For more than a century, Michigan State University Extension has helped improve the lives of residents in Detroit and across Michigan. Its mission: to bring the vast knowledge and resources of MSU directly to individuals, communities and businesses and to create enduring partnerships.
When President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act into law in 1914, the Cooperative Extension System was created, signaling support from federal, state and local governments to bring universities to the people.
Three years later, the first county agricultural agent from MSU was appointed to serve Wayne County, planting the seeds of what is celebrated now as a century of work in and around metro Detroit.
Today, MSU and Detroit continue to partner on solutions that energize the world-class city and build a better tomorrow for all its residents.
History of MSU Extension
Mary H. Grosvenor was named the county’s first 4-H agent, working with Wayne County youth.
Michigan Public Act 315 enabled counties to appropriate or raise money by taxation to promote agricultural interest and to provide for Extension work in cooperation with what was then known as the Michigan Agricultural College.
The Capper-Ketcham Act was passed to expand work in 4-H and home economics—80 percent of the appropriation provided in this act was to support field staff.
MSU Extension's wartime efforts and communication endeavors:
- War food assistants at farmers’ markets in Detroit taught shoppers how to preserve food through canning and freezing.
- Staff used press and radio for mass communication. Radio Farm Director Marshall Wells of WJR Detroit hosted town and country programs for nearly 30 years.
- MSU Extension staff were pioneers in the state’s first telecast when State Extension Director Robert J. Baldwin appeared on WWJ-TV in Detroit.
When America celebrated the 50th anniversary of 4-H, Michigan responded by establishing the Michigan 4-H Foundation to encourage private financial support that would supplement the public support provided by the cooperative partnership of county, state and federal government.
MSU Extension opened the first regional centers for Continuing Education in Detroit, Kalamazoo and Traverse City. Marjorie Gibbs was appointed to the Detroit center in 1954.
Staff for consumer marketing information developed programs in cities like Detroit to inform producers and consumers about agricultural products. They used television broadcasts, newsletters, news columns and radio broadcasts to teach consumers how to get the most from their food dollar.
Sea Grant organizations form nationally. Michigan Sea Grant supports research, outreach and education to enhance sustainable use of Great Lakes resources, benefiting the environment, quality of life and local, regional and national economies. Programming included the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair.
Congress voted to shift funds from overseas food exports to the Expanded Nutrition Program. Totalling more than $1.5 million for the state, MSU Extension was chosen to manage those dollars. The program was the start of what is now known as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, which focuses on increasing nutrition and nutrition-related knowledge and skills for limited-resource children and families.
Through 4-H, a federal grant funded a large urban gardening project in Detroit, and the Detroit 4-H Center opened on the city’s east side, launching major Michigan 4-H urban programming initiatives.
The New Horizons program launched, holding sessions all over the state, including Detroit. Its goal was to help prepare “a better-informed citizenry and dozens of people better equipped to assume roles in public office, community organizations and leadership positions.” (Olstrom and Miller)
Michigan hosts the annual National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Agents Conference in Detroit, providing opportunities to showcase innovative urban 4-H programming models.
Through its membership in the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, MSU Extension works directly with local governments to train and provide resources for the state’s leaders. The council serves the Southeast Michigan region, including Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne counties, as well as villages, towns, intermediate school districts and community colleges.
In partnership with the Greening of Detroit, founded in 1989 by Elizabeth Gordon Sachs, MSU Extension educators have worked with youth and residents to help restore the city’s tree infrastructure.
In 2009, when the recession hit Michigan, the state lost the most manufacturing jobs of any state, had the highest unemployment and falling median income and lost more population. MSU Extension educators played a role in helping people keep their homes in the face of foreclosures.
Since 2012, more than 11,000 people have received education and counseling from MSU Extension, with more than 66 percent of those who completed counseling able to keep their homes. Now MSU Extension is looking to have an even bigger impact in the Detroit area.
In 2010, Jim and Shelly Green, owners of Milton Manufacturing, began tearing down the burned-out houses around their factory and replacing them with rows of crops. They founded Pingree Farms. Eventually, they brought in animals and partnered with area 4-H clubs to provide a home for animals and a place for youth to learn how to care for them.
The MSU Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning and Innovation is scheduled to open in 2018. This project represents a 20-year commitment to Detroit for Extension programming as well as research on urban agriculture and urban forestry issues. The facility is expected to be fully operational in 2018.