Extension office a link between university and you

July 20, 2004|by JEFF SEMLER/Extension educator

It seems as though a week doesn't go by that we don't get a call at the Extension office from new clientele.

You would think an organization 90 years old wouldn't be new to so many people. I have had people tell me that we are one of the best-kept secrets around.

It often amazes me that even some of our longtime clientele don't fully know what we do.

So what does Extension do for the citizens of Washington County?

It educates. To spare you all the historical details, Extension is part of the Land Grant University System across this country. We bring the university, its research and knowledge to the people.

Each state has an Extension education component reaching out from its university. In Maryland, it is the University of Maryland, College Park and Eastern Shore.


Historically, Extension dealt with agriculture, the domestic arts and youth. Today, we still lead the world's largest youth development program, which you know as 4-H. We also work in production agriculture.

Where Extension has changed is in the area that once was known as "home economics." Today it is known as "family and consumer sciences."

This is due in large part to the demographic shift of suburbanization. While cooking and sewing classes no longer are offered, such things as budgeting and money management, menu planning and consumer savvy are.

Agriculture has changed, too. Almost daily, we get phone calls or folks walk in with insects that need identifying or with some other home horticulture or lawn and landscape question. These homeowners comprise the bulk of our new audience.

Folks call and say their neighbors told them to call Extension about this plant problem or that insect question.

We do our best to help everyone in as timely a manner as possible.

4-H also has changed. Here in Washington County, we still have plenty of cows and pigs and sheep, but we have expanded the 4-H program to include alpacas and rabbits.

Last week, you read about one of our youth programs, Farm Fun Day Camp, and in a few weeks, you will see and hear a lot about 4-H activities at Ag Expo.

We provide education every day in many ways: By answering questions on the phone, writing newspaper columns, making farm visits and by helping walk-in visitors.

We are, however, not a regulatory agency. We still have people calling us and complaining about their neighbors spraying, or cutting down a tree or some other irritating behavior. We have no authority (nor do we want any) to enforce laws or regulations.

We do, however, welcome the opportunity to educate the public about why a person may use a spray or what that new odor might be.

We enjoy working with, serving and educating the citizens of Washington County, even though our staff is not as large as it once was. We strive to address every request for information we receive, although some take more time and research than others. And we are only human - thus, we are only able to take things as they come, one at a time.

So, if you have a question we can help with, call us or stop by. And, if you want to know the history of Extension, I'll be happy to tell you.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in 4-H youth development, as well as agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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