COUNTY—Four years following passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914—the Federal legislation which birthed the cooperative extension program in the United States, linking land-grant institution, Penn State University, with local communities and the USDA—the cooperative extension office organized in Wayne County on April 12, 1919.

Known at the time as the Wayne County Farm Bureau—a separate entity from the modern, similarly named, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau—the cooperative extension was created as an educational resource to help local agriculturalists improve their industry and the community it supports.

A century later, now called the Penn State Extension (PSE), the office operates out of the Park Street Complex (648 Park Street, Honesdale), providing resources to dairy and cattle farmers, crop farmers, flower and vegetable garden enthusiasts, maple producers, beekeepers and honey producers, and educational materials on flora, fauna and hydrological topics in the state and county.

Each year, PSE organizes an information exchange in March known as Ag Day.

Started in 1941 as Dairy Day, this annual event has brought local farmers and agriculture industrialists together to share information, techniques and achievements for almost eight decades.

“We connect the research that's being done at the College of Agriculture and turn that into relevant programming that's then provided through the extension office,” explained Stephen Alessi, PSE Client Relations Manager.

Noting there is an extension office in all 67 of Pennsylvania's counties, Alessi added the extension functions as a two-way partnership syncing local needs with state-wide research.

Working with a local council of residents and officials, “We seek their input,” said Alessi. “We ask their guidance. We ask them for priorities or program areas that they feel should be important for the residents of Wayne County.”

PSE office historian Patricia Mohn explained the office is also concerned with improving the lives and wellbeing of community members, often working in conjunction with other organizations to acquire and disseminate information.

“This fall we're going to have dining with diabetes type of information,” she said. “There'll be several sessions.”

“In our area too,” she added. “there's a lot of interest in Lyme Disease...so one or two of us are on each of the county groups and we display their stuff and work with them.”

Mohn mentioned topics related to soil and water quality are of interest in Wayne County as well.

Test kits are available from the PSE office for a fee, and private well owners can take advantage of resources through the Master Well Program.

The extension also helps local needs through thousands of community service hours annually with myriad volunteer staff.

One of the best-known facets of the Penn State Extension is the youth-oriented 4-H program, which celebrated its own centennial in March.

In addition to educating youth and introducing them to various agricultural topics and operations, 4-H members have provided 7,000 hours of service to the community in addition to hosting one of Pennsylvania's largest livestock sales.

Of the program, Mohn noted, “he goal is to teach children how to produce something and know the economics of it...It's a great educational tool for them.”

Alessi added, “One of the exciting things about the 4-H program here, I think it's...very well balanced and there's a lot of opportunities for children to get involved.”

Similarly, volunteers in the extension's Master Gardener program, reinvigorated in 2002, have logged over 1,200 volunteer hours so far this year through educational displays and interactive community events.

The Master Gardeners are having a basic training class for new members this fall.

Last year, the organization trained nine new master gardeners, bringing the total to 32, said Master Gardener Coordinator, Diane Diffenderfer.

Diffenderfer relayed the goal of the Master Gardeners is to provide “...research-based information to the general public. It was founded as a means by which extension agents could extend their reach.”

The Master Gardeners work closely with schools and community organizations as well as relay information to the public with several workshops throughout the year.

As part of workshop attendance, the Master Gardeners collect donations of non-perishable goods to give to those in need.

Those looking for more information about or interested in joining the Master Gardeners can fill out an application online at extension.psu.edu/programs/master-gardener.

“We're a volunteer organization, so we want people who are looking forward to volunteering and who are lifelong learners,” said Diffenderfer.

More information about the Wayne County's Penn State Extension is available by phone at 570-253-5970 ext. 4110 or online at extension.psu.edu/wayne-county.

A brief history

After organizing in 1919, the entity now known as the Penn State Extension established cow inspection services to monitor dairy products made in Wayne County.

In 1923, the Jersey and Holstein Bull Association was organized.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, inspections operations expanded as did livestock showing and food preservation workshops.

Artificial livestock breeding practices began in 1944.

In 1950, the Fifth Dairy Herd Inspection Association (DHIA) organized, as did the 4-H County Council.

In 1958, the first Maple Syrup Producers Day was held and the DHIA first recorded its calculations in a computer.

Moving into the 60s, the extension office increased its technological integration into the agriculture industry with televised demonstrations and educational events, as well as a 4-H TV club.

In the 1970s, the extension was concerned with youth activities aimed at conservation and expanding nutritional education.

The 1980s saw yet more emphasis on nutrition and energy conservation.

Funding was also appropriated by the State Legislature to include computers in all day-to-day operations in extension offices.

The Food Guide Pyramid was introduced in the 1990s, along with further education on the importance of proper eating.

The 90s also grew livestock show participants, introduced the first Master Gardeners, and established and Ag Land Preservation board.

Extension office operations took place out of an office in the Wayne County Courthouse until 2008, when they were transferred to their current home in the Park Street Complex.