e., to demonstrate their practicability. Those making the trials were called "demonstrators" and their neighbors who came to follow their example in testing the new methods were called "coöperators" and were called together at the "demonstrator's" farm to see the results of his work and to receive instruction from the "demonstration agent" who supervised the work for the government. As this work was in charge of practical farmers more or less known locally, it appealed to the farmers as a common-sense method, the results spoke for themselves, and the demand for the work spread rapidly. Dr. Knapp found that the county was the best unit for the work of the supervising demonstration agent, and he soon came to be known as the county demonstration agent, which was later contracted to county agent or county agricultural agent. The whole movement came to be called "the farmers' coöperative demonstration work." Three new features in agricultural instruction of farmers were involved in this system; it was more or less coöperative on the part of a local group of farmers; it used the demonstration method of teaching, i.e., the farmer demonstrated to himself by his own trial; and a local county agent was employed for the supervision of the work. It soon became apparent that merely trying to circumvent the depredations of the boll weevil would not solve the problem and that instead of raising only cotton as a cash crop the farmer must diversify his crops so as to raise more of the foodstuffs consumed on the farm and to have other products for sale. This involved the application of the demonstration method to the growing of corn, legumes, hogs, etc., in short, it involved the whole field of farm management and agricultural practice. The work of the county agricultural agents was liberally supported by local business men, commercial clubs and railroads, and the General Education Board, as well as by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In 1909 the Mississippi legislature passed the first act permitting counties to appropriate funds for this work, and this was followed by most of the southern states within a few years.

The Report of President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission in 1909 called attention to the need of a national system of agricultural extension work in charge of the agricultural colleges, and congressmen and agricultural leaders in the North who had observed the success of the county agent movement in the South commenced to feel that county agricultural agents might be equally valuable in the North as a means of local agricultural education. As a result, the first county agricultural agents in the North were appointed by the Office of Farm Management of the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1910 and 1911. In 1912, 113 were employed in coöperation with the state agricultural colleges and local county organizations in the North and West. The success of the work of these agents and of the extension work of the agricultural colleges led to a general demand from the agricultural interests of the country for a federal appropriation to the agricultural colleges for establishing a system of extension work the chief feature of which would be the employment of county agricultural agents who would supervise field demonstrations by the farmers on their own farms. This resulted in the federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which made an annual appropriation to each land-grant college "to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on agriculture and home economics and to encourage the application of the same ... through field demonstrations, publications, and otherwise, ... to persons not attending or resident at said college." This act is notable in that it established the most comprehensive national system of non-resident instruction in agriculture and home economics of any country, and recognized the necessity of de-centralizing this instruction by having it carried on by agents in the counties who could have immediate and continuous contact with individual farmers and groups of farmers.

As the work of the county agents in the South grew more permanent they found that it was more efficient if they worked with and through local groups of farmers, and community agricultural clubs were quite widely organized, but no strong county federation was developed, except in West Virginia, where the local clubs formed a county organization which was called a Farm Bureau. The term Farm Bureau originated in Broome County, New York, in 1911, when the first county agent in that state was employed by the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, the Lackawanna Railroad, and the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As the number of county agents rapidly increased in the northern states it soon became apparent that if their work was to be of the greatest service to the farmers for whose benefit they worked, that it should be supported and managed by the farmers themselves rather than by business interests. The Farm Bureau Association, composed of farmers throughout a county, soon came to be a prerequisite to the placing of an agricultural agent in a county, and with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act and of state legislation accepting its provisions and appropriating state funds contingent upon similar appropriations by the counties, this became the usual procedure. The county farm bureau association coöperates with the state college of agriculture and the U. S. Department of Agriculture in the employment of the county agent, and the annual membership fees together with county appropriations pay the expenses of the work other than salary. The affairs of the farm bureau association are in the hands of the usual officers and executive committee, who report to an annual meeting of the membership. Further than this the method of organization varies in different states. In most of the northern and western states there is a local committee in each community which arranges for the demonstrations and meetings to be held by the county agent, and there is no further organization of the local membership, but in a few states definite local organizations or community clubs with officers and regular meetings have developed. In either case, however, the unit of local organization and interest in the work of the farm bureau is usually the community, although its executive administration is on a county basis.

