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This year, you are invited to participate in a celebration — actually two simultaneous celebrations. The first is a centennial. One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act creating Cooperative Extension. Part of each state’s land-grant university, Cooperative Extension  was envisioned as a nationwide system of community-based education. Initially operating in rural areas, Cooperative Extension programs now serve urban and suburban communities, too.

The University of California is a land-grant university. The first campus, in Berkeley, had a strong agricultural focus. In 1907, the university established a research farm that became the UC Davis campus, and the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside, the foundation for the UC campus there.

Counties wanting to participate in Cooperative Extension had to allocate funding for it. They also had to organize farmers into farm bureaus. Each community would get a farm adviser to work with the Farm Bureau. In 1913, its farm adviser in place, Humboldt County became the first county to join Cooperative Extension. Seven more counties, including Napa, joined the partnership in 1914.

UC Cooperative Extension is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. It encompasses 200 Cooperative Extension advisors, 130 specialists, 57 county offices and nine research and extension centers. The Master Gardener program, including the active Napa Valley branch, operates under the purview of UC Cooperative Extension.

Farm adviser Dean Donaldson organized the U.C.C.E. Master Gardeners of Napa County in 1995. The group will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year. It continues to expand outreach to home gardeners in Napa County.

Napa County has been agriculturally important since before it became a county in 1850. Grain was the main crop while California was still part of Mexico, with wheat grown along the Napa River. By 1880, Napa County produced wheat, barley, wool, wine and fruit and shipped these crops across the country. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated 500,000 fruit and nut trees in the valley, including apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, olives, almonds and walnuts. At the time, prunes and grapes were the largest crops.

The Hartley walnut and boysenberry, both developed in Napa Valley, are stars of our county’s agricultural history. John Hartley emigrated from England to California in 1884, moving to Napa in 1904. He purchased land with Persian walnuts, known for producing large crops of heart-shaped walnuts with mild flavor. At the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, judges awarded the walnut a medal for exceptional quality and named it the Hartley walnut.

In the 1920s, Rudolf Boysen experimented with crossing various berries. In 1923, he crossed a blackberry with a loganberry and a raspberry to create the boysenberry. In the 1930s, Boysen sold the rights to his fruit to Walter Knott in Southern California, who later would found Knott’s Berry Farm. The fruit was first sold commercially in 1935.

To celebrate the centennial, you are invited to participate in a science project. On May 8, the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, Cooperative Extension invites all Californians to become citizen scientists for a day and help collect scientific data.  

To participate, simply look around your home or workplace and record your observations on any or all of these three questions: How many pollinators do you see? How do you conserve water? Where is food grown in your community?

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To record your observations, visit


Napa County Master Gardeners will lead a workshop on “Container Gardening and Succulents” on Saturday, May 17, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at the Senior Multi-Use Center, 2185 Elliott Drive, American Canyon. Grow gardens that are mobile. Discover the best containers, soil and locations for your plants to prosper. Gain confidence to work with unfamiliar types of plants.

Napa County Master Gardeners ( answer gardening questions, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.

Napa County Master Gardeners welcome the public to visit their demonstration garden at Connolly Ranch on Thursdays, from 10 a.m. until noon, except the last Thursday of the month. Connolly Ranch is at 3141 Browns Valley Road at Thompson Avenue in Napa. Enter on Thompson Avenue.

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