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Work done in Clackamas County at the NWREC near Aurora has been a vital part of the development of the county

A century after it was first established in Clackamas County, the OSU Extension research facility has proven to be an invaluable resource to farmers, children and families in and around the Canby-Aurora area.SUBMITTED IMAGE - Lorene Augusta Parker

From helping create new industries to sharing safe canning tips, the extension service has touched the lives of countless individuals and families during its run. And with its centennial as an organization about to kick off, North Willamette Research and Extension Center, located near Aurora, is excited to celebrate a little.

"It has been 100 years that OSU will have been in Clackamas County serving the citizens," said Mike Bondi, NWREC director. "I've worked with a lot of Molalla people over the years. Got some great folks down there."

It all began a century ago when the first agent was assigned to the county in August 1917.

While some of the focus of the extension service has changed greatly in its 100 years, there are still plenty of things that its faculty and its mission value from those early days.

And it has been a good run to this point.

"There was a lot going on back in the day," said Bondi of the service's early years. "There weren't, quite frankly, a lot of services for folks that served them in an educational capacity. The majority of people lived on the land and they wanted to get folks from the university to come in and show them the latest technology and innovations. That's how it started."

Interestingly, the first extension agent in Clackamas County was a woman, Lorene Augusta Parker, which as Bondi noted was a little out of the norm for the time period. Parker was not an agriculturalist, but was a home economist.

When the extension service came into being, it wasn't just about agriculture, but also had a focus on family and home. A few months after Parker hit the ground running, another agent was added to the mix.

"It was sometimes hard to bring new information into the community – the farm and families with adults that sometimes weren't receptive to change," said Bondi. "Early extension agents figured out that if they worked with the kids, they would ultimately bring new things into the home – adoption of new techniques and technologies would occur more quickly. It was easier to transform people's thinking and the processes they were using."

And that concept help lead to a healthy long-term support of county 4-H programs, which remains to this day.

From its initial modest beginnings, the extension service grew bit by bit, but was a small operation for a good deal of its life.

"I would say through the '20s and '30s, and through the war years in '40s, the programs were relatively small – two to three people working the counties," said Bondi. "It really was in the '60s that things expanded substantially. Staff, growing programs and a lot of new things were being addressed in terms of education programs and content."

By the 1970s, the extension service expanded from its traditional three core programs – agriculture, home economics and 4-H – to add two new programs -- forestry natural resources and Sea-grant, a federally-funded program focused on the marine resource industry.

As it turned out, the 1970s brought a lot of change. Some it lasted, some didn't.

"Another program, community resource development, was added, but it doesn't exist anymore. Land use issues from the passage of SB 100 brought about creation of this program," said Bondi. "Extension set up a whole program that dealt with working with land use issues, conducting meetings, interaction with community."

Another lost program of the '70s was the energy extension program. The energy crisis of the '70s focused people on the need to do more with energy conservation. There was federal money for the program and it focused on conservation education with businesses, homeowners, etc. But it, too, has gone by the wayside.

"The 1970s were a big transformation period," said Bondi.

Perhaps the biggest turning point was not the addition of a new program, but of a new way to fund the extension center. That happened last decade.

"Another big transformation came in 2008 when the county's citizens formed an extension service district that now provides our funding," said Bondi. "For the 90 years previous, we were part of the county's general fund. The county commissioners would determine what type of funding we would get. Budgets were shrinking and we reached a critical point in the late 1990s."

The extension service couldn't stay open full-time and staffing was "skeletal," according to Bondi. "We needed to find a new way of doing business."

The district was formed and passed by county voters and that sustains the extension service now at a max rate of 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation. A budget that was in the $200,000 range before the district formed is at $2.3 million today.

And what that provides is a lot more resources and research that helps on many levels of Clackamas County.

What's coming in the future?

Bondi said that as he looks to the future, the needs are very different today, but in other ways they are very similar.

"Youth development is still very important for us, but the challenges are very different than they were 100 years ago," he said. "Our commitment to 4-H has been successful in helping young people become successful adults. So many of these basic skills have been lost over the last couple of generations. I see 4-H becoming more important moving forward. We are the only county with three full-time faculty working with 4-H. That, for us, is a key program in the future."

Family community health programs will only become more important when looking at the overall health of people moving forward, he continued.

He pointed to increased obesity as a major problem and the need to change behaviors, improve self-reliance, nutrition, and exercise as critical.

"Life skills are so important and there are adults now that don't' know how to cook or do some basic things," Bondi said.

"Food preservation will continue to be popular," he said.

And of course, agriculture will continue to be a focus for the facility. The Willamette Valley is fortunate in that it can grow just about everything, so the push to see what can be grown and how efficiently it can be grown by farmers will continue.

"I only see that growing in the future," said Bondi. "We are going to continue bringing new technology to agriculture to help increase productivity for the farmers. That will continue to be the core of the program. Needs will change, however. We'll look at pest management, environmental impact, irrigation and how to better use the resources. New technology is just blowing up around us – monitors, drones, and other things are changing the landscape."

From Molalla to Canby to Oregon City, it's clear the extension service program has earned its keep over its first century. It has championed the cause and positive effects of 4-H, helped create new industries within the area, such as Christmas trees, and continues to do valuable research that will impact agriculture, family and youth for the foreseeable future.

"Extension program have had a huge impact on the Clackamas County Community," Bondi said.

Experiment station in Aurora not where it began

Did you know that the current location for the OSU Extension Service facility on Miley Road near Aurora is not the original location for the experiment station in Clackamas County?

The original experiment station sat in the hilltop area of Oregon City where the Red Soils Campus for some county government buildings now sits.

Called the Red Soils Experimental Farm, the facility operated for more than 20 years – into the late 1950s.

"The whole idea was 'What can we do on this red soil,'" said Mike Bondi. "So they experimented with what would grow and how to grow it there. They later decided that the future of farming was on the black dirt down in the valley."

They bought two 80-acre farm plots near aurora and connected them together to form the current location in 1962.

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