Editor’s note: This is the first in a series commemorating the 100th year of Cooperative Extension in the U.S.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension program throughout the United States. And McDowell County’s own Cooperative Extension is celebrating the centennial this Saturday.

In May 1914, the Smith-Lever Act was signed into law. It established the Cooperative Extension, the nationwide transformational education system which operates through land-grant universities in partnership with federal, state and local governments. U.S. Sen. Hoke Smith of Georgia and U.S. Rep. A.F. Lever of South Carolina both authored this legislation to expand “the vocational, agricultural and home demonstration programs in rural America.” The idea was to bring the research-based knowledge from land-grant universities directly to rural people where they lived and worked.

Since then, the Cooperative Extension has made a difference in the lives of farmers, homemakers and young people all across the country. Here in North Carolina, the Cooperative Extension works in collaboration with the research and academic programs from N.C. State University in Raleigh and N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro to reach rural communities all across the state. They work in partnership with state, federal and local governments.

On Saturday, the Cooperative Extension for McDowell County will celebrate this milestone in conjunction with the 68th Annual Jr. Livestock Show.

The Livestock Show and 100th anniversary celebration will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McDowell Agricultural Center, located on Ag Services Drive off of N.C. 226 South.

In addition to the Livestock Show, there will be guest speakers, demonstrations and vendors. The Master Gardeners, the McDowell Honeybees, the 4-H and Extension Community Association will have displays. The McDowell Cattlemen’s Association will sell hamburgers and hot dogs.

Molly Sandfoss is the Cooperative Extension director for McDowell County. She said the local program has been in existence here for almost the same amount of time. W.R. Bailey was the first the Cooperative Extension agent for McDowell back in 1916. He would make his rounds around the county on horseback “looking for the opportunity to sow some of his seed of suggestions and recommendations here and there wherever his judgment thought if put into practice would increase the cash income of the farm, appeared upon the scene.”

The Cooperative Extension program here had clubs for youth and worked with housewives on home economics.

And there was a similar program in place here even before that. A farmer’s institute was held in Marion on Aug. 20, 1909. At the Farmer’s Institute, many topics were discussed. W.N. Hunt, state horticulturalist, talked about cultivation, pruning and spraying fruit trees. The poultry industry was represented by J.S. Jeffrys, poultryman of the N.C. Experiment Station.

“Corn improvements and increased production were highlighted by Mr. S.B. Heeges of Virginia,” reads information from the Cooperative Extension. “Mrs. Hutt then talked to the ladies about different cooking methods and labor-saving utensils. The meeting was so successful that it was recommended that ‘next year every family in the county should attend, both men and women.’”

D.F. Giles was the superintendent of McDowell County schools from 1905 to 1913. He began a Corn Club for local students during his time as superintendent.

“It was reported that in 1912, the boys won five of the seven prizes offered by the state Department of Agriculture for the District,” reads information from the Extension. That district included Surry, Alleghany, Wilkes, Alexander, McDowell, Mitchell, Yancey and Avery.

Contests were held in order to encourage farmers to increase corn production in McDowell. The Manufacturer’s Club of Marion sponsored a corn and potato contest. Prizes were offered to the farmer who raised the most corn on one acre. First prize was $30. A potato contest was held as well with the first prize of $15.

So McDowell County was on its way to having a Cooperative Extension-like program even before the Smith-Lever Act was enacted.

“They were targeting the whole family, men, women and children,” said Sandfoss.

Over the past century, the Cooperative Extension in McDowell has worked to bring research-based information to those who need it the most. This information is provided through publications, newsletters, one-on-one consultations, public meetings, workshops, field days, the Internet, news articles and radio programs.

The four major program areas for the local Cooperative Extension are:

• 4-H and Youth Development. 4-H is an educational program for the needs of youth 5 through 19. Members participate in “hands on” learning experiences, community services projects and leadership opportunities.

• Agriculture and Natural Resources. Full-time and part-time commercial producers rely on the Extension Service to get the latest research to assist with their farming operations and be sustainable and economically profitable.

• Community & Rural Development. The Cooperative Extension helps build quality communities by training adult and youth volunteers to become community leaders and provide educational programs to stimulate economic and community development. Projects in this area include farmland preservation, beautification, recycling, volunteer development and economic development.

• Family and Consumer Education. The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program is designed to assist limited resource audiences in getting the knowledge and skills to eat nutrionally sound diets and improve the health and well-being of their families.

In addition to Sandfoss, the staff of the local Cooperative Extension consists of Greg Anderson, agriculture and natural resources agent; Chad Ray, 4-H Youth Development agent; Heather Peek, EFNEP program assistant; Craig Adkins, commercial horticulture; Jane McDaniel, county administrative assistant; and Cheryl Mitchell, support specialist.

For more information, contact the local Cooperative Extension at 652-8104 or visit http://mcdowell.ces.ncsu.edu. You can also visit on Facebook.