Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge

The Words and Works of Indiana’s Pioneer County Extension Agents
Frederick Whitford

The dawn of the twentieth century found Indiana agriculture at a crucial juncture. Agricultural researchers at Purdue University, the state’s land-grant institution, had important innovations to share, but getting information out to those who needed it presented challenges.

Enter the state’s first county agricultural Extension agents. Hired in 1912, when the Cooperative Extension Service was little more than words on paper, they would eventually extend their outreach efforts to all ninety-two counties, becoming trusted advisors along the way as they shared reliable, science-based information aimed at improving the farms, families, and communities they served.

The first county agents started work when soybeans were an experimental crop, liming allowed “soured” soil to be “sweetened.” fertilizer meant animal manure, and a newly developed serum was about to bring an end to hog cholera. Agents traveled muddy back roads to connect with families who made their livings there and encouraged farmers to embrace innovations such as tractors, hybrid corn, certified seeds, silos, and electricity for their farms and homes.

When the nation called on American farmers to produce more food for soldiers and populations affected by World War I, county Extension agents spearheaded efforts to increase agricultural production, utilize victory gardens, and reduce the amount of food wasted during processing and cooking. As postwar agricultural prices plummeted, agents showed farmers how to become more efficient and helped families weather the difficult times that would stretch for a decade and beyond.

The telling of Extension’s beginning in Indiana-as reported to a large extent through the agents’ own words-brings to light the dedication and resolve of those who
championed education for the farm populace. It is a history lesson about agriculture at the beginning of the twentieth century and how advice backed by proven science from university research reshaped and modernized agriculture in the state.

  • Research-based book with material and photographs never before published.
  • Tells a detailed story of how and what Extension did to help the rural people of Indiana.
  • The text appeals to those interested in crop and livestock production, the home, and 4-H.
  • Part One The Precursors to the Development of Extension Education in Indiana: Research, Farmers’ Institutes, and One Man’s Vision (1882-1912)
  • Part Two The Show-and-Tell Years of the First County Agents in Indiana: When Seeing Was Believing (1912-1916)
  • Part Three Food Will Win World War I(1917-1918)
  • Part Four Living Through the Miserable Years of the Agricultural Depression (1919-1929)

Book Information

Hardcover • 7 × 10 • 800 pages
Over 150 black & white photographs
Hardback, 9781557S37591
The Founders Series
May 2017

Where to purchase this book

If you have any questions, please contact Fred Whitford at or call 765-494-1284.