County Agents Change With The Times

The term "county agent" may conjure up the image of the jeep-driving Hank Kimble in the old Green Acres TV show.

TV Audio: "Mr. Kimble? Mr. Kimble? "Oh yes, you can find him at his office. It's about — uh — you won't find him there. He went to the station."

Today's county agent still spends time on the road working with farmers, but they also do lots of other things. We caught up with agents at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

ribbonHarris County Extension Director Linda Williams-Willis says their mission is to pass along research from the state's land-grant universities and to gear that research toward the needs of Texans. They once focused primarily on helping farmers increase their production.

"Now we're talking about things like water conservation, rainwater harvesting, food security, issues that really address the needs of a urban population."

The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service dates back to 1914, but the first county agent in Texas was appointed several years before. Along with teaching farmers how to grow better crops, home demonstration agents shared information on running a household. Willis says many of those programs are now focused on inner city families.

"To help them make better food choices, to really look at extending the food dollar. And we've had some tremendous successes with these programs."

The Harris County Extension Service also has activities for young people. There are over 30 4-H clubs along with other after-school programs. 4-H Agent Misty Young says some kids raise animals and crops. Others participate in activities like engineering and robotics. There's a strong focus on leadership and personal responsibility.

cow"So if it's an animal project, teaching them to care for that animal, that that animal depends on them for their well-being. If it's something as simple as photography, it's taking pride and taking care of your camera."

As for urban dwellers who like to till the soil, the Extension Service has its popular Master Gardeners program. Horticulture agent Carol Brouwer says home gardeners can learn new skills and then pass on what they've learned on to others.

"Watching children eat radishes seems not so rewarding, but it's beautiful, because how many kids do you know who are going to pick a radish off a salad bar? But if they grow it themselves they will eat it."

For more information, check the Harris County Extension Service Website for a full list of programs and activities.
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