Monday, August 1, 2011


This blog posting can not adequately cover all the research and other reports that have been written over many years on agricultural education in the United States, and in Vermont.  From the Colonial period on there has been an increased attention to education in a country that was largely agrarian in the beginning.  Much of the early influence for agricultural teaching and research came from European models of agricultural societies and agricultural teaching institutes.  The push for public education in agriculture and the sciences occurred much before Justin Morrill promoted the historic Land Grant Act.  Changes in agriculture, in rural communities, in farm and other agricultural organizations, in society, and in financial support over time have changed the nature of agricultural education and the demand for it. 


In the United States there was a vast expansion of agriculture after the American Revolution.  European influences on our education system are well documented, and especially as it relates to agriculture and the sciences.  According to documents (See History of Agricultural Education in the United States), “18th Century Europe was marked by the establishment of a number of agricultural societies and schools in connection with which agriculture was taught and practiced.”  It was natural then, that many of these societies in the United States were modeled after those in Europe.  For example, Ben Franklin in 1744 established the American Philosophical Society and the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting Agriculture in 1785.  Similar societies were established in other States:  Hallowell, Maine in 1787; New Jersey 1790; New York 1792; Massachusetts 1792; Connecticut 1794; and in 1819-1820 in all counties in New Hampshire. The interest in these agricultural societies flourished after the formation of the Berkshire Agricultural Society in Massachusetts (see Growing A Nation, the Story of American Agriculture), and by 1860 there were 941 of these societies in the Untied States. While many of these societies were noted for their educational activities associated with county fairs, they also exerted a very strong influence on agricultural polices and agricultural education within the United States during this time.

According to documents, these local and country agricultural societies continued to be organized and spread over the country with the Westward settlement.  New England had several agricultural societies, including many in Vermont (originators of county fairs).  A U.S. Agricultural Society was organized in 1852, and a Vermont Agricultural Society around 1850 (former Governor Fredrick Holbrook of Brattleboro was a founder and first President from 1850-1858).  As noted before, these agricultural societies provided educational opportunities for farmers and their families, and promoted the teaching of agriculture in schools.  These societies also encouraged agricultural industries and had forums for the exchange of ideas, the by-product being the county fairs, a concept again adopted from Europe. They were also influential in establishing State Board of Agriculture in many of the States.  For example, the first State Board of Agriculture was established in New York in 1819, New Hampshire in 1820, and in Massachusetts in 1852.  Vermont established a Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, Mining, and Statistics in 1870 by an act of the State Legislature (see last blog posting on Tipping Points). 


The need for public education at the College level in agriculture and the sciences was not a new concept.  As early as 1787, it is stated that George Washington proposed a national public university for agriculture and the sciences.  Several of the private colleges and Universities such as Yale, Harvard, and Amherst had agricultural science courses.  Prior to the Land Grant Act, there were several petitions to Congress for the creation of public colleges for agricultural instruction (see History of Agricultural Education in U.S.). In 1838 there was a proposal to use the James Smithson’s Grant (Founder of Smithsonian Institution) to establish a national agricultural college.  One of our own early Vermont educational leaders, Alden Partridge, founder of Norwich University, in 1841 proposed to Congress a national system of colleges combining arts, sciences, and practical studies including agriculture, supported by the sale of public lands (see Robert Sinclair).   The Morrill Land Grant Act then was the culmination of a very long and arduous attempt to create public educational institutions for agriculture and the sciences.  Morrill’s first attempt, per a Congressional Resolution in 1856, was for the creation of one or more national agricultural schools like the military service academies (see History of Agriculture Education in the U.S.).  Morrill used his influence and great ability to move along a concept that had been generated by others over a long period of time, and the historic land grant act was passed in 1862.  President Abraham Lincoln signed it, at that time. (President Buchanan had vetoed it earlier).

The Land Grant Act of 1862 was considered a historic achievement that changed the course of agriculture in the United States. “Andrew White, for many years the President of Cornell University and later Minister to Germany rated Senator Justin Morrill’s work very high.  He stated that it was his opinion, that the Land Grant Act deserves to be ranked…. with those of Hamilton in advocating the U.S. Constitution, and of Jefferson in acquiring Louisiana, and of Clay in giving us a truly American Policy.”(See Justin Smith Morrill by Parker).


