When someone says, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,” the line often prompts a laugh nowadays, but over a century ago those words were no laughing matter to discouraged farm families working soil as worn out as the people who tilled it. In 1914, Congress launched a grand plan to help farmers, increase food output and diminish the drudgery of domestic life. It was called the Smith-Lever Act.
Co-sponsor of the act, Asbury Francis Lever, is buried on Clemson University’s Cemetery Hill. He served in Congress from 1901 to 1919 and envisioned the Cooperative Extension System as a science-based practical program to improve agricultural conditions by using the research and methods developed at the nation’s land-grant universities. The diffusion of new knowledge “…which if made available to the farmers of this country and used by them, would work a complete and absolute revolution in the social, economic and financial condition of our rural population,” Lever stated for the Congressional Record in 1914.
Lever’s vision lives on as Extension agents continue to help rural communities meet contemporary challenges ranging from finding new ways to generate farm income to dealing with stormwater pollution. Agents may not travel by train as they did in times past, but they do reach out, often traveling via the information highway of the digital age.
Today, Clemson Extension agents continue to provide a wide variety of research-based information to the people of South Carolina. Agents are located in all 46 counties and at the University's five Research and Education Centers.