What is a Cooperative Extension Service?
If you’ve read some of our garden blog posts, or talked with our customer service reps, you’ve probably heard the advice “contact your local extension agent.” But what exactly is an extension agency? Cooperative extensions got started in 1914, when the USDA partnered with a network of state universities to provide support to farmers and gardeners across the country. Whichever public university in your state is considered the “ag” or technical school probably runs your state’s extension program (it’s an “extension” of the university, to bring vital agricultural expertise to the public.) Most states have a central extension office at a university, along with county offices, where you can connect with agents who can give advice on a wide range of gardening and farming questions, from "what are these yellow spots on my bean plants?" to "what kind of lawn grass grows best here?" Many extension offices also offer soil testing, run local Master Gardener and 4-H programs, and hold events and classes about farming and gardening. The best part? Getting advice from an extension agent is usually free!
What kinds of questions should I ask my local extension agent?
An extension agent is a great resource for gardening questions that are very local in nature, or just plain difficult to find an answer for. We often refer folks to them for diagnosis of plant diseases or an unusual pest problem. Depending on your region and what type of agriculture is practiced there, you might find the local extension agency to be more or less focused on regenerative or organic agriculture, but whether or not you agree with all their methods, they’re likely to have their finger on the pulse of whatever pest problems are cropping up in your area, and the particular challenges of growing in your climate more than any online source. When you’re dealing with a tough gardening problem, getting a real live local expert can be a huge help!
How do I find my local extension office?
Here are links to cooperative extension offices in all 50 states, Washington DC, and US Territories:
(Broken link? Let us know by emailing email@example.com! We’ll try to keep the list up-to-date.)
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
- American Samoa
- Northern Marianas Islands
- Puerto Rico (Servicio de Extension Agricola)
- US Virgin Islands
Written by Leah Smith, Sow True Seed's Agriculture Director