Extension office celebrates 100 years in Oldham County

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By Kenny Colston

One of Oldham County’s oldest services is celebrating its 100th birthday this year with a float in the annual Oldham County Day Parade.

The Oldham County Extension Office was first opened by John T. Taylor in 1914 and has grown from a rural agriculture outreach service to one available to any resident of the county, extension agent Traci Missun said.

“We’re open for anybody,” Missun said. “We have a diverse client base. Our mission is to serve people and be a non-biased point of information for people.”

Statewide, extension agencies are celebrating the 100th year of extension services, first started on May 8, 1914 with the signing of the Smith-Lever Act, according to a news release by the University of Kentucky, which is home to the extension service.

Oldham County’s Extension Office started shortly thereafter, Missun said, and now serves three broad areas: agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences and 4-H/youth developmental services.

For Missun, agriculture doesn’t mean large farms with crops or livestock, but small gardens, five acre farms and everyday residential questions.

“As a new farmer to Oldham County, I contacted Traci with the county agriculture extension office to have her come out to our farm and evaluate our pastures,” Jeff Baker said. “She promptly came out and spent the afternoon evaluating weed and soil practices and gave us several recommendations helpful to our farming practices.”

Other help includes providing advice for the county animal control services.

“I have consulted with Extension on everything from bees to bulls, in my professional capacity, and they have always been a great source of information and support to Animal Control,” Barbara Rosenman, an Animal Control employee, said.

But extension services aren’t limited to advice about cows, food or gardens. One of the service’s fastest growing segments is in 4-H, agent Kelly Woods said.

“In the past two years, the 4-H program has experienced tremendous growth in 4-H Club enrollment and summer 4-H Camp enrollment has increased by 30 percent this summer,” Woods said.

The 4-H programs are littered with those who took the skills they learned and turned them into careers, like Jacob and Stephen Halsmer.

The two were part of 4-H shooting sports from 9 to 17 years old, their parents, Bob and Jan, said. “Jacob is now a police officer in Wyoming, having earned “top shot” honors at the police academy and Stephen won numerous awards as a West Point cadet, Bob Halsmer said. Stephen is now a second lieutenant in the Army.

“4-H provided the opportunity our boys needed to focus and develop their interests,” Bob said.

The third arm of extension is Family and Consumer Sciences, which used to be called home economics, Missun said. Christine Duncan is the agent in charge of those services in Oldham County.

In 1922, the first formal “home demonstration clubs” were formed in Kentucky, Duncan said. In 1932, a state organization was formed to unify the efforts of Kentucky homemakers. There are 11 Extension Homemakers clubs in Oldham County, including 6 traditional community-based clubs and 5 special interest clubs, Duncan said.

“During my forty-year career, I have seen the shift from hand-made and locally produced food, clothing, and home furnishing to mass-produced items from all over the world,” she said. “But in recent years, there has been a revival of home gardening and food preservation, fiber arts and sewing, plus a great new local entrepreneurial spirit.”

In addition to these Extension Homemaker programs, Family and Consumer Sciences provides monthly basic cooking and nutrition classes to Apple Patch and Dare to Care clients, plus partners with 4-H to provide sewing and foods classes to 4-H members, Duncan said.

Most of the services offered by the extension office are free and available to the community at large, Missun said. And while information is more freely available than ever before, the importance of extension programs lie in their reliability, she said.

“What’s really important to me is extension is a research based organization,” Missun said. “We don’t make recommendations based on what we see on the internet.”