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New book recounts history of early Extension specialists

Fred Whitford believes that knowing our history may help us solve future problems. In his new book, Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge, Whitford, clinical engagement professor and director of the Purdue Pesticide Programs, examines the early history of Purdue Extension and how Extension specialists helped develop solutions to the challenges facing farmers a century ago.

“If people can reflect on where we’ve been, then it probably helps us figure out where we’re going,” Whitford said. “The book shows the impact of extension. You can see agriculture changing because of what extension specialists did. We brought science to the farm.”

Purdue Extension had a major impact on Indiana agriculture from the start. The book provides details on how Extension was created and its mission to help farmers become more efficient and productive. Then, as now, Extension covered everything from dairy to genetics to soil management.

“The book even covers agricultural history regarding World War I,” Whitford said. “It tells the story of what farmers did to win the war.”

According to the book, because of the war’s devastating impacts overseas, American farmers had to provide the bulk of the food needed to sustain armies in Europe. Whitford tells the story of how Extension specialists rallied agricultural producers to increase grain and meat production during the war years.

This was not the only historical event that Extension specialists were heavily involved in. Part of the book covers the history surrounding the agricultural depression in the 1920s, explaining details of issues farmers faced then such as livestock disease, the cost of maintaining orchards, and the challenge of an onslaught of rats.

Whitford said farmers face many of these same issues today - including high production costs, plant diseases and pest management. By examining how farmers and Extension specialists worked together to overcome these challenges in the past, we may be able to come up with solutions for our future.

Scattering the Seeds of Knowledge is part of a series of four other books by Whitford, all covering different aspects of Purdue Extension history. His most recent book, Enriching the Hoosier Farm Family, provides a collection of photos and captions meant to capture the history of Extension through visual means. This new book will give a detailed historical account, putting words to the previous pictures.

For more information or to buy the book, visit Purdue Extension’s The Education Store at

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