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Secret agent man, I am not

I help farmers and handle 'magic potion' calls, and try to help both

I help farmers and handle 'magic potion' calls, and try to help both

June 13, 2006|by JEFF SEMLER

Maryland Cooperative Extension is sometimes referred to as "a well-kept secret."

I am often asked what I do. The original title that my predecessor used was Extension Agent. We were considered agents of change and still are.

Our mission isn't secret - it is education. Often, it is mistakenly thought that Extension has some sort of regulatory power. We do not.

We are educators, not enforcers.

Cooperative Extension programs are both formal and informal educational offerings. Topics range from Child Care to Home Gardening and from Pasture Management to Youth Development.

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When Extension began in 1914, nearly 50 percent of Americans were rural, agrarian or both. So the focus of Extension was production agriculture for the farmer, home arts for his wife and 4-H for their children.

Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans are involved in production agriculture, yet many are moving into rural areas.

Thus, our topics have changed to reflect society's change.

We still serve farmers, but we serve the new members to our community, too. Our horticulture program has grown and our Family Consumer Sciences program still focuses on diet, nutrition and health, as well as financial management.

While 4-H was based on agricultural projects, today's youth also work in the areas of computer science and rocketry. The projects have always been the tools to teach youth life skills.

My job has changed, too. I still work with farmers in areas from pesticide safety to weed control in corn.

But I am also engaged in agricultural literacy. Many people are two to three generations from the farm and have no knowledge of what it takes to produce food.

I get calls from new neighbors the first time the manure is spread on spring fields. I help them understand that in order for farmers to be good environmentalists, they need to store their manure and apply it when the crop can best utilize it. This means manure will have a stronger smell.

Moving to the country has its trade-off.

I recently have received two anonymous calls from a person complaining about a fly problem they blame on a nearby farm.

This caller holds two large misconceptions. One, that there is some magic potion that the farmer has neglected to put in his manure. There is not. Second, that I can make the farm treat his manure. And I cannot. I have no regulatory power.

In this case, it would not matter because there is no such potion.

What I can do is help the caller understand the problem and address it. I could also help the farmer examine his manure management practices that may help mitigate a fly problem.

This caller is the exception and not the rule and for that, I am thankful.

Many callers have questions disguised as complaints. Once we talk and I can pick through their information, I can often bring things to a positive closure.

Sometimes, that does mean I talk to farmers and, most times, they understand, too. They didn't realize that doing what they have always done may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by their uninitiated neighbors.

So you can see, while my title may be Extension Educator, I am still acting as a change agent.

I help farmers, and I help others learn and understand farming.

I enjoy my job because I can work with farmers and educate others about my passion - agriculture.

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