Harris County, Texas A&M AgriLife

Harris County Cooperative Extension Services

How Harris County CES is positioned at the national, state, regional, and city levels:

Demographic Categories Texas Statewide
Black/African: 11.99%
Asian: 4.51%
White: 74.62%
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 0.09%
Native Alaskan/Native American: 0.48%
Two or more races: 2.56%
Other race: 5.76%
Median age: 34.2
Total Population: 29,087,070

Cooperative Extension Services (CES) have a unique history for educating communities around the world by constructing bridges between research conducted at land-grant institutions and the needs that that knowledge can answer.  Thus, CES has experience in building relationships with any business, agency, and community through various engagement models.

CES in Harris County, TX, in the Greater Houston area, relies on community connections to open doors to opportunities by providing services to people. Programming consists of collaborations with organizations whose goals relate to the education of people and/or clientele. These relationships allow CES the opportunity to meet people where they’re at, a very valuable skill.

With a population of over 4.3+ million people, approximately twenty-one cities within Harris County, and twenty school districts, volunteers are key to CES operations, and Extension focuses on their mobilization.

In such a highly populated area, the visibility of Extension services in the community is critical, and there are several diverse strategies utilized:

  • Providing strong program interpretation to stakeholders
  • Conducting programs in central, easily accessible locations
  • Offering multiple options for program participation
  • Engaging partners with robust, on the ground relationships that serve their needs as well as Extension’s
  •  Recognizing volunteers and program participants for their work

How Harris County CES address the multitude of issues and priorities in their community through educational programming:

Harris County Extension implements educational programming that is relevant to urban issues and attracts minority and under-served audiences.  One example of this focus is the Sustainable Communities Project.

The program is highly relevant to Harris County, which is one of the nation’s most populated areas, thick with commercial buildings, roads, businesses, and residential neighborhoods. In such an urban community, the National Geographic Society reports that “most inhabitants… have nonagricultural jobs.”  It is not surprising, then, that youth in Harris County have little information about or exposure to urban agriculture, which could serve to lessen the impact on residents of the food deserts that exist in several pockets of the county, limiting access to affordable and quality food.

The Sustainable Communities Project is conducted at two college preparatory schools within two Houston food deserts, and is designed to provide educational programming to urban youth, offering them trainings and activities over a period of five years.  The purpose is to connect youth and STEM, agriculture, and agri-business through opportunities to explore various career fields in agriculture, life sciences, health, and community sustainability