As the extension work came under the local control of these organizations of farmers, the objectives of the work were more largely determined by the farmers' point of view. Whereas the original purpose had been to "extend" to the farmer the better methods of agriculture discovered by the experiment stations and the federal department of agriculture, the program of work came to be largely determined by the particular needs and problems of the local communities in a given county. The farmers conferred with the agent--their agent--and pointed out their greatest difficulties. The program of work was then a matter of determining what demonstrations and instruction could be arranged to meet these problems, under the direction of the county agent and with any assistance possible from the state agricultural college. With the rapid growth of Farm Bureaus,--for on June 30, 1918, there were 791 farm bureaus with approximately 290,000 members,--the movement became truly a farmers' movement rather than a mere "extension" of the work of the agricultural colleges, though the close affiliation with them constituted its strength and furnished its leadership.

It so happened that almost as soon as the Smith-Lever Act became effective the world was plunged into war and marketing problems became more and more important. Whereas in the first decade of the county agent movement interest had been chiefly in better methods of production, it now rapidly shifted to include better methods of marketing and the development of coöperative selling associations, whose organization was assisted by the farm bureaus wherever they were needed and practicable.

The entry of the United States into the World War greatly accelerated the farm bureau movement. "Food will win the war" was the slogan which challenged American agriculture. The number of county agents in the North and West increased from 542 to 1,133 within the year ending June 30, 1918. It was the county agent system which formed the mechanism through which the federal government secured the whole-souled coöperation of the farmers of the United States under peculiarly trying conditions. The winter of 1917-18 was severe and seed corn was unusually poor. As a result, the available supply of sound seed corn in the spring of 1918 was the lowest on record in the face of the greatest need for a bumper crop. Had it not been for the remarkable organization developed through the county agents and the farm bureau system of the entire country, the corn crop of the great Corn Belt would have been far below normal. As it was, nearly a normal acreage was planted and an abundant harvest secured. The rôle which the agriculture of the United States played in the World War has never been adequately written or appreciated, but it was full of as much romance and heroism as were the industries which commanded the headlines of the press. Dr. Bradford Knapp, for many years in charge of the county agent work in the Southern States after the death of his father, its founder, has called attention to the fact that during the war "of the four great activities or industries in America, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and transportation,--one alone--agriculture, stood the test, and that mainly because there was already in existence an organization extending from the United States Department of Agriculture through every state agricultural college ... to the counties and the farmers, by which information was rapidly disseminated and farmers were made aware of conditions of what must be done to win the war."

It was inevitable that such an organization growing rapidly during a war should develop an unusual solidarity, and this was but strengthened by the difficulties which agriculture encountered with the cessation of hostilities. During the war several states had formed state federations of the county farm bureau associations and in November, 1919, a convention was called at Chicago for the formation of a national organization, which resulted in the formal organization of the American Farm Bureau Federation[48] in March, 1920, with 28 states represented, and a membership in county farm bureaus of 400,000. In the next two years the southern states, which previously had developed no strong county organizations, rapidly adopted the farm bureau idea, and when the American Farm Bureau Federation held its second annual meeting at Atlanta, Ga., in November, 1921, it included 35 states with a local membership of 967,279.

I have dwelt at length upon the growth of the county agent and farm bureau movement, because there is probably no one agency which has done more in the last decade toward the integration of rural communities throughout the United States or which has had a larger educational influence on all aspects of country life. The farm bureau usually organizes its local work by communities and in large numbers of counties the community areas have been defined for the first time by the county agents. The value of this organization by communities was repeatedly shown during the war. For example, in New York State it was possible for the county agents to organize meetings on the Agricultural Mobilization Day called by the Governor on April 21, 1917, in 1,089 communities, with an attendance of 85,075 persons, upon only a weeks notice. In several of the states which have encouraged community organizations, a very definite effort has been made to develop an all-round program of community improvement. Thus the West Virginia extension service has invented a community score card[49] with which several communities have scored themselves for three successive years in order to make an analysis of their social situation and to enable them to outline a program of work for the solution of their local problems. Several of the states are now employing specialists to assist the farm bureaus in their problems of community organization.

