Growing up on a farm in south-eastern Idaho, I learned very early in life that our local Cooperative Extension agent was my best friend. He was a teacher in our 4-H program, and his quick action saved my familys potato crop during the Colorado potato beetle invasion during the 1950s. As a result, I understand very personally what Cooperative Extension means to people, especially rural people. Cooperative Extension faculty and staff are quiet heroes working every day to help people solve problems and change their lives for the better.
One of our quiet heroes is Roger Veseth, the conservation tillage specialist for both Washington State University and the University of Idaho. For almost 20 years, he has been working with farmers in the Northwest on strategies for saving their precious topsoil while producing the crop yields required for the survival of their farms.
Through presentations, conferences, publications and now a list-serv on the Internet, he is providing informal instruction about direct seeding methods that reduce tilling, build moisture and organic matter in the soil, and reduce soil erosion. That work is especially important here in the hills of the Palouse region, where erosion claims substantial amounts of topsoil each year.
The new concepts are now being used successfully, and some farmers are telling Roger that his work is making a real difference. Hes not only helping them solve todays problems, but also helping ensure that our farms will produce food well into the future.
Another striking example is our award-winning Abuela team. In response to an outbreak of Salmonella food poisoning among Hispanic families in the Yakima Valley in 1997, WSU Cooperative Extension people and their partners on campus and in state government went to work finding a solution that was both successful and sensitive to the community.
The outbreak was linked to queso fresco, a soft Mexican cheese made from raw, unpasteurized milk. Extension personnel worked with respected women leaders or abuelas to teach the dangers of raw milk cheese and to introduce a safe new recipe made with pasteurized milk. Community health was improved for the long term without disrupting cultural traditions and community relationships.
Each year there are literally hundreds of examples of WSU Cooperative Extension at work, carrying the vision, intellectual resources, and research results from Washington State University to individuals and families throughout our state. I believe that Cooperative Extension is one of the greatest and yet least understood educational processes in our nation.
Those of you who have read the history of Extension know that this unique and almost accidental experiment linking our nations land grant universities and farm communities has had a profound impact on our nation. The concept has borne incredible fruit, making our agricultural production the envy of the world, for example.
As we look ahead, we recognize that while Cooperative Extension is an integral part of rural life, it is not confined to rural life. As our society has become more and more urban, Cooperative Extension has changed to meet societal demands without changing its ideals and values.
Our new 4-H Initiative demonstrates well how this popular youth organization, a part of Cooperative Extension, is meeting contemporary needs in carrying out its mission and ideals. While many people still think of 4-H youth and livestock projects, in 1999 less than 10 percent of 4-H members in our state were farm kids while nearly 23 percent lived in cities with more than 50,000 population.
To serve todays young people, WSU Cooperative Extension and our College of Education are proposing to expand the 4-H After-School Program with a network of 1,200 trained adult volunteers. This expanded program will benefit 70,000 urban youth, connecting them with their communities and fostering greater interest in attending college. Our Board of Regents has approved this $6.2 million initiative as one of our budget requests to the Washington Legislature in its 2001 session.
As president of Washington State University at the start of a new century, I know full well that Cooperative Extension is a vital service for our states agricultural and food industries, and we must make sure those core services continue to be highly effective. If we are to succeed, we must never break the link between Cooperative Extension and agriculture, but we must expand into other important areas, as WSU Extension has done for years as a national leader in innovative programs.
Whether you consider youth development or expanded services to business and industry or other areas, Washington State University Cooperative Extension has many opportunities to build on its great strengths. In that process, we will strengthen the economic, cultural and social position of the people whose lives we touch. The quiet heroes of Cooperative Extension, working in every corner of our great state, have my full support
President V. Lane Rawlins was born in southeastern Idaho in 1937 and graduated from Rigby High School. He earned his bachelors degree in economics in 1963 from Brigham Young University and his doctoral degree in economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969. The ninth president of Washington State University, he is a former WSU faculty member and administrator. He served most recently as president of The University of Memphis. Dr. Rawlins has done extensive research and publishing in the economics of education and training.