Alabama Cooperative Extension System
Official Alabama Cooperative Extension System logo (2012)
|Headquarters||Auburn, Alabama and Normal, Alabama|
|Agency executives||Dr. Gary Lemme, Director
Dr. Paul Brown, Associate Director for Traditional Programs
Dr. Celvia Stovall, Associate Director for Urban and New Nontraditional Programs
|Parent agency||Alabama A&M University and Auburn University|
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama Extension) provides educational outreach to the citizens of Alabama on behalf of the state's two land grant universities: Alabama A&M University (state's 1890 land-grant institution) and Auburn University (1862 land-grant institution).
The system employs more than 800 faculty, professional educators, and staff members operating in offices in every one of Alabama’s 67 counties and in nine urban centers covering the major regions of the state. In conjunction with the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, the system also staffs six extension and research centers located in the state’s principal geographic regions.
Since 2004, "Alabama Extension" has functioned primarily as a regionally based system in which the bulk of educational programming is delivered by agents operating across a multi-county area and specializing in specific fields. County extension coordinators and county agents (where they are funded), continue to play integral roles in the extension mission, working with regional agents and other extension personnel to deliver services to clients within their areas.
Alabama Extension, which marked its centennial in 2014, possesses a history deeply rooted in the impoverished post-Civil War conditions of the rural Deep South. When the foundations of Extension work were being initiated in the state, Alabama was still reeling from the lingering economic dislocation and deprivation associated with post-war conditions. A major focus of Extension work at that time was on using cutting-edge research from the state’s expanding land-grant university system in tandem with emerging Industrial Age technologies to improve the working conditions of the state’s farmers and homemakers.
Today, Alabama Extension faces many of the challenges common among Extension programs in other states, namely addressing and expanding its mission to account for the needs of a state that is becoming increasingly affluent, urbanized and racially and ethnically diverse.
- 1 Administrative Structure
- 2 History
- 2.1 The Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862
- 2.2 The Second Morrill Act of 1890
- 2.3 The Huntsville Normal School (later Alabama A&M University)
- 2.4 Limitations of the Morrill Act
- 2.5 The Hatch Experiment Station Act of 1887
- 2.6 Seaman Knapp
- 2.7 Tuskegee Institute
- 2.8 Jesup wagons
- 2.9 Alabama Polytechnic Institute
- 2.10 Corn and Tomato Clubs
- 2.11 Passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914
- 2.12 Initial focus
- 2.13 Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture
- 2.14 Technological Adoption
- 2.15 Satellite uplinking
- 2.16 Videoconferencing
- 2.17 Digital diagnostics
- 2.18 Web site
- 2.19 Virtual Extension
- 3 See also
- 4 Notes
- 5 External links
In 1995, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System became the nation’s first unified Extension program, combining the resources of the 1862 and 1890 land-grant institutions. The catalyst was a landmark federal court ruling, known as Knight vs. Alabama, handed down by Judge Harold Murphy. Under its terms, the Extension programs and other land-grant university functions of Alabama A&M, Auburn, and Tuskegee (historically African-American institution) universities were combined and served as cooperative partners within this unified system.
This combined effort is headed by a director appointed by the presidents of Alabama A&M and Auburn universities. The Extension director serves as the organization’s chief executive officer and maintains offices at both campuses.
In written remarks outlining his rationale for the ruling, Judge Murphy called for an expanded and updated Cooperative Extension mission that not only continued to address traditional programming needs but that also was better equipped to respond to the needs of a population that had become more urbanized and racially and ethnically diverse. Additionally to providing for an associate director for Rural and Traditional Programs, who would be housed at Auburn University. Judge Murphy also mandated that an associate director of Urban and New Nontraditional Programs be employed and housed at Alabama A&M University. This new associate director, Murphy stated, would be “expected to open new areas of Extension work and expand the outreach of the Alabama Cooperative Program to more fully serve all the people of Alabama.”
Directors of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System
- J. F. Duggar, 1914-1920
- Luther N. Duncan, 1920-1937
- P. O. Davis, 1937-1959
- E. T. York, 1959-1961
- Fred R. Robertson, 1961-1971
- Ralph R. Jones, 1971-1974
- W. H. Taylor (Acting), 1974-1975
- J. Michael Sprott, 1975-1983
- Ray Cavender (Acting), 1983-1984
- Ann E. Thompson, 1984-1994
- W. Gaines Smith (Interim), 1994-1997
- Stephen B. Jones, 1997-2001
- W. Gaines Smith, 2001-2011
- Gary Lemme, 2011-present
In 2004, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System completed what was arguably the most thorough restructuring effort in its history.
