Urban Agriculture
University of California
Urban Agriculture

Lincoln’s Land-Grant Legacy Alive in Los Angeles

I’m a week behind schedule in celebrating the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, but in the spirit of “better late than never” I decided to write a Lincoln-themed post anyway. As former Presidents go, Lincoln’s been getting more than his share of attention since the recent election of another Senator from Illinois. Among his many enduring legacies, Lincoln helped to create the national extension movement that continues to serve our country to this day. By signing the 1862 Morrill Act into law, he made it possible for states to open public universities that would provide education for the average person, focused on agriculture and other practical subjects. 

The Morrill Act offered states a grant of federal land to finance a new university. These new institutions of higher learning became known as land-grant universities, and were charged with helping the nation improve its agricultural production to feed a rapidly growing population. Over time it was clear that the new land-grant campuses needed to take their information out into communities where it could help people most directly. By 1914, each state's land-grant university had county-based extension offices in place to share research-based knowledge at the local level. 

Here in California, our land-grant institution is the University of California. There is a University of California Cooperative Extension office in most counties in California, funded in partnership with the local county and the US Department of Agriculture. UC Cooperative Extension takes information developed at the UC campuses and makes it available to local communities. We also conduct applied research to address local problems. We focus our efforts on the themes of good nutrition, a healthy environment, gardening, agriculture, and positive youth development.

When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act 147 years ago, the US was a nation of farmers. Today, less than two percent of the population engages in farming.  Yet the issues we address are highly relevant to a more urban population. Cooperative Extension continues to work with farmers. Urban residents value having farms nearby so that they can have farmers markets and some measure of regional food security. Cooperative Extension’s expertise in nutrition helps communities struggling to overcome challenges like childhood obesity and diabetes. We continue to tailor our 4-H Youth Development Program to new audiences of youth, who learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through more than 80 projects ranging from photography to marine biology. Our expertise in natural resources has allowed us to help find solutions to critical environmental issues such as management of wildfire and water pollution. 
More details about UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County are available at our website at http://celosangeles.ucdavis.edu/.  Although the world has changed so much, I like to think Abe Lincoln would approve of the continuing influence of his Morrill Act and its land-grant legacy on communities like Los Angeles. 
Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 2:25 PM

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