Vermont was early in recognizing the need for proper education, and in 1840 the Vermont Committee on Education reported in favor of facilities for education for mechanics and the farmer (see William Belmont Parker).   Following the trend elsewhere, county agricultural societies were established like the Berkshire Agricultural Society that was established in 1811 (Berkshire, Ma).  Addison County (1843), Lamoille County (1847), and others were established at the county level within Vermont.  These county societies provided the forums through fairs for education by means of livestock and equipment displays and demonstrations for farmers and their families. They also became a voice for the farm community in the State, prior to the Grange and Farm Bureau.  A State Agricultural Society, as noted, was organized in 1850.  It became a voice for the creation of the State Board of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Mining in 1870, the forerunner to the State Department of Agriculture in 1909.

Education for farmers was an important objective. In reading the Agricultural Reports of the State Board of Agriculture for Vermont it is evident that this was achieved by holding “Institutes” in various counties each year across the State.  For example in the period 1883-84, the Board held forty-seven meetings.  These early farmers’ institutes were said to be “patented after teachers’ institutions and were chiefly organized and promoted by various state and county agricultural societies.” These farmer institutes were the forerunner of the Extension Service, and declined after the passage of the Smith-Lever Act (that authorized the Extension Service) in 1914 (see A History of Farmers Institutes).


With the passage of the Land Grant Act, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation in 1863 that attempted to unite three Vermont educational institutions into a Land Grant College.  These three were the then private University of Vermont, Norwich University, and Middlebury College.  As there was not a unified position from the three colleges to this proposal, the initiative failed.  (Justin Morrill supported this unified proposal, and when it failed suggested a new Land Grant to be located in his hometown of Strafford, Vermont, with a personal five thousand dollar challenge grant).

The University of Vermont became the Land Grant, but it was an alliance not fully supported by the Vermont farm community.  In 1890 the Vermont State Grange argued that the College of Agriculture could not do its best work when connected to the University of Vermont.  The Grange demanded that the State legislature dissolve the partnership between the University and the College of Agriculture, saying that Land Grant funds had been used for other purposes other than agricultural education.  Furthermore, UVM had not granted a single diploma to an agricultural student in the twenty-five years since the University became a Land Grant institution. (See The Grange in Vermont by Horton and Stillwell).  A bill was introduced in the Vermont legislature to create the Vermont State Agricultural and Mechanical College, separate from the University of Vermont.

Hearings in the Vermont Legislature were held on the proposal put forth by the Grange.  Senator Justin Morrill was brought in to testify in support of UVM as the Land Grant Institution.  According to records, a compromise was achieved with the State Agricultural Society and the Grange.  A new group of nine trustees would be appointed by the Governor, with two each being proposed by the State Agricultural Society, the State Grange, and the Dairyman’s Association (See The Grange of Vermont).  Nevertheless, it still remained a questionable alliance with the Vermont farm community, and in 1912 the State created a Commission to investigate the educational system and conditions in Vermont, the Carnegie Foundation Survey.  Its report stated “that the situation in which the College of Agriculture finds itself, the lack of equipment, the empirical quality of its courses, and the failure to connect with industries of the State, is the result of a policy of the Administration for which the trustees are responsible.  In conclusion, the Foundation stated that it is our experience of fifty years in agricultural education that a trade school will not grow in a University atmosphere” (See The Grange of Vermont).


T.G. Bronson of Hardwick, a noted Jersey breeder and then Chair of the Vermont House Agriculture Committee, was father of a bill creating the State School of Agriculture in Randolph in 1910. (The Vermont Dairymen’s Association had called for the State’s support of a secondary school of agriculture in 1908). One had been created earlier when Theodore Vail, President of AT &T endowed a school of agriculture in conjunction with Lyndon Institute for practical training in agriculture.  This institute was turned over to the State in 1915, and agriculture was dropped from its courses in 1921.  It is interesting that in the Report Rural Vermont, A Program for the future, the Vermont Commission on Country Life of 1931, it is stated “that a former state superintendent of education was wont to say (before the establishment of the State School of Agriculture) that if a Vermont lad wished to secure training in agriculture within state borders and was not fitted to enter the College of Agriculture it was necessary for him to commit a crime.  He then would be placed in the Industrial School at Vergennes—then called the Reform School—where secondary school agriculture was being taught, the only place in the state where at that time it was being taught.”


