Improving the way of life in rural America is one of the main reasons Farm Bureau exists. This central purpose has guided us through more than a century of change and growth and has incorporated such wide-ranging challenges as rural electrification, spreading modern agriculture practices and deployment of broadband internet. Throughout every one of these issues, University of Missouri Extension has worked hand-in-hand with Missouri Farm Bureau to improve the lives of rural Missourians.
I recently had the chance to talk with Marshall Stewart, MU’s Vice Chancellor for Extension and Engagement, for the MFB weekly podcast, “Around the Kitchen Table.” Dr. Stewart has been leading Extension for just over a year now, coming to Missouri from his home state of North Carolina. When he arrived last year, his engaging and humble personality immediately made a strong impression across Missouri, and he has quickly become an important part of his new home state.
Some of the most fascinating things I learned during our half-hour discussion involved just how closely Farm Bureau and Extension have been linked over the past 102 years. Although MU was founded in 1839, it was not until the 1914 Smith-Lever Act that Congress created the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service that expanded the University’s mission beyond its campuses and into every county across the state.
More importantly to Farm Bureau, I learned that it was not coincidental that county Farm Bureaus soon began popping up across Missouri, with the first founded in Saline County in March 1915. As Dr. Stewart explained, the Smith-Lever Act required a local partner to receive funding for those programs, so groups of farmers in many counties chose to organize a county Farm Bureau in order to receive Extension funding. Today every county in Missouri has both an Extension office and a Farm Bureau office. Few, if any, other public or private institutions can claim the same.
Today Extension has grown to include not only rural and agricultural interests, but all of Missouri. It offers programs for workforce development, nutrition education and even urban gardening – ways to make life better for all Missourians. Extension has also partnered with Missouri Farm Bureau this year to promote the expansion of broadband Internet to all corners of our state to bring opportunity and quality of life to everyone, no matter where they were born.
In a sense, I even owe my actual birth to Extension. The only reason my dad moved to the county where he met my mom is because he was placed there as an Extension agent upon graduation from the University of Missouri in the spring of 1960. Without Extension, they never would have met and Farm Bureau would have a different Director of Public Affairs.
Even if you don’t owe your existence to Extension, you certainly benefit from its work. Everyone in Missouri deserves the finest opportunities for success and education, and Farm Bureau and Extension will continue to work together to make those opportunities a reality for generations to come.