Extension office is Washington County's best-kept secret

June 21, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER |
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

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 nearly 100 years old wouldn’t be new to many people. I have had people tell me we are one of the best-kept secrets around.

Part of that anonymity is our fault; we get so busy doing our job that we often forget to promote ourselves. Also, people attracted to this type of work are not seekers of the spotlight. It often amazes me that even some of our longtime clientele don’t know fully what we do.

So what is it Extension does for the citizens of Washington County? It is education. 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 body of knowledge to the people. Each state has an Extension education component reaching out from their university; in the case of 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 known as 4-H. We also work in the area of production agriculture.

Where we have changed is in the area that was once known as home economics. Today it is known as family and consumer science. This is due in large part to the demographic shift of suburbanization. While cooking and sewing classes are no longer offered, such things as budgeting and money management, menu planning and consumer savvy are.

Agriculture has changed, too. Almost daily we get calls or folks walk in with insects that need identifying or some other home horticulture or lawn and landscape question. These homeowners comprise the bulk of our new audience.  Folks will call and say my neighbor told me to call you about this plant problem or that insect question. We do our best to help everyone in as timely a manner as we can.

4-H has changed, too, from cows and cooking to alpacas and computers. That is not to say we have abandoned our roots. Here in Washington County, we still have plenty of cows and pigs and sheep, but we have expanded into alpacas and rabbits as well.

Previously you read about our youth programs, and in a few weeks you will see and hear a lot about the 4-H activities at Ag Expo. But we provide education every day in many ways, by answering questions on the phone or by writing newspaper columns or making farm visits or by helping walk-in visitors.

We are not, however, a regulatory agency. We still have people calling us and complaining about their neighbors spraying this or cutting down a tree or some other irritating behavior.

We have no authority, nor do we want any to enforce any law or regulation.

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

We love working with, serving and educating our citizens, even though our staff is not as large as it once was.

We still strive to address every request for information we receive. Some take more time and research than others. And we are only human and thus only able to take things as they come.

So if you have a question, give us a call or stop in and see us. We are willing to help when and where we can.

If you want to know the history of Extension, I’ll be happy to tell you.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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