AgriLife Extension celebrates 100 years in South Texas

AgriLife Extension celebrates 100 years in South Texas

EDINBURG  —  Anybody who has had any connection in the past 100 years with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in South Texas is invited to the centennial celebration of the agency’s existence here, according to Barbara Storz, the AgriLife Extension horticulturist for Hidalgo County.

Homemakers learn to embroider at AgriLife Extension classes in South Texas in the early 1950s. (Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension)

Homemakers learn embroidery skills  at AgriLife Extension classes in South Texas in the early 1950s. (Photo courtesy of AgriLife Extension)

“We’re inviting anybody and everybody who may have benefitted from our educational services over the last century,” she said. “Maybe they were a farmer, a 4-H’er, a homemaker or a community partner. They are all invited.”

The Centennial Celebration will be held at noon Nov. 16 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, 118 Paseo del Prado, in Edinburg.

Tickets for the lunch are $10 and must be purchased by Nov. 4 by calling 956-383-1026.

Speakers at the event include Dr. Douglas Steele, director of AgriLife Extension, and state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.

“The amazing thing about AgriLife Extension is that it is as viable a state agency now as it was when it started here in 1914,” Storz said. “AgriLife Extension always has been and continues to be all about education.”

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The Lower Rio Grande Valley’s agricultural industry was in its infancy 100 years ago and the AgriLife Extension service was in the mix, creating the foundation for what is now one of the fastest growing regions of the nation, Storz said.

“In 1914, the U.S. Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which provided the structure for each state to set up agricultural Extension services to deliver agricultural research findings to farmers,” she said. “Then in 1915 the state of Texas organized the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, now named the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.”

The idea was for AgriLife Extension to extend to the public the scientific information being generated by the land-grant institution known then as the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, Storz said. It is now named Texas A&M AgriLife Research.

“The outreach then and now was to every farm and every community in Texas,” Storz said. “So, county agents, specialists and volunteers provided that outreach. Soon it became apparent that education had to extend to women and children, so home demonstration agents and 4-H leaders began their work with the wives and children of farmers.”

Storz said Texas and the nation was especially in need of agricultural research and Extension 100 years ago.

“People may not know that in the mid-1860s the U.S. was importing most of its food,” she said. “Crop failures were common and snake oil salesmen were conning farmers with crop cure-alls.”

State and national laws helped generate research-based agricultural information and establish an Extension service to get that information to growers.

“Then it became apparent that women and children needed to learn how to properly and safely store food because there was no refrigeration,” Storz said. “The first 4-H chapter in the country was created in Jack County. Boys were in what was called the Boys Corn Club and girls were in the Girls Tomato Club. The boys group started in 1903 and the girls group in 1914. These were the predecessors to today’s 4-H.”

Storz and others have been going through old photos and archives to create exhibits to depict the many decades of Extension in South Texas that will be on display at the centennial celebration.

“We’ll have several Extension and 4-H events in the coming year to commemorate our 100 year anniversary, which kicks off with the Nov. 16 event that everybody is invited to,” she said. “But our booming population still benefits tremendously from the education we provide, so Dr. Steele will discuss what the future holds for AgriLife Extension.”

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