The county organization of extension work has been unique in its educational methods; methods which have large significance for all movements for rural progress.

First, its educational method is that of the demonstration carried out by farm people under the expert direction of paid county leaders in an effort to solve the immediate problems of the farm and the farm home. It builds on the experience, point of view, and interests of its pupils, who learn under the supervision of a teacher chosen by them, through a process which involves their making real experiments in finding the best solution of their problems. No class of people, here or elsewhere, has ever had opportunity for the training in the scientific attitude and point of view which American farmers may now receive, and on account of the nature and organization of their work they are steadily and surely, if not entirely consciously, adopting the method of science. The consequence of this movement in the social and political development of this country cannot be foretold, for the scientific attitude must finally be the basis of all true democracy.

Secondly, the program of work--the subject matter of the educational method--is largely chosen by the people themselves, but with the help of experts employed by them to supervise its execution. Here we have an institution arising from the land, wholly democratic in spirit and polity, yet recognizing the services of experts and employing them for its own purposes. In the county farm bureaus, and the organizations to which they have given rise, there is developing a new use of science both in the educational methods and in the employment of scientifically trained leaders, in the service of and directed by a democracy--a democracy no longer provincial but of national scope in that there is real coöperation between the local community, the county, the state, and the nation.

Lastly, the extension movement recognizes that only by the development and training of the largest amount of enthusiastic, voluntary, local leadership can its work have a foundation which will make it permanent. It thus recognizes an essential factor of all social organization, i.e., the power of personal leadership in shaping the public opinion of the group, and it consciously undertakes the development of intelligent initiative as a means of social progress.

When one has observed the feeble beginnings of this movement only a decade ago, and has witnessed its growth to the present nation-wide system, promoting plans for national organizations for coöperative marketing, he appreciates the power of science, education, and organization as new forces in the life of the rural community, whose future influence one would be rash to prophesy.

This account would be misleading if it failed to indicate that the extension movement has given attention to the problems of the farm home, of the mother and the children, as well as to those of the farm business. In 1910, girls' canning clubs were started in the Southern States and young women were employed to supervise their work. Very soon the mothers became interested and before long home demonstration agents were appointed to work with the agricultural demonstration agents. In 1916 home demonstration work was in progress in 420 counties in the South. A few home demonstration agents were employed by farm bureaus in the Northern States prior to 1917, but the additional funds appropriated by Congress for food conservation work during the war caused a rapid increase in their number and women's work in the North received its chief impetus during the war. The Smith-Lever Act specified that its funds should be used for extension work in home economics as well as in agriculture, but it was not until the farm bureaus commenced to employ home demonstration agents and to organize the women for their support that work with the farm home became established on a permanent basis. In most of the northern states the farm bureau is now organized on what is called the "family plan," that is, it includes in its program of work projects dealing with the farm for men, with the farm home for women, and with club work in agriculture and home economics for boys and girls. In many of the states a separate agent is employed for each of these lines of work and the women are organized in a separate department of the county farm bureau and have their own local farm women's clubs. In New York State the women's work has been further differentiated by organizing it as a County Home Bureau which with the Farm Bureau forms the County Farm and Home Bureau Association.

During the war the home demonstration agents gave their attention to food conservations and clothing, but as a permanent program has developed the local clubs of farm women have shown a lively interest in problems of health, home management, care of children, education, recreation, and civics. They have found that the problems of the home cannot be solved without an effort to create better community conditions and "community housekeeping" has attracted an increasing interest. The present aims of the women's work have been aptly phrased in the Home Bureau Creed written by Dr. Ruby Green Smith, associate state leader of home demonstration agents in New York:

      The Home Bureau Creed

      "To maintain the highest ideals of home life; to count children the most important of crops; to so mother them that their bodies may be sound, their minds clear, their spirits happy, and their characters generous:

      "To place service above comfort; to let loyalty to high purposes silence discordant note; to let neighborliness supplant hatreds; to be discouraged never:

      "To lose self in generous enthusiasms; to extend to the less fortunate a helping hand; to believe one's community may become the best of communities; and to coöperate with others for the common ends of a more abundant home and community life:

      "This is the offer of the Home Bureau to the homemaker of to-day."

