Who ya gonna call?

When Martha Foley lets us listen in on her Gardening Conversations with horticulturalist Amy Ivy every Monday, some of you might be thinking, “Cornell Cooperative Extension? I thought extension agents walked around dairy farms and gave advice on cattle feed.” Or, “This is interesting, but where can I get my gardening questions answered?” Or even, “Who is this Amy Ivy and why is she giving advice on pruning, lawn fertilizers or Japanese beetles?”

Amy Ivy teaching volunteer Master Gardeners

Amy Ivy teaching Volunteer Master Gardeners

Until recently, I was only vaguely aware of CCE and what it offers. Part of my motivation in taking the Master Gardener Volunteer training last fall was to become more familiar with the local Extension offices. (By the way, if you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener Volunteer, this page has a list of all of the New York counties with MGV programs.) The training turned me into a big fan of CCE and the resources they provide.

Cooperative extensions grew out of the need for “land grant” universities, chartered by an 1862 act of Congress, to disseminate the research they were conducting in agriculture and other practical professions. There are extensions in all 50 states attached to that state’s land grant institution; in New York the land grant university is part of Cornell University, thus the title Cornell Cooperative Extension. CCE has offices in every NY county and is funded largely by county tax revenues.

Each county office tailors its programs to meet the needs of the local communities. For example, Franklin County CCE offers a range of support for dairy farmers, from on-farm visits to cash flow analysis. Jefferson County has several staff members dedicated to working with Fort Drum soldiers and their families.  Last month, I attended a workshop on growing winter greens in high tunnels, given at the Willsboro Research Farm in Essex County.

Winter greens in Willsboro high tunnel, 2010

Winter greens in Willsboro high tunnel, 2010

The online resources of CCE are extensive, with information on topics from disaster preparedness to natural gas leasing. So, how does one start tapping into this resource?

  • Contact your county extension office with your questions by phone, email or in person. Every extension agent I have met has been eager to help with farm and garden problems. Get your name on an email list for upcoming workshops and news updates.
  • Find out who are the Master Gardener Volunteers in your community. (The county offices should be able to give you some leads.) Alternatively, you can email your questions, which will be answered by volunteers at the Clinton or Essex office.
  • Visit www.gardening.cornell.edu. The “How-to” link has information on almost anything a home gardener could want to know.

Good luck with your questions, and an early “Happy Centennial” to Cooperative Extension – 100 years old in 2014!

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