OSU Extension's Master Gardener Volunteer Program provides intensive training in horticulture to Ohio residents who then volunteer their time assisting with educational programs and activities.

An Extension of Help

Todd Pugh’s career kicked off at age 14 when he first started mowing lawns. Bit by the lawn bug, he bought his first commercial mower for $2,800. The money came from the sale of a reserve champion steer that he had raised through 4-H, which is run by volunteers and Ohio State University Extension.

The confidence, public speaking skills and work ethic that he learned through 4-H helped the teenager grow his business to the point that he wasn’t sure if college was necessary. But his parents insisted, and he graduated from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree in landscape horticulture. Degree in hand, Pugh felt he had all the tools he needed to expand the lawn care business that he and his brother, Jason, had continued to run during their college days. But as the business grew, he discovered that he needed more help, finding it once again through Extension in the form of technical information about soil conditions, plant materials and pests. Today, Todd’s Enviroscapes Inc. is a successful business that has 60 commercial lawn mowers and employs about 35 full-time and 55 seasonal workers.

“Extension has been a very important part of my life,” said Pugh, a Stark County Farm Bureau member. “I was blessed with parents who pushed me and with Extension, which gave me the tools I needed to run a successful business.”

A wide array of services

Extension’s roots date back to 1862 when Congress passed legislation for a university in each state to provide education to citizens in agricultural and mechanical fields. Over the years, OSU Extension has provided a variety of services, ranging from carrying out New Deal programs to helping guide nearly 320,000 4-H youths every year to providing nutritional information to Ohioans. Extension has educators in offices throughout the state, and their expertise is in agriculture, gardening, community development, child care, nutrition, finance, work force development and many other areas. Farmers, educators, consumers and businesses rely on Extension for help and advice.

“With Extension, we’re able to take information from the university and take it out to the citizens of Ohio so they can apply it in a practical way and actually use the information,” said Keith Smith, director of OSU Extension, on Town Hall Ohio, Ohio Farm Bureau’s weekly radio show.< The Ohioline section on Extension's Web site has more than 16,000 informational documents on it and receives about 2 million hits a month from people all over the world, according to Bobby Moser, dean and vice president of OSU's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. More than 3,000 Ohioans are certified Extension Master Gardeners, meaning they have had intensive training in horticulture. Extension educators said the economic downturn has kept them busier than ever because more Ohioans are starting to grow or preserve their own food. Learning how to can beets or determining the proper soil mixture for roses requires following specific steps that can be found in easy-to-follow forms on Extension’s Web site or through an Extension educator. “I can’t speak highly enough for Extension. 4-H is so important for kids and family development, and we’re still a big agriculture state. I think people forget where their food comes from,” said Bridget Meiring, program coordinator for the C. Wayne Ellet Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic at Ohio State. The center receives some of its funding from Extension and diagnoses plant diseases and identifies insects, plants and weeds. Last year the center tested 1,200 samples submitted by businesses as well as backyard gardeners. Economic impact
Extension receives funding from federal (18 percent), state (40 percent) and county (20 percent) governments as well as from grants from a variety of sources, Moser said. A report by Battelle five years ago found that every 1 percent increase in agricultural output achieved through Extension programming brings $149 million in direct and indirect output to Ohio.

“Extension is way more than cows and plows. It’s about proper eating, sewing, urban forestry. Everybody needs to tell the story of how Extension has positively affected their lives,” said Pugh, who has been doing just that whenever he meets a lawmaker. Extension recently cut 25 jobs from its Columbus headquarters and county offices and faces deeper cuts under Gov. Ted Strickland’s proposed two-year budget. Farm Bureau made it a priority to communicate to lawmakers the importance that Extension plays in rural communities and was a leading voice calling for the restoration
of funds.

“Sometimes we’ve been accused that Extension is the best kept secret,” Smith said. “We just haven’t bragged enough.”  

Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Franklin County.

Extension has something for everyone
OSU Extension’s mission is “Engaging people to strengthen their lives and communities through research-based educational programming.” Its Web site, http://extension.osu.edu/ contains a wealth of information.

The four major OSU Extension
program areas are:

  • Family and consumer sciences
  • 4-H youth development
  • Community development
  • Agriculture and natural resources

Source: OSU Extension