Illinois might have been known for growing clover and cranberries rather than corn and soybeans if farmers in the early 1900s hadn’t followed recommendations from University of Illinois Extension agents to apply lime to the state’s highly acidic soil.
“Lime is made of calcium carbonate, which is also an ingredient in cement, so farmers feared using it. They thought it would make the soil hard,” said Robert Hoeft, U of I Director of Extension in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
According to Hoeft, the use of lime is just one of the ways the Extension, celebrating its 100th anniversary, has contributed to the state over the last century.
Hybrid corn is another example. University scientists developed the process to make hybrid corn and passed it on to seed companies. The Extension played a large part in getting farmers to adopt they hybrids by establishing demonstration plots near well-traveled roads.
In the mid-1930s, many farm families, unlike their city neighbors, did not have access to electricity. The combined effort of county Extension staff and local citizens to create rural electric cooperatives eventually brought electricity to all of rural America. In later years, Extension also assisted in organizing rural water systems. Today, Extension is working with companies to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas.
Although Extension’s roots are in the rural agricultural community, Hoeft said it has spread to urban areas of the state. Efforts are underway to improve the diets of people in both rural and urban areas to reduce health problems. Food deserts – areas that lack access to full-service grocery stores – are a problem in both urban and rural areas.
One way Extension is addressing the problem in the East St. Louis area is to lease a bus one day per month to transport people from the food desert area to a grocery store, providing them education on the way to the store about how to buy healthy food.
Extension units throughout Illinois are currently celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the 1914 signing of the Smith-Lever Act that established cooperative extension services. An interactive website has been created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the act. The site has photos, Extension highlights, a 100-years game, and Pinterest accounts. People can upload photos and comments to help document the 100-year legacy of University of Illinois Extension. Visit web.extension.illinois.edu/100yrs.