Nor should we fail to recognize the part which the boys' and girls' club work has had in the extension movement. Space will not permit any adequate account of its origin and growth, or of its methods and influence. No movement has done more to redirect and give dynamic to the rural school than has the club work; nor has any movement done more to train leadership among the coming generation on the farms. Commencing with corn clubs for the boys, canning clubs were soon organized for the girls, and later pig clubs, potato clubs, calf clubs, sewing clubs, cooking clubs, and clubs are now organized with various projects covering almost all phases of agriculture and home economics. These clubs may be called the Junior Farm Bureau, for in them farm children are receiving a training which will mean much for the future organization of country life. The public confidence in the work is shown by the fact that in 1920, 500 banks in the northern and western states loaned nearly $900,000 to club boys and girls for financing their projects.[50] As a result of the school exhibits of the products of the club work, many a community fair has been started, and as a result of club picnics and play days community picnics or festivals have become an annual event in many places and have brought better feeling and increased pride and loyalty to the community. In 1919, 464,979 boys and girls were enrolled in club work.

Thus the extension movement started by the agricultural colleges and the United States Department of Agriculture has become a national movement of rural people, men, women, and children, whose strength is largely due to the fact that it has been the means of organizing the local communities and of bringing them together in county organizations, which with the aid of state and national funds and supervision, employ trained executives to stimulate and supervise the work of the local groups. It is a unique agency for the education and organization of rural life which is giving the American farmer a new position in the life of the nation.


[40] Out of 185 neighborhood areas, 39 were chiefly due to the school district, the next most important influence being the church parish which determined the neighborhood in 33 cases. J. H. Kolb, "Rural Primary Groups." Research Bull. 51, Agr. Exp. Sta. of the Univ. of Wisconsin, p. 48.

[41] The relation of the consolidated school to township and community lines is well shown in a study of the schools of Randolph County, Indiana, and Marshall County, Iowa, by Dr. A. W. Hayes, in his "Rural Community Organization" (Chap. VI, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1921). In Randolph County more of the schools are located in the open country while the more recent consolidations in Marshall County are located mostly at the village centers. Dr. Hayes recognizes the differences but he gives no facts which make possible a judgment as to the relative efficiency of the two methods from a community standpoint.

[42] F. C. Howe, "Denmark a Coöperative Commonwealth." H. W. Foght, "Rural Denmark and its Schools."

[43] "In Pease and Niles' 'Gazateer of Connecticut and Rhode Island' (1819) the social library is almost as regularly mentioned in the descriptions of the various towns as are the saw-mills, or the ministers and doctors."--Bidwell, "Rural Economy in New England," p. 347.

[44] In the _Inland Printer_, February, 1920, quoted by Atwood, l. c., p. 305.

[45] "The Cornell Reading Course for the Farm," Lesson 155, March, 1920. See also his "The Country Newspaper and the Community," Chicago, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1922.

[46] Quoted by Atwood, _l. c._, p. 314.

[47] This movement can only be sketched in barest outline. It is fully and authoritatively discussed in another volume of this series by Prof. M. C. Burritt, entitled "The County Agent and the Farm Bureau." See also O. B. Martin, "The Demonstration Work." Boston, The Stratford Co.

[48] For a full discussion of this movement, its objectives and accomplishments, see O. M. Kile, "The Farm Bureau Movement," Macmillan, New York, 1921.

[49] Nat. T. Frame, "Lifting the Country Community." Circular 255, Extension Division, W. Va. University, 1921.

[50] See "Status and Results of Boys' and Girls' Club Work, Northern and Western States," 1920. George E. Farell. U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Department Circular 192.