For decades, the bulk of Alabama Cooperative Extension programs were carried out by county agents – generalists who kept abreast of many different subjects and delivered a wide variety of programs. By the onset of the 21st century, a number of factors prompted Alabama Extension to reevaluate this approach. Urbanization was a key factor – a trend that not resulted in fewer farms but also drastically altered public expectations regarding the role Extension educators should be serving in the 21st century.
Extension administrators also cited the rapid social and technological changes reflected in a state population, now considerably better educated and more diverse. Throughout the 20th century, Cooperative Extension prided itself on its ability to disseminate research-based information quickly and efficiently using the prevailing technologies of the era – newspapers, radio, and television. However, following the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, Americans became sophisticated information users in their own right and far better equipped to acquire information on their own.
Even so, Alabama Extension administrators still believed their organization had a critical and productive role to play in helping people make informed decisions by putting information into context. They reasoned this could be best accomplished by specialized agents rather than the generalists who had traditionally administered Extension programming throughout the previous century.
From a county to regional agent-delivered system
Following intensive study and close consultation with organizational partners and other key stakeholders, Alabama Extension transformed itself from primarily a county agent-delivered system to one in which programs increasingly will be delivered by regional agents specializing in one of the 14 different program priority areas.
Regional Extension agents work with other agents across regional and disciplinary lines, with area and state subject-matter specialists, and with sister agencies, such as the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Forestry Commission and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to deliver programs over a regional and statewide basis.
Continuing county presence
Despite the growing emphasis on regional agents, Alabama Extension, in keeping with its longstanding tradition of serving Alabamians at the grassroots, continues to operate offices in all 67 counties. These are headed by coordinators, who work with regional agents and other Extension staff to deliver programs within their counties.
One of the distinguishing traits associated with Cooperative Extension work throughout the country is the financial support it receives from every level of government. Like many of its sister programs throughout the country, Alabama Extension has begun looking for ways to supplement these traditional sources of funding with private support, typically in the form of grants and fees.
A common perception is that the birth of Cooperative Extension followed passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which provided federal funds to land-grant universities to support Extension work. In a formal sense, this is true. But the roots of Cooperative Extension extend as far back as the late 18th century, following the American Revolution, when affluent farmers first began organizing groups to sponsor educational meetings to disseminate useful farming information. In some cases, these lectures even were delivered by university professors – a practice that foreshadowed Cooperative Extension work more than a century later.
These efforts became more formalized over time. By the 1850s, for example, many schools and colleges began holding farmer institutes – public meetings where lecturers discussed new farming insights.
The Morrill Land-Grant College Act of 1862
A milestone in the history of Cooperative Extension occurred in 1862, when Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, which granted each state 30,000 acres (120 km²) of public land for each of its House and Senate members. States then could use this land as trust funds through which colleges could be endowed for the teaching of agriculture and other practical arts.
The Morrill Act made possible the formation of the Agriculture and Mechanical College of Alabama (later Alabama Polytechnic Institute) in 1872, succeeding the former East Alabama Male College, a Methodist institution established in 1856. Despite being plagued initially with severe financial problems, the college, which ultimately became Auburn University, was destined to become the first headquarters of a statewide Extension program.
The Second Morrill Act of 1890
In one sense, the first land-grant college act was limited. While it secured a means of establishing agricultural and mechanical colleges, it did not provide a steady source of funding to states to support these institutions. The second Morrill Act, passed in 1890, not only provided this funding but also prohibited racial discrimination by any college receiving these funds. However, so long as the federal funds were distributed "equitably," states could circumvent this anti-discrimination provision by establishing separate institutions for white and black citizens. The separate black agricultural and mechanical schools established throughout the South later became known as 1890 land-grant institutions.
The Huntsville Normal School (later Alabama A&M University)
The first black school to function as an 1890 institution was the Huntsville Normal School (now Alabama A&M University) near Huntsville, established by the Alabama Legislature in 1873 and opened in 1875 with two instructors and 61 students and with an annual appropriation of $1,000. In 1891, the school, renamed the State Normal and Industrial School at Huntsville in 1878, began receiving some of the funds provided by the Second Morrill Act.
