Friday, May 2, 2014

The Smith-Lever Act: Law You’ve Never Heard Of

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

           On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act into law.  I discovered the law while researching for our upcoming Farming in Chemung County exhibit and was surprised to find out just how important it was considering I’d never heard of it before.   The Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service along with the 4H, the National Sea Grant College Program and a host of other agriculture-education related programs. 

            The Cooperative Extension Service is an agency under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) which seeks to advance agriculture and the environment, improve human health and wellbeing, and support rural communities through research, education and outreach.  The Cooperative Extension Service is managed in each state by a land-grant university.  In New York State, that university is Cornell.  So, what does the Cornell Cooperative Extension actually do? 

            Among other things, the Cornell Cooperative Extension supports research into a wide range of topics including agriculture, nutrition, forestry and ecology.  They maintain research outposts throughout the state, including the Arnot Forest facility in Van Etten.  Once a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest is a place where people can recreate, study forest ecologies and test forest management practices.  The site is partially funded by the harvest and sale of timber and maple syrup. 

CCC Camp in the Arnot Forest, ca. 1930s
                In addition to studying forestry, the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Chemung County also helps area farmers and gardeners.  The Extension maintains a wide array of informational resources for farmers.  They also help to promote them and their products through events like the annual Taste of Chemung County dinner and farmer’s markets.
Taste of Chemung County menu, 2013
Wisner Market, 2013
        The Extension also has a master gardener program where you can get specially trained volunteers to come to your house and teach you to get the most out of your vegetable garden.  They also work closely with local community gardens.  There are over a half-dozen community gardens in the city of Elmira in schools, parks and empty lots. 
Katy Leary Park community garden, 2010
       In short, the Cornell Cooperative Extension does a lot of neat things.  To learn more about them, check out their main website ( and the Chemung County office site too ( In the meantime, let’s hear it for the Smith-Lever Act and the law you’ve finally heard of. 

1 comment:

  1. Hear-hear! From the CCC to Wisner Park markets... good stuff.