Even though UVM had received the Land Grant designation, and a compromise was reached in 1890 relative to the makeup of the Board of Trustees, there still remained a questionable alliance with rural Vermont and the farm community.   According to Robert Sinclair (See the University of Vermont, the First Two Hundred Years), “decades of effort, distinguished by leadership of Dean Joseph Hills and Dean Joseph Carrigan, were still required to bridge the gap between rural Vermonters, suspicious of book farming, and the University of Vermont’s tradition of classical learning. By 1900, when Hills received the title of Dean, thirty-five years after the formation of UVM and the State Agriculture College, the State had a School of Agriculture in substance as well as in name, but it had taken a major threat from the legislature to separate the College from the University before UVM was willing to honor its commitment.”  Dean Hills, according to Sinclair, recognized the importance of the College of Agriculture’s connection to rural Vermont and the farm community. Prior to federal funding for county extension work (Smith Lever Act of 1914), Hills received State support to fund three agents to conduct relationship work.  The Extension Service, and its connection with the Experiment Station and University, became the key support network that built the partnership with the farm community that the College of Agriculture largely lacked but critically needed.   The county extension system reinforced and cemented the farm community and rural Vermont’s connection to the University of Vermont and the College of Agriculture.


Much had been accomplished in agricultural education in the first 50 years, since the passage of the Land Grant Act in 1862.  The Federal Hatch Act authorized the creation of State Experiment Stations, patented after those in Europe, the first one being organized in
Connecticut.  This was again a partnership with the state, and organized primarily to focus on the research needs of agriculture in the area.  The State Board of Agriculture advocated for the establishment of a Station in Vermont, connected to the College of Agriculture, and the legislature authorized its establishment in 1886.  The Federal Smith-Lever Act of 1914 authorized the establishment of the Extension Service, again a partnership with the State of Vermont and the College of Agriculture.  Further enhancement of agricultural education in public schools happened with the passage of the federal Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.  The State School of Agriculture was created at Randolph in 1910, in recognition of the needs for applied educational training.  UVM’s role as a Land Grant was questioned until the arrival of aggressive and committed leadership of Dean Hills and Carrigan, and the establishment of the Extension Service. 


A lot has changed, so the saying goes.  While there is a so-called renaissance in agriculture in Vermont, there is also an increased interest in and attention to agricultural education, at all levels.  New support organizations are being established from time to time, to address producer concerns.  Farm to School programs, food hubs, Farm to Plate initiates inspire a younger generation of existing and potential farmers. Programs at private colleges as well as State Colleges and the University College of Agriculture continue to attract new entrants interested in agriculture, the practical or applied, and the scientific.

In light of these needs and the costs associated with education and research, the role of the Land Grant is being challenged both in Vermont as well as in other States.   Some have suggested (see the Land Grant Institution in the 21st Century by Michael Martin) that the Land Grants must address three questions: 1) what can Land Grant colleges do best in light of 21st Century realities of costs and funding; 2) how can they best create partnerships and collaborative alliances; and 3) how can the public be persuaded that these investments are worthy of support?

A study funded by the Vermont Department of Education in 2010 (See Growing Jobs Vermont Style), recommended a number of options, going forward, to address agricultural educational needs in Vermont.  Some of the suggestions include having public and private institutions, to include the community college, partnering around a food based mission; clustering educational hubs around the Career Centers; having a curriculum on sustainable agriculture for High Schools such as the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems has done at the University of Wisconsin; providing internships; increasing the collaborative model like that established with the 2 plus 2 program; having a middle college such as in Europe for an associate degree; and expanding life-long learning opportunities and establishing certificate programs..   While many of these are already being implemented or discussed, it will take continued enlightened leadership at all levels to “break down silos” around new initiatives to include collaborative models.


It is an exciting time in Vermont.  There continues to be growth in value added agriculture with new initiatives and with products from the land and animals.  Vermont is becoming known for its food systems.  There has also been an expansion of educational opportunities in agriculture at all levels to include farm to school programs, business incubators, farm viability, food hubs, technical training, and other venues to include the Colleges (public and private), and the University.  Vermont Technical College has developed and is offering a Bachelor of Science Program in diversified agriculture. The University of Vermont has selected Food Systems as one of its “Spires of Excellence”(See Fogel, Knodell, and Grasso memo to faculty, staff, and students of April 16th, 2010).  This is an extraordinary opportunity for the University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to build those collaborative models with VTC and others institutions in order to have a vibrant and sustainable model for education and research and educational outreach in Vermont.  Food Systems do touch every part of our State and its people, and success requires the engagement of many critical partners, both private and public. Many have argued the status quo approach to education and research is not sustainable.  Changes are needed, and new paradigms of collaboration must be explored.

Next year, 2012, is the one hundred and fifty year anniversary of the historic passage and signing of the Land Grant Act in 1862.  It could be another lasting tribute to the memory of Vermont’s late Senator Justin Morrill if a functional and operative collaborative educational and research model around food systems in Vermont could be announced at that time.  It should be a model that involves many partners, public and private, and other Colleges and Institutions.  It is a wonderful opportunity for such a celebration, the one hundred fifty years since the passage, and it should not be lost.


  • The Vermont of Today by Arthur F. Stone, Vol. 1 and II, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc. NY 1929.
  • The Grange in Vermont by Guy B. Horton and Henry A. Stoddard, and Harold J. R. Stillwell, The Crowles Press, St. Johnsbury, 1968
  • Justin Smith Morrill by William Belmont Parket, Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1924
  • “Agricultural Education and Extension in Vermont” by Robert Sinclair in The University of Vermont, The First Two Hundred Years by Robert D. Daniels, Senior Edition, UVM, 1991.
  • A History of Agricultural Education in the United States, 1785-1925, Alfred Charles True, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1929.
  • Address to Vt. State Agricultural Society and Wool Growers’ Association at its Annual Fair at Burlington, Sept. 16, 1869 by Honorable Luke P. Poland,
  • Growing a Nation, The Story of American Agriculture,
  • The U.S. Agricultural Society, 1852-60, Agricultural History 1937 by Agricultural History Society
  • New York Times, Sept. 5, 1866, “Fair of New England and the Vermont Agricultural Society.”
  • Address to the New England Agricultural Society by John A. Andrew, Governor of Massachusetts, at Hampden Park, Springfield, Ma. Sept. 9, 1864.
  • Agricultural Societies What They Are and What They Have Done, by William Brewer in Connecticut Board of Agricultural Annual Report, 1880-1886.
  • A History of Farmer Institutes by Jeffrey W. Moss and Cynthia B. Lass, from Agricultural History, Vol. 62, No. 2, Spring 1988, Agricultural History Society.
  • Growing Jobs Vermont Style: Skills and Knowledge for Vermont’s “Sustainable Food System Cluster” and Natural Resources, May 2010 for the Vermont Department of Education by Regional Technology Strategies Inc. (Stuart Rosenfeld).
  • The Role of the Land Grant Institution in the 21st Century, August 2004, James E. Sherwood, Dean, University Extension, UC Berkeley.
  • The Land Grant University in the 21st Century by Michael V. Martin, Journal of Agriculture and Applied Economics, August 2001.
  • The Cultivator, A Monthly Journal; Devoted to Agriculture, Horticulture, Floriculture, New Series, Vol. IV, Albany, NY, 1847
  • “How to Make College Cheaper by Schumpeter, in the Economist”, July 9-15, 2011.
  • Rural Vermont, A Program for the Future, The Vermont Commission on Country Life, Burlington, 1931.
  • Berkshire Agricultural Society in Encyclopedia of American Education, March 16, 2011.
  • Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Justin S. Morrill, February 22, 1899, delivered in the Senate and House of Representatives, Fifty-Fifth Congress, Third Session, Government Printing Office, D.C. 1899.
  • Transdisciplinary Research Initiative-The Spires of Excellence, communication to UVM Faculty, Staff, and Students, Office of the President, April 16, 2010
  • History of Vermont, Vol. Four, by Walter Hill Crockett, The Century History Company, N.Y., 1921.
  • Eighth Vermont Agricultural Report, State Board of Agriculture, 1883-84.

ANSWER TO LAST TRIVIA QUESTION:  Question:  How long did Justin Morrill serve as a Member of Congress, and what are some other things he accomplished besides passage of the Land Grant Act?

Answer:  Justin Morrill served as a member of the U.S. Congress from 1854 until 1898, thirty-four years.  His desire was to see Washington as one of the most beautiful capitals of the world.  He was largely responsible for the erection of the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress building.  He also was responsible for funds to hire Frederick Law Olmstead, the great landscape gardener, to improve the grounds of the Capital.  He is also known for the Tariff Act that helped to finance the North in the Civil War.

NEXT BLOG POSTING:  Historical significance of agriculture’s contribution to tourism in Vermont

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who was the first Commissioner of Agriculture for Vermont to promote agricultural tourism?

Edition No. 11, July 30, 2012