Living History Month: Continuing traditions of mothers, fathers; improving lives of families

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Morrill Land Grant Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The purpose of the Act was to “teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.”

The Morrill Act enabled each eligible state at the time to receive 30,000 acres of federal land to establish and fund an educational institution. In Oregon, Corvallis College, which had been established in 1858, later became Oregon Agricultural College with help from the Morrill Act.

In 1937 the Oregon Agricultural College was renamed Oregon State College and many years later in 1961; the college took on its current name: Oregon State University. Despite these identity changes over the years, the university has stayed true to its mission of extending education to people throughout the state. Generations of Oregon kids have grown up participating in 4-H. Their mothers led home study groups — many of which are still active 70 years later and continue to meet monthly for continuing education. Their fathers tuned in to extension’s radio farm reports and continue to receive email versions of these reports sent by extension agents conducting research near and far from iPads around the globe.

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In April I had the opportunity to attend the Jeanne M. Priester Extension Health Conference held in Washington, D.C. On my first night in the capitol city, I made my way to the majestic Lincoln Memorial after dark and held court momentarily with the former president responsible for the work I do today and the torch that we continue to carry in Extension.

The Priester conference brought together Extension agents and administrators from nearly every land grant university in the country to discuss methods and emerging research on how to improve the health of individuals, families, communities, and economies throughout nation.

Priester typified the blending of the new with old; I enjoyed conversations with Extension agents who have been in their profession for over 30 years, while simultaneously “tweeting” about my experience at the conference and the things I was learning using cutting-edge technologies.

A goal of the Priester conference was to teach Extension workers how to incorporate and utilize new communication methods to reach our ever-changing audiences with smart phones, iPads, email, and other technologies. From providing healthy recipes via email to moms on the go, or text messages to youth reminding them to fit physical activity into their day, or incorporating text message surveys into live presentations to get immediate audience feedback — each of us was linked in, connected, and extending the knowledge we were gaining in D.C. back to our communities.

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In my own teaching I am learning how to incorporate these technologies into multi-generational classrooms. Whether it’s using Facebook to promote Master Food Preserver classes, or tweeting from the meetings and conferences I attend — new technology enables me to better convey “liberal and practical education in the pursuits and professions in life.”

Even though the technology of communication has changed, much of what we are teaching is still the same. Though the methods and safety precautions used in food preservation have changed in the last 150 years, you can still learn to “put up” your own jams, jellies, pears, and green beans in an OSU Extension class. Though nutrition principles have changed over the last 150 years and what’s healthy seems to vary by the decade, you can still learn how to create your own healthy “MyPlate” and incorporate the latest nutrition principles into your diet in an OSU Extension class.

Participating in these and other Extension programs is taking part in a living history. It is likely that your grandparents were learning about food preservation, nutrition, agriculture, and youth development through Extension programs 100 years ago and that legacy continues today. This year, Extension programs here in the Gorge will offer over 40 different food preservation classes, dozens of 4-H camps and summer programs, numerous Master Gardener plant sales, clinics, and demonstrations, wheat field fly-overs by airplane and consultations by skilled agricultural agents just to name a few.

You can log onto your county Extension website or Hood River Community Ed for more information. By taking part in this education, you will be participating in, according to Abraham Lincoln, “the most important subject which we as people can be engaged in.”

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Lauren M. Fein, MPH, is Extension Family and Community Health Faculty at Oregon State University/Wasco County Extension.

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