The County Extension Service began in eastern Otter Tail County in 1922 with an office located in Perham to serve the northeastern 31 townships.
Due to a fire, the office was located in Henning from 1924-1932, after which it was moved back to Perham. There was a six-month period in 1931 when work was suspended due to a lack of funds. It was resumed again in 1932 because of a severe outbreak of grasshoppers.
Early educational programs in agriculture included farming with horses, introduction of alfalfa, corn, and small grains, control of grasshoppers and insects, soil testing, improving milk production, organizing boys and girls clubs and supporting community development.
One of the original sources of funding was the Farm Bureau Organization which provided office space and travel funds. Later the Extension office received funding from Otter Tail County, the University of Minnesota, and USDA.
Youth work was an important part of Extension programs. In 1923, there were 101 youths enrolled in 12 clubs. Records show that youth participated in the County Fair in Perham in 1923.
In the 1930s, the youth clubs were re-organized into community 4-H clubs, with the first 4-H agent coming in 1935. Enrollment peaked in 1969 with 640 members and 31 clubs. Early 4-H projects focused on livestock, bread baking, sewing, canning, leadership, health, conservation, and shop. Popular events during the year included club tours, softball games, County Fair, State Fair, Share-the-Fun, and 4-H Camps. From the standpoint of achievement, 4-H youth work has been one of the most successful and lasting programs of the extension service.
The Home Economics program officially began in the County in 1947 when the first home agent was hired. Up until that time, local leaders and University of Minnesota State Extension Specialists gave lessons to homemakers and leaders on a variety of subjects. Popular lessons were nutrition, clothing, textiles, housing, furnishings, use of time, money and energy, child development, human relations, and health. In 1982, there were 608 homemakers enrolled in 52 clubs.
– Lina Belar is the founder and retired director of the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County.
Denzil Cooper, former Agricultural Agent, submitted information for this article to the East Otter Tail County History, Volume I, published in 1994 and now available on-line at www.historymuseumeot.com.