Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Extension Service in New York City

The Times has an article on an extension specialist who retired in March. Turns out he's the father of urban farming, at least in NYC and at least over the last 35 years:
You have most likely never heard of Mr. Ameroso. Yet from a rubble-strewn vacant lot in Brooklyn where he showed New Yorkers how to grow food in 1976 to a three-acre stretch of Governors Island that he’s helping to sow now, he has been behind nearly every organized attempt to grow and sell food in the city, as well as many of the city’s best-known food organizations.
He was New York City’s first extension agent focused on farming, and now probably its last one. Mr. Ameroso formally retired in March and will spend the 2010 growing season removing himself from the daily work of city farms and making sure his colleagues — many of whom he’s trained — can carry on without him.
Extension started to help farmers improve their farming methods, taking advantage of research at the land-grant institutions.  It expanded to include homemakers, demonstrating canning techniques, teaching nutrition, etc. IMHO it reflects the Progressive impulse to teach and organize, improving things by using reason. Now, as one can see at  it takes on a much wider scope of problems--aging, caregiving, psychology, management, etc.  As indicated in the Times piece, there was an attempt to extend extension's reach into the city.  While many in the city could have benefited by the advice and information now available, serving urban needs hasn't been a success.  There's the isolated cases as described by the Times, but extension never figured out how to fill urban needs in a way which would cause urban politicians to support appropriations for extension.  It could be a case study in the limitations of organizational flexibility: in the case of extension you could take the extension worker out of the country, but not the country out of the organization.

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