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Ever Wonder Where It All Began?

On March 21, 2011, Cornell Cooperative Extension and New York Farm Bureau along with local partners in Broome County hosted “The John Barron Day Celebration” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the employment of the first county agent.

A stone marker exists on the edge of the field of farmer James Quinn where Mr. Barron held his first field meetings.  During a special ceremony, the marker was rededicated by Helene R. Dillard, Director of Cornell Cooperative Extension and Dean Norton, President of New York Farm Bureau. 



Photo: On left, from rear: Fred Perrin (NYFB), Helene Dillard (CCE). On right, from rear: Dean Norton (NYFB), Nathaniel Barron (John Barron's grandson) and his wife, Elizabeth Barron.

How It All Started 
In 1910, Byron Gitchell, Secretary of the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce proposed a farm department or “bureau” of the Chamber to “extend to farmers the same opportunities for cooperation enjoyed by the businessmen of the city”.  The formation of the first “Farm Bureau” began a partnership between local residents and New York’s College of Agriculture that is world renown.

In what could be described as the original Agricultural Economic Development Project, John Barron, the first county agent in New York, was employed by the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce, with backing from the Railroad and the United States Department of Agriculture. They were concerned about the increasing number of abandoned farms in the region. 

Mr. Barron was provided with an office and a horse and buggy to conduct his assignment which was to: Make an agricultural survey of the territory, study farmers’ problems, find their solutions by a study of the practices of successful farmers; study the relation of types of farming to local conditions of soil, climate, markets, etc., demonstrate systems of farming used by successful farmers of  the district, and conduct demonstrations with farmers, do educational work through the media of institutes, advising with farmers individually and otherwise as to the best methods, crops, cropping systems, stock, labor, tools, and other equipment.”   

This partnership was replicated in many parts of the state and within a few years extension associations had been formed in nearly every county of the state. In 1914, the federal Smith-Lever Act authorized funding for county agent work throughout the nation.

In 1955, a congressional order separated Farm Bureau and Cooperative Extension, a move which allowed each organization to pursue special areas of activity. Farm Bureau could actively lobby on issues that directly impacted its agricultural members.  Cooperative Extension, as a publicly funded organization, continued in its important educational role of helping the residents of New York improve the quality of their lives. 

One Hundred Years Later
What was started in Binghamton grew into a movement that has significantly enriched the lives of New Yorkers for the past one hundred years, and has spread to become a national movement. Cornell Cooperative Extension is known for its active programming in agriculture, and also for its work in energy and the environment, nutrition and health, and family and community development.  CCE is supported by approximately 200 faculty members on the Cornell University campus; local staff and volunteers work with the residents of the state applying scientific knowledge to real world problems. 

2011 also marks New York Farm Bureau's centennial and Broome County is recognized as the first farm bureau in the United States.  Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, volunteer organization financed and controlled by member families for the purpose of solving economic and public policy issues challenging the agricultural industry.  With a membership numbering almost 30,000 member families, Farm Bureau serves as the voice of New York agriculture. The organization works tirelessly to meet the needs of those who make farming their livelihood and rural New York their home. For more information, please visit NY Farm Bureau.

Each organization will be commemorating their centennial year with a variety of activities throughout 2011.  Please join in celebrating One Great Idea, 100 Years Forward.