Question: I noticed at the end of your articles it says you work for Rutgers Cooperative Extension. Can you explain what cooperative extension is and what programs they offer?

Answer: The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide, non-credit educational network. Each U.S. state and territory has a state office at its land-grant university, Rutgers for New Jersey, and a network of local or regional offices. These offices are staffed by Rutgers staff and county employees who provide useful, practical and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes. Cooperative extension involves reaching out to the community, and meeting the public's needs at the local level.

A brief history of land-grant universities should help explain the development of cooperative extensions. The idea began as the United States began to expand westward in the late 1800s, and an interest in a more scientific approach to agriculture, the nation's largest industry, began to emerge. In 1862, the federal government established the United States Department of Agriculture, and realizing a need for more up-to-date and accurate information in the production and marketing of agricultural products, the USDA introduced the agricultural and mechanical college.

The Morrill Act of 1862 established these colleges nationwide. Called the land-grant system, this class of colleges was originally endowed by grants of public lands. In 1887, the Hatch Act established the agricultural experiment station system, and in 1890, the Second Morrill Act provided for direct annual appropriations to each state to support its land-grant college. The existence of land-grant colleges and experiment stations resulted in an abundance of knowledge that needed to be made available to the farmers and their communities. In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established the cooperative extension network.

At your local cooperative extension office you will find staff working as 4-H agents, Agricultural and Resource Management agents, Family and Community Health Sci-ences Educators, Extension Specialists and staff working on various programs. The various departments at extension have individual focus areas. The Master Gardener Program focuses on programs that emphasize sound horticultural practices including improving soil fertility, reducing pesticide use and identifying invasive species. Agricultural agents manage research and educational programs that help individuals learn new ways to produce income through alternative enterprises, improved marketing strategies, and management skills and help farmers and ranchers improve productivity through resource management, controlling crop pests, soil testing, livestock production practices and marketing.

Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: