Originally published Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 07:27p.m.

KINGMAN – Every state has its own and Arizona cooperative extensions are managed by the University of Arizona. There are 15 of them, one in each county.

Some look like farms, others like biotechnology sites. They are largely invisible to people, but they manage 4-H programs, provide food stamps and dental health to children and promote healthy eating habits among rural communities.

The University of Arizona’s Vice President for Agriculture, Life and Veterinary Sciences and Cooperative Extension Shane Burgess is a New Zealander, but knows the history of public education in the U.S. better than many Americans. During his recent visit to check on the Mohave County Cooperative Extension, he sat down with The Kingman Daily Miner to explain the importance of the “extensions” phenomenon in the U.S.

It all started during the Civil War with Abraham Lincoln pondering over how to become a global superpower and Senator Justin Smith Morrill suggesting a system of public universities. The universities soon established experimental areas in every state and developed useful technologies, but remained largely disconnected from the people.

The extensions program started in 1914, as an effort to push the science and innovation out of the university ivory towers and start giving back to the economy, applying specific education straight to the local marketplace. Many things have changed since 1914, but its principles have stayed the same and are now applied to new issues, such as managing water policy or climate mitigation.

The paradox is, says Burgess, “Most of the work is done where most of the people are not. The people we serve are invisible. They are low-income people in rural areas, far from big cities. We meet families who never saw a dentist. We have children teaching their parents how to eat a cucumber.”

4-H is huge in Mohave County, activating rural youth, teaching them everything from gardening to animal raising, from leadership skills to robotics.

“In Kingman, our nutrition programs help to fight diabetes,” Burgess said. “Also, we do a great job monitoring the range lands, checking on the amount of accumulated fuel.”

The extension employees are university employees, managed from Tucson. The entire Arizona program is worth $44 million, $14 million comes from the state, and the rest from grants employees try to win each year.

Thanks to the social media, extensions are becoming trendy among young people, but even though Burgess is concerned about the funding, he doesn’t care about people recognizing the extensions brand.

“People know 4-H and people know food stamps,” he said. “We are here making an impact, and it’s OK if you’ve never heard of us.”