Limitations of the Morrill Act
Despite the lofty visions and aspirations reflected in both Morrill Acts, the land grant university system showed signs of foundering toward the close of the 19th century. The emerging colleges faced serious challenges establishing courses of study that appealed to potential students, particularly Southerners, many of whom were dealing with the far more pressing task of reconstructing an agricultural system badly disrupted by wartime conditions. Moreover, because of the ample land available in the West, many farmers had little incentive to adopt intensive farming methods and other advanced agricultural technologies. Agricultural colleges also were criticized for not providing students with the types of training that enabled them to return to their family farms. Many land-grant college graduates were leaving farming altogether.
The Hatch Experiment Station Act of 1887
Most pressing of all, many observers believed, was the glaring lack of solid agricultural research on which to base this practical teaching. Seeking to address this critical need, Congress passed the Hatch Experiment Station Act of 1887, which provided funding for agricultural experiment stations in each state.
In the opinion of many educators and policymakers, passage of this legislation represented a major stride toward improving farming. Even so, Experiment Station personnel soon discerned that scientific insights generated through research at these stations could not be fully utilized unless they were effectively communicated to farmers.
Some face-to-face contact already was provided through farmer institutes, district schools and similar efforts offered through the nation’s Experiment Stations. Even so, many Experiment Station researchers believed that these limited outreach efforts were insufficient. Many also were concerned that these efforts diverted critically needed funds away from the stations’ primary directive – conducting research.
Seaman Knapp was an aging college instructor and administrator who is often credited with taking a major, if not critical, lead in efforts that eventually culminated in formal Cooperative Extension work. In the view of some, he rightly deserves the title of “father” of the Extension Service.
Seaman Ashael Knapp (1831-1911) was a Union College graduate, Phi Beta Kappa member, physician, college instructor, and administrator, who took up farming late in life, moving to Iowa to raise general crops and livestock.
The first seeds of what would later become an abiding interest in farm demonstration were planted after he became active in an organization called “The Teachers of Agriculture,” attending their meetings at the Michigan Agricultural College in 1881 and the Iowa Agricultural College in 1882. Knapp was so impressed with this teaching method that he drafted a bill for the establishment of experimental research stations, which later was introduced to the 47th Congress, laying the foundation for a nationwide network of agricultural experiment stations.
Knapp later served as president of Iowa Agricultural College, but his interest in agricultural demonstration work did not occur until 1886, when he moved to Louisiana and began developing a large tract of agricultural land in the western part of the state.
Knapp could neither persuade local farmers to adopt the techniques he had perfected on his farm nor could he enlist farmers from the North to move to the region to serve collectively as a sort of educational catalyst. What he could do, was provide incentives for farmers to settle in each township with the proviso that each, in turn, would demonstrate to other farmers what could be done by adopting his improved farming methods.
The concept worked. Northern farmers began moving into the region and native farmers began using Knapp’s methods.
By 1902, Knapp was employed by the government to promote good agricultural practices in the South.
Based on his own experience, Knapp was convinced that demonstrations carried out by farmers themselves were the most effective way to disseminate good farming methods. His efforts were aided by the onslaught of the boll weevil, a voracious cotton pest whose presence was felt not only in Louisiana but also throughout much of the South. Damage associated with this pest instilled fear among many merchants and growers that the cotton economy was disintegrating around them.
A farm demonstration at the Walter G. Porter farm in Terrell, Texas, set up by the Department of Agriculture at the urging of concerned merchants and growers, was the first in a series of steps that eventually led to passage of federal legislation formalizing Cooperative Extension work.
USDA officials were so impressed with the success of this demonstration that they appropriated $250,000 to combat the weevil – a measure that also involved the hiring of farm demonstration agents. By 1904, 20 agents were employed in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. The movement also appeared to be spreading to neighboring Mississippi and Alabama.
Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University), a black, largely privately funded school, laid much of the foundation for what ultimately would become Cooperative Extension work. Much of the credit for these pioneering efforts can be attributed directly to Booker T. Washington, founder of the institute, and to world renowned agricultural researcher George Washington Carver.
The first annual Tuskegee Farmer Conference, begun at the prompting of Washington in 1892, initially attracted some 500 participants. Still held annually, the conference is regarded not only as the cornerstone of black agricultural outreach work but as a major milestone in the development of Cooperative Extension work in general
Nevertheless, much like their counterparts at nearby API and in other institutions, Washington and Carver understood that the insights generated at Tuskegee and other agricultural research facilities throughout the nation could not be fully utilized unless they were successfully communicated to farmers.
With this in mind, Tuskegee pioneered the use of agricultural demonstration wagons (commonly known as Jesup wagons in honor Morris Jesup, the New York banker and philanthropist who underwrote the cost for their fitting and equipment) to instruct farmers and sharecroppers in far-flung regions of the state about efficient farming methods. Carver not only drafted the plans for the wagons but also selected the equipment, drew instructional charts and suggested lecture topics to be delivered at each visit.
The wagons were so successful that they eventually were adopted as an integral part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s outreach program.
Thomas Monroe Campbell, of Tuskegee Institute, was appointed the nation’s first black extension agent in 1906 and assigned to operate the Jesup wagons under Carver’s oversight. By 1925, African American (known at the time as Negro) Extension work encompassed 31 agents working in 21 Alabama counties.
Alabama Polytechnic Institute
Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API) went a long way toward laying the groundwork for Cooperative Extension work in the state. Even before passage of the Smith-Lever Act, Luther Duncan, a 1900 API graduate, had organized numerous Boys’ Corn Clubs throughout the state totaling more than 10,000 members in conjunction with his work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industries.
Corn and Tomato Clubs
These Corn Clubs, forerunners of 4-H clubs, marked another major step toward the formalization of Cooperation Extension work. Ostensibly organized to teach farm boys advanced agricultural methods, the clubs served a dual purpose. Duncan and other professional agricultural workers throughout the nation who organized these clubs reasoned that children often were more receptive to technological change than their parents. Over time, fathers adopted these techniques themselves after observing their sons’ successes. Similar successes were noted with girls’ tomato clubs – an outreach technique closely patterned after the corn clubs – as mothers began adopting canning and other food preservation techniques observed from their daughters.
By 1910, there were 37 agents at work in 41 Alabama counties, though operating under the USDA. Even so, the salaries of many of these employees were supplemented by county funding – a practice that would distinguish formal Cooperative Extension work for the next century.
Passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914
In 1914, the long awaited Smith-Lever Act, which has been regarded as “one of the most striking educational measures ever adopted by any government,” finally was passed. The act provided for state matching of federal funds to establish a network of county farm educators in every state. The agreement with the states drafted shortly after passage of the act stipulated that not only Smith-Lever-related Extension work but all Extension-related work associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a state would be carried out through the state college of agriculture. Likewise, each state college was expected to establish a separate Extension division with a leader responsible for administering state and federal funds.
Alabama formally accepted the provisions of the Smith-Lever Act in 1915, organizing the Alabama Extension Service under the direction of the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn. J.F. Duggar, a long-serving API administrator, assumed the reins of the new organization, while Duncan was appointed superintendent of Junior and Home Economics Extension in cooperation with the USDA. These two units operated independently until Duncan was named head of the Alabama Extension Service in 1920.
Under the Smith-Lever Act, administrative oversight of Tuskegee’s Extension program came under the direction of Duggar in 1915, though in a de facto sense, the program remained autonomous and under the direction of African-Americans.
Despite its pioneering efforts in extension work, Tuskegee was not eligible to receive 1890 funds until 1972.
The Alabama Extension Service initially focused on improving the bleak economic prospects of Alabama farmers, most of whom raised cotton under the persistent threat of the boll weevil. As funds permitted, home demonstration agents were employed to provide farm wives with practical assistance with food preservation and other home-related improvements.
Eventually, program areas were expanded to include assistance with dairying, livestock production, agronomy, horticulture, farm marketing and plant and animal diseases. Youth outreach, typically in the form of Boys and Girls Clubs, also comprised an integral part of Extension work.
In 1914, forty-three of Alabama’s 67 counties were served by agents. By the 1920s, Extension agents, many of whom were college graduates, were operating out of fully staffed and equipped offices in many counties. Enhanced federal and state funding enabled the Extension Service to hire 11 full-time and part-time subject-matter specialists to provide agents with guidance and assistance with program delivery. The basic contours of the system were in place. From this comparatively modest beginning, Alabama Extension eventually built a statewide presence with fully staffed and equipped offices in all 67 counties.
Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture
As part of its commemoration of Auburn University’s Sesquicentennial in 2006, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System reintroduced a series of agriculture-related murals it commissioned for display at the 1939 Alabama State Fair. Known as the Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture, the murals depict key events of Alabama agricultural history.
They were designed every bit as much for their educational as aestheic value. Setting out the purpose for the murals, then-Alabama Extension Director P. O. Davis noted that “agriculture in Alabama, and in this nation, is in a period of change – a change toward improvement and progress.” Alabama, Davis stressed, was diversifying, moving from a primarily cotton-based economy “into a combination of cotton and other cash crops plus livestock and poultry.” He envisioned a dual purpose for the murals and supporting exhibits: to celebrate Alabama’s rich agricultural history but also to focus farmers on a “vision of the future.”
Painted by Mobile native John Augustus Walker, one of Alabama’s premiere artists of the era, these murals are among Alabama Extension’s most prized artifacts and reflect one of the most significant chapters in the state’s agricultural history. They also are considered prime examples of Works Progress Administration-related art associated with the Great Depression era.
Using new technology to enhance the scope and impact of its programming has been a focus of Cooperative Extension work nationwide. In Alabama, Extension and its sister organization, the Experiment Station, began using emerging radio technology as early as 1922 when funds were secured to purchase a small radio station known as WMAV. By 1925, WAPI, “the Voice of Alabama,” a far more powerful station, was broadcasting a 1,000-watt signal from the third floor of Comer Hall on the API (now Auburn University) campus. In addition to news and weather, the station broadcast educational programs related to agriculture and homemaking.
WAPI marked one of many ways throughout history that Alabama Extension has used emerging electronic technology to extend its message to a wider audience. In the late 1980s, then-Extension Director and Auburn University Vice President for Extension Ann E. Thompson, worked with Auburn University Telecommunications and the Auburn University Athletic Department to create the Auburn University Satellite Uplink.
As an integral part of this effort, a statewide network was created and every county Extension office in the state was equipped with a satellite receiver so that each of these offices could serve as a reception site for educational programs provided from Auburn University. Moreover, during breaking news events throughout the 1990's, Extension used the uplink to provide live interviews and television newscasts throughout the state.
Alabama Extension’s Auburn University headquarters also was equipped with a full-service studio and live production facility so that Extension field offices would have had full access to live and recorded productions via satellite. The Auburn University facility was also equipped with a multimedia lab, which is now provides video and audio Web streaming.
In the 1990's, Alabama Extension established 33 videoconferencing sites in county offices and regional centers throughout the state, affording all Alabama residents short drive times to facilities where they could view educational and certification-related programs provided over the Internet. Typically, training provided by statewide Extension subject-matter experts via videoconferencing is supplemented with instruction from county and regional experts at the reception site.
In addition to the C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture and Environmental Center, six Regional Research and Extension Centers and more than twenty-five county Extension offices throughout the state were equipped with digital diagnostic capabilities to provide farmers and homeowners with rapid detection of plant-borne diseases.
The Alabama Cooperative Extension System Web site is accessed by as estimated 6.5 million visitors from across the globe each year. Alabama Extension also was an earlier adopter of web blogs not only as a more efficient way to educate its audiences but also to disseminate breaking news to key media gatekeepers throughout the state. These web blogs are being enhanced with streamed interviews with Extension experts.
Within the last decade, the advent of the Web and associated technologies has forced Alabama Extension and other state Extension programs to reassess the delivery of information - a view first expressed by Charles D. Ray in an article published in the April, 2007 edition of the Journal of Extension.
In his August, 2007 edition of Extension Connections, then-Alabama Director Gaines Smith introduced an outreach concept known as Virtual Extension, which was inspired by Ray's Journal of Extension article.
The concept reflected several changes that have become apparent to Extension administrators and educators within the last few years – first and foremost, that Extension’s Web presence would continue to outpace traditional sources of outreach, particularly face-to-face contact. In Smith’s view, this was not surprising, considering that clients increasingly looked to Extension’s Web presence “as the most accessible source of information about Extension-related programs and services.”
Smith also observed that as Alabama Extension’s organizational identity and online presence become fused, the Web presence would increasingly be viewed as a major interface with the public.
While he viewed these changes as offering great opportunities, he also stressed that they would hold major implications and challenges.
Smith perceived that these changes had major implications on how Extension programs were conceived and implemented. In the past, program-related Extension Web sites merely were on-line reflections of face-to-face programming efforts. However, Smith contended that these roles increasingly were being reversed. He perceived that Extension programs would increasingly take on the identity of the Web presence.
He contended that the changes taking place pushed Extension educators in the direction of virtual relationship building. He stressed that Extension educators not only should become comfortable with this emerging approach but also effective in building online client relationships through social networking, blogging, and similar approaches.
Smith stated that transforming Alabama Extension into a leader in this new era of outreach would be a major focus of his – and the organization’s – future efforts.
- Cooperative Extension Service
- Luther Duncan
- P.O. Davis
- List of land-grant universities
- National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges
- State university system
- Agricultural extension
- Historical Panorama of Alabama Agriculture
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- Yeager and Stevenson, p.79.
- Yeager and Stevenson, p. 81.
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- Ray, Charles D., "The Virtual Extension Specialist," Journal of Extension, April, 2007.
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