Extension celebrates 100 years

Friday event celebrates Haywood history
By Brittney Champion and DeeAnna Haney | May 16, 2014
Photo by: Donated photo Youth are pictured at  the Schaub 4-H Camp dining hall just outside of Waynesville in this undated photo. Most recently the facility on the campus of the Mountain Research Station has been used as Camp New Life, a program that ceased operations this year.

For centuries, farming has been a way of life for many in North Carolina. From tobacco to dairy to apples and everything in between, the farming industry has been an essential part of the state's economy.

But farmers in the vast rural areas of North Carolina may not be where they are today if it weren't for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this month.

The Extension was established in 1914 with the passing of the federal Smith-Lever Act, which formally created an educational system operating through land-grant universities to expand vocational, agricultural and home demonstration programs in rural America.

It was a time when university education amongst rural farmers was rare as they learned their trades by family and tradition. The cooperative Extension gave farmers access to research from universities that they never had before.

In Haywood County, the Extension service has been playing a vital role in the community since the early 1930s. Local farmer, Wade Francis, recalls the Extension services being there for as long as he can remember.

Francis was a dairy farmer for 52 years in Waynesville. His father and grandfather were both farmers before him and he has two sons who continue the tradition today.

He remembers early Extension agents such as Wayne Corpening and Gene McCall and the community impact they had while working for Haywood County.

“Wayne did more for Haywood than any other person I know,” Francis said.

He remembers Corpening being the first agent to take groups out of state and giving farm tours explaining new techniques.

In an undated article written by Corpening in The Mountaineer, he recounted taking nearly 200 locals to Pennsylvania to tour.

"This tour has been made possible in the past because it is the belief of the organizations that 'seeing is believing' and that the farm people in Haywood County, by observing the types of farming being carried out in the better agricultural sections of the U.S. can determine what should be done on their own farms to improve them," Corpening wrote.

Corpening also started the Community Development Program in 1949. Under this program, various communities would host field days where residents from other communities could visit.

In a 1950 article in the Extension Service Review, Corpening said the goal of the program was to address economic and social problems by bringing the farmers and businessmen together.

In that first year, the Extension service took on an advisory role while 23 organized communities came together to make improvements where they lived and visit each other for all day tours.

“He made things happen. He went out and visited farmers which helped,” Francis said.

Extension agent Joe Cline worked closely with the local 4-H clubs, including the one at Waynesville High School where Francis served as president for three years.

"We had some outstanding members win state events at during those years," Francis said.

And he remembers Extension agent Gene McCall teaching farmers to grow trellis tomatoes, which was a concept they had never seen before. Other agents worked closely with dairy farmers to help with record keeping.

It was a place where farmers could socialize, learn and grow. In the late 40s, pictures in The Mountaineer depict how popular the Extension office was.

Beyond the farm

The Extension also played a role in improving the lives of women by teaching them practical skills through a home demonstration agent.

Home demonstration clubs were popular locally, according to an article written in 2009 by Jean Burton, a former Extension agent. Numbers on the books at the Extension office show club membership maintained a constant average of 500 to 600 members in 25 to 27 clubs, she said in the article.

Through these clubs, Extension agents taught families everything from building and renovating homes, kitchen improvements, food preservation and more. Their efforts went toward the good of the entire county as well, such as in the 1940s when some club members purchased a book mobile to run as a traveling library.

It was fundraising efforts of the Haywood County Homemakers' clubs that funded the establishment of the Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts in the Shelton House in 1977.

Clubs raised money for polio, worked with the county mental health association, participated in alcohol education programs and hospital-related projects.

The Extension office also helped organize the popular five-day Haywood County Tobacco Harvest Festival where there was a Haywood Tobacco Queen Contest and parades, square dancing, banjo-picking, and all-day tours of local industries and exhibits.

The Extension today

The Extension office is in the same location today as it was when it was established 80 years ago and it continues to play the same role for farmers and the public.

Other programs have been added through the years, including research for beef, dairy and tobacco production while also emphasizing food safety, food canning and food preservation services. The popular Master Gardener volunteer program provides education in gardening activities, and the agency has pest management and pesticide safety services, as well as an active bee-keeping program.

“We basically respond to any question that comes in the door,” Bill Skelton, county Extension director, stated.

In honor of the centennial celebration, the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Office will be giving away popcorn and tomato plants starting at 10 a.m. Friday, May 16.

The community is invited to drop by the office on Raccoon Road outside of Waynesville to learn about the history and services provided.

The items selected to hand out during the celebration have historical significance, said Bill Skelton, the agency director in Haywood.

Popcorn represents the corn clubs young boys joined in the early days, and the tomatoes the girls clubs formed.