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Cooperative Extension is 100

Until recently, one important mission of Hamilton County Cooperative Extension was to educate on combined sewage overflows.
Until recently, one important mission of Hamilton County Cooperative Extension was to educate on combined sewage overflows.
Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images

This is the final installment in an occasional series on the history and significance of agricultural education in various forms. Other installments can be found under the heading, "Suggested by the author."

2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the Cooperative Extension System. Cooperative extension is an informal education system, whereby the results of new, scientific research are made available to those practicing a related trade or craft. This idea has its roots in agricultural education, and as such, is administered through a land-grant university.

The 1862 Morrill Act, which created the land-grant university, was a game-changing moment in the history of American higher education. Previously, most institutions of higher education had been church-founded. However, the Morrill Act was a resounding endorsement by our government for publicly-supported higher education. The 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which funded Cooperative Extension, strengthened the connection between land-grant colleges and the public.

"We're part of the Ohio State University community," said Chris Olinsky, county extension director for Hamilton County. "But what we really do is translate research for consumers and citizens."

"Cooperative extension has moved along with society," she continued. "This is an urban and suburban program, not just for a rural population. Programs like 4H Youth Development and Family and Consumer Sciences support health people, relationships, and finances."

As Hamilton County became more urbanized, however, the county commissioners declined to fund cooperative extension. However, in the recent past, another county entity had helped support Hamilton County Cooperative Extension -- the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).

Beginning in 2008, MSD contracted with Hamilton County Cooperative Extension to help educate the public about the need to reduce combined sewage overflows, which happen when excessive run-off from rainfall overwhelms the sanitary sewers. Because waste water infrastructure in most Hamilton County communities is older, storm water and sewage flow through the same system. That relationship ended in April 2013, and cooperative extension is currently seeking other sources of funding in Hamilton County.