Last week you might remember my topic was the relevance of Extension in modern times. I mentioned the history, as well as the evolutionary change of programming since 1914.
What I failed to mention is that the heart of the program is unchanged, that is providing unbiased university research-based information. In short, we are not selling anything; our information is free or inexpensive.
As you read this column, another role of Extension has just played out: that of sharing our Extension education system with others from around the world. March 21 marked the fifth group of visitors from China to our beautiful valley.
During the past year, Washington County agriculture has been the focal point of more than 140 visitors from the Republic of Georgia and several Chinese provinces. The experience has been eye-opening for our visitors and our host producers.
Last spring brought 20 university professors and fruit growers from the Republic of Georgia through the Cochran Fellowship Program. This program provides U.S.-based agricultural training opportunities for senior and mid-level specialists and administrators from public and private sectors. The fellows receive high- quality training to help middle-income countries, emerging markets, and emerging democracies improve their agricultural systems, and strengthen and enhance trade links with the United States.
Our guests visited several county orchards and were intrigued by the different apple and peach varieties grown here. They were also interested in the root stocks being used and the various marketing practices, including the international export market of one of our growers.
During the summer and fall of 2010, more than 100 visitors from China visited the county as part of the Maryland China Initiatives program at the University of Maryland, College Park. The groups are made of diverse professionals.
The highlight of last year’s groups were from the South China Agricultural University and the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University. While most groups are interested and engaged, these groups were very intrigued and impressed with our family farms.
Private property is still a new concept in countries like China and Georgia. They are surprised that farms are owned and operated by individual families.
Additionally, labor is not typically an issue in these areas where people still spend much of their waking hours working, and very little time in front of a computer or television. So, they are overwhelmed by how much work our farmers accomplish with so little outside labor.
As you drive throughout the country, remember what you are taking for granted and what our visitors have recognized — scenic views and an abundant, safe food supply that is right at your doorstep.
Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.