During my career I had the privilege to serve as vice president of the Extension Division of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS). I penned a monthly column called “Frontlines” in which I discussed diverse topics of interest to those in Extension. In one column I talked about the “Extension Workers’ Creed” – and I’d like to share it here again.

We are known by many names: Extension professionals, (county) educators, specialists, associates or assistants; professors; outreach professionals; county agents; or as it simply says in the creed, Extension workers. A copy of the creed hung on the wall in my office and on the walls of many Extension offices around the country.

Recently, I printed off the Extension Workers’ Creed from the Rutgers University website. There is a statement that precedes the creed on the Rutgers site that reads, “From Extension’s early days, there has been a sense that Extension work is much more than a job – that it is a value-based vocation … The values underlying Extension work are reflected in this Extension Workers’ Creed.”

The creed was developed by and for Epsilon Sigma Phi, Extension’s national honor society.

I wrote that original column because I thought it would be appropriate as we approached the end of the year. So many “Frontline” columns centered around changes in our profession or the way we did business – we needed to take time to examine the creed and what we were supposed to believe and see if the statements were still relevant.

All the statements in the creed start with “I believe” – “I believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions; in their ability and power to enlarge their lives and plan for happiness of those they love.”

The thing I loved about being an Extension horticulture professional is that I had the potential to influence the lives of everyone on Earth every day. We do not make decisions for people but provide them advice and information on a particular subject. They then make the decision on what course of action to take that will hopefully improve their lives and generate happiness (and maybe additional income) for those that they love.

One of the timbers in the keel of our profession is that we supply unbiased information, a point that we never want to compromise. We can accept financial resources to conduct applied research or educational programs, but we cannot bend to pressure to endorse a product or take a stand on an issue that questions our ability to be unbiased.

The creed states, “I believe that education, of which Extension work is an essential part, is basic in stimulating individual initiative, self-determination and leadership; that these are the keys to democracy and that people, when given facts they understand, will act not only in their self-interest but also in the interest of society.”

Education that encompasses Extension work is essential to developing character traits that are key to the continuation of democracy. If people are provided information in an understandable form, they will not only act in their own self-interest but also in the interest of the greater good.

How many times have you heard growers say they “really appreciated how you presented your information – I could really understand what you were saying”? I believe a lot of the environmental issues swirling around agriculture (climate change, pesticide use, soil and water quality issues) that paint farmers as the “bad guys” in society fit nicely in the second part of that statement. When we provide understandable information on important issues, we see farmers act not only in their own self-interest but also for society at large.

The creed states, “I believe that education is a lifelong process, and the greatest university is the home; that my success as a teacher is proportional to those qualities of mind and spirit that give me welcome and entrance to the homes of the families I serve.”

Education is indeed a lifelong process, and the home is the greatest university. Success as an Extension educator is proportional to those qualities of mind and spirit that give me welcome at the homes of the families I serve. Expertise in one’s subject matter area, the ability to transfer that knowledge, concern for the people being served, enthusiasm, possessing a positive attitude and dedication to the profession are what get Extension welcome in the homes of the families served.

The next statement says, “I believe in intellectual freedom to search for and present the truth without bias and with courteous tolerance toward views of others.” This is again the cornerstone of Extension service. We all should be striving for this in our programs and be tolerant toward others’ views. This recalls the often negative attitude and intolerance that some professionals back in the day showed regarding the organic or sustainable agricultural movement. This was a contentious issue that resulted in both sides not being very courteous or tolerant. We have certainly come a long way on that issue.

The next statement says, “I believe that the Extension service is a link between the people and the ever-changing discoveries in the laboratories.” Today many of us conduct very active applied research programs and disseminate the results of our research through a wide range of informational vehicles to many different audiences.

In the early days of Extension many universities had separate departments: one housed Extension educators and one housed teachers and researchers. A few examples of this system still exist today. It was the role of the Extension worker to be the conduit for the flow of information from the researcher to the grower. Today many Extension professionals are both the researcher and the disseminator.

The next statement says, “I believe in the public institutions of which I am a part.” I believe in the “land grant system” and even though it may be undergoing change, it’s still the best system developed for building a strong and vibrant agricultural system. That agricultural system is what the security of the U.S. is built on and is what needs to be sustained in the future.

The next statement says, “I believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to mankind.” In Extension we have so many opportunities to help people fulfill their dreams and by doing so bring a sense of meaning and purpose to our own lives. In horticulture we have the opportunity to help feed and beautify the world every day.

The last statement is “Because I believe these things, I am an Extension worker.”

Each of us have been given many talents that make us welcome in the homes of those whom we serve, and above all we have been given the most precious gift of all – the opportunity to serve our fellow humans and to hopefully improve their lives and, in the end, the planet. I was proud to be an Extension worker and serve the growers of this great country.

You can contact me with feedback on my columns or ideas for future columns at wlamont@psu.edu.