Friday, April 2, 2010

They're From the Government And They're Here to Help. No, Really.

Please welcome back Lina from ButterPies for another guest post.

I'm a new gardener and a new chicken owner and it's been a lot to learn. There are tons of books on both subjects - type "vegetable gardening" into Amazon and you get 3,905 books. "Raising chickens" is a bit better with only 116 books. Look up either on Google and you're getting into the millions of hits. Basically, there is a LOT of information out there and it's hard to know where to start and what to trust. That's why I was so happy when I "discovered" the county cooperative extension system. It turns out that every state, even DC, has a cooperative extension agency - its part of the USDA and it's whole purpose is to "help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives." Check out the wikipedia page for a full list of links.

I'm a suburban girl so I didn't have any previous experience with the county extension at all (besides that they're the ones that run 4-H - start 'em young!) so I know I'm a little behind, but our county extension has turned out to be a good resource for deciding what veggies and fruits to grow and, even better, how to raise chickens. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went to a free class hosted by the county extension entirely on how to raise and manage chickens. They had 6 different presenters, mostly veterinarians from the University of Maryland and all chicken experts, who talked to us and answered questions for 5 hours straight. It was such a good use of our time, both because of the information they provided but also because I now know who I can call if I have questions about my chickens. And that's the thing, it's their job to help people be better gardeners and farmers. Woo hoo!

The Maryland extension service has a list of fruit and vegetable cultivars that have been researched to be the best for my area. Hopefully, after a couple of years of this, I'll have my own opinions on what cultivars to grow but this is a great way to get started.

I was very surprised to learn too that the extension service does non-farm/garden things too - like how to run a household budget and how to shop for and make healthy meals for your family. Check out this little calculator on the Iowa Extension site for how much you should be spending on food to make healthy meals for your family.

All this to say that if you're starting out with anything, including things like straightforward household budgeting, your county extension agency might just be a good place to look. Who knew?


Chile said...

I've gone in to our county extension office to get help with gardening. They usually have volunteers on hand that have gone through the Master Gardener program. In just a couple of weeks, they are hosting the Master Gardener biannual plant sale. The last one was sold out of some of the plant starts we wanted five minutes after opening!

I haven't seen any mention of chicken classes here, but there is a local urban farmer who regularly holds chicken workshops (for a fee). We may take one of those when we get ready for the little chickies.

Robbie said...

Yes! I love the extension office publications on gardening> They are sooo helpful in finding regional details!

Green Bean said...

Hmm, I guess I should have gone to our county extension office when I first started my chicken raising adventures. Folks on Backyard Chickens are always recommending it though. Thanks for seconding the recommendation.

KatieB said...

Thank you for your great post about the Extension service. I work for Extension in Mississippi. The extension service offers a huge range of services. In MS, most people think Extension is just for gardeners or large scale farmers but that's not true. Extension works with school children and seniors on nutrition, with young parents on meal planning and meal budgeting, and much much more. My own program, Body Walk, is for K-5th grade and is all about good food choices and the importance of exercise.

Extension is a wonderful resource, no matter what state you live in. I'm so happy you got your chicken raising questions answered and that you had such a good experience with your county extension office.


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