Say you're headin' back to the land and have to pick up a lot of rural survival skills in a hurry. Or maybe you want to learn a new trade to increase your urban earning potential (or to open your own business). Of course, if you have lots of time and/or money you could take a regular university course or apprentice yourself to a master of your chosen craft, but what do you do when you're bucks down and in a big hurry? Just listen up, 'cause there is away: your local and state extension services!
You see, every one of the 50 states has a land-grant university that—in cooperation with the federal government—offers hundreds of short courses, seminars, and workshops on just about any topic you can imagine. Most of these programs are open to anyone who wants to attend them, too, and registration (as well as materials) fees are modest. If you're interested, just figure out what you want to know, and then contact your state's extension service director for a schedule of the subjects offered and class meeting times.
You'll also be glad to know that you won't have to travel to here-and-gone to attend these classes, because extension courses are held in a number of locations throughout every state. So the subjects that you're interested in may be taught in your town hall, in high school classrooms or workshops, or even in empty store buildings!
And, if you can't attend the regular workshops, seminars (or whatever), you might still be able to get the information that you need from some of the state university extension publications. Every extension issues a large number of these pamphlets, fact sheets, instruction manuals (and even books), and the publications cover everything from beekeeping and greenhouse insulation to catfish culture and adobe brick making. Some of these booklets are free-for-the-askin', and others are available for as little as a nickel. Your extension service director's office will gladly supply you with a list of their current publications.
If you happen to live near a state university, you should also take advantage of the on-campus extension offerings. As an example of the subjects covered in these programs, one Midwestern state college schedules courses on beef and dairy cattle, poultry management, crop drying, new farm equipment, and an annual "Day for Women," which actually includes a week of sessions on everything from estate planning to energy conservation in the kitchen.
Technological subjects aren't ignored in the extension service program, either. Many areas offer regular courses in such subjects as auto tune-up and welding, for instance, in which (for a payment of $20 or so) the student can get background training and actual hands-on experience under the sharp eye of a trained instructor. (As an added bonus, you can often—in the tune-up classes—work on your own car while you learn!)
One of the biggest advantages of these extension services is that—under the right circumstances—they'lI bring the classroom to you! For example, suppose you and a dozen or so of your friends want to take a short course on how to raise geese for down, but—for one reason or another—you are unable to travel to a distant campus for the one or two days instruction that you need. Often, in such cases, the state extension service director will send out an expert on the subject who'll conduct the classes right in your own community.
Another readily available source of information and education is the "Cooperative Extension Service," which is a joint venture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state land-grant university, and the county government. The "local" arm of this service used to be called the "County Agent," but that title has since been changed to "County Extension Director." The director's office—which might (depending upon tax-base funding and such) be a one-man show or include a whole staff of specialists in a wide variety of subjects—is usually located in the county courthouse. The extension director is no longer a strictly rural phenomenon, either. Numerous cities and highly urbanized counties maintain extension services, and these offices emphasize teaching folks how to deal with the problems of the metropolis, rather than those of the farmstead.
The county extension director's office distributes a large number of publications, too. Many of these (like the booklets offered by state university extensions) are free, and all of them are within reach of any but the most strained budget. Let your agent know what your interests are, and he'll help you order whatever materials he doesn't have in stock.
And, if the information that you want isn't available locally, all you have to do is trot on over to your nearest library and look through the current edition of the List of Available Publications of the United States Department of Agriculture. This is a paperback index of thousands of booklets and pamphlets on everything from "A-Frame Cabins" to "Zoning". Price information and directions for ordering are included in the listings. And, again, many of these publications can be obtained free of charge.
So, get in touch with your state office or county office, because that's the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to "learn how to...."
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