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The Cooperative Extension System

You’re Told to Contact Them, But Who Are They?


“Call your local Extension office.” You’ve probably heard it more than once when you you’ve asked someone a gardening question. But what exactly is an Extension office and is there one locally?

What is Cooperative Extension?

The Cooperative Extension System is a nationwide educational network that is a collaboration of federal, state and local governments and a state land-grant university. The mission of the Cooperative Extension System is to disseminate research-based information on topics as varied as nutrition, child rearing, agriculture, horticulture, husbandry, small business and personal finance. Every U.S. state and territory has a central state Extension office at its land-grant university. Each state Extension serves its residents through a network of local or regional offices staffed by professionals in their field.

What’s a Master Gardener?

When someone recommends that you contact your local office with a gardening question, more than likely you will be talking with a Master Gardener Volunteer. Although there are always agriculture and horticulture agents on hand, the Master Gardener Program was initiated in 1972 in the Seattle, WA Extension office, as a means to train qualified volunteers to assist in answering home gardener’s questions.

Master Gardener volunteers are interviewed for the program and once accepted, they are trained by Extension and University Staff as well as local horticulture professionals in many facets of horticulture including: taxonomy, plant pathology, entomology, cultural growing requirements, integrated pest management, wildlife control and much more. Once a Master Gardener trainee completes their classroom training they are required to volunteer a designated amount of hours back to the program by answering questions on the phone and at fairs and festivals, speaking to groups, participating in display gardens and other projects as needed in their service area.

What Does Cooperative Extension Have to Offer the Home Gardener?

Some of the services provided at your local Extension Office, often for free or a nominal charge, are:

  • Soil testing
  • Fact Sheets on cultural requirements, diseases and pests
  • Information on Frost Dates
  • Plant Recommendations by Area
  • Wildlife Deterrent Info

Most offices also have hours when you can bring in a sample of your plant problem or garden insect for identification.

Where Is My Local Extension Office?

To find your local Extension office just click on your state on the Map of Cooperative Extension System Offices. Most local and regional office now have their own web sites and can tell you what services they offer and maybe even how you can become a Master Gardener for your area.
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