On its centennial, Douglas County K-State Extension acknowledges founder’s efforts; open house scheduled Sunday

A longtime Douglas County agricultural institution is celebrating its 100th anniversary Sunday, but most of that history wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of one black Douglas County farmer who grew up the son of a sharecropper.

Research into the beginnings of Douglas County K-State Extension revealed the central role of Ed Harvey in its early history, said Marlin Bates, the executive director of Extension. That history and Extension’s current programs will be celebrated at an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper St.

For the centennial, Bates asked Extension master gardener and retired University of Kansas theater professor Jeanne Klein to research the agency’s history. Her research revealed the critical role Harvey played in the history of the Douglas County organization.

“Ed Harvey was huge,” Klein said. “I would call him the founder of Douglas County Extension.”

Harvey long has been recognized as being a member of one of Douglas County’s early, prominent black families. His parents came to Douglas County from Arkansas as sharecroppers, but ultimately ended up owning 200 acres of farmland, according to papers kept by KU’s Spencer Research Library. Harvey had one brother who would go on to become a doctor and another who would become a lawyer. Harvey became a congressional clerk for Lawrence business titan and U.S. Rep. J.D. Bowersock. But he also became a farmer near the unincorporated area of Blue Mound in Douglas County.

The recent research that Klein conducted helped uncover that Harvey’s role as a farmer went well beyond planting and harvesting crops. Modern-day residents who enjoy the services offered by Douglas County Extension — everything from advice about tree planting to commercial agriculture — have Harvey to thank.

Harvey was the president of an Extension precursor, the Douglas County Farmers’ Institute, which disseminated agricultural research conducted at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Klein said.

Harvey had a reputation for innovation, Klein said. In 1910 and 1911, he introduced to Douglas County the Zimmerman soft wheat he obtained from K-State. The wheat averaged 30 bushels per acre on the 27 acres he planted on his Blue Mound farm.

The founding of the Douglas County Farm Bureau came after the Kansas Legislature passed in 1915 the Farm Bureau Law, which provided funding for a county agent, Klein said. The law required counties to share in the expense, and Harvey took on the organizational task of signing up 250 county farmers to pay the $1 Farm Bureau dues for two years, as well as securing a County Commission commitment to provide $800 to $1,600 annually for the extension agent’s salary and needed equipment, Klein said. Harvey succeeded in that task and was the first Douglas County Farm Bureau president when the agency was founded on July 10, 1918, she said.

Douglas County Extension, like other county extension offices in Kansas, separated from the nonprofit, private Kansas Farm Bureau agricultural advocacy organization in 1951, Klein said. Until that time, the county-level organizations shared the same governing board.

Klein also compiled other historical information about the agency. Extension added a home demonstration county agent in 1924, Klein said. The County Commission initially balked at adding the position but yielded to the pressure from Extension women and hired Mildred Smith as the county’s first home agent. She started teaching classes in sewing and hat making, but soon added classes in gardening, canning and storing fruits and vegetables for the rural women who mostly were responsible for the vital home gardens.

From that beginning, Douglas County Extension has grown to encompass a variety of programs in crops and livestock, youth development, commercial horticulture, community development, the environment, homes and family and lawns and gardens, Bates said. Although its reach is wider, he said, the mission remains the same — sharing with county residents research-based solutions to improve the lives of county residents.

Those attending the open house can learn about Extension programs from county agents and through interactive stations, Bates said. There will be demonstrations from Extension master gardeners, master food volunteers and volunteers in its nutrition education program, with the later two groups providing free samples, Bates said. Also planned in a popcorn-making demonstration in which children will be encouraged to shell ears of corn for popping, he said.

There will be a bounce house for children, and Extension will have a ceremonial tree planting to celebrate the re-establishment of the arboretum on the fairgrounds, Bates said.

“We’re inviting anybody and everybody, whether you participate in our programming our not,” he said. “We’re planning a lot of family-friendly activities with a lot of 4-H youth ambassadors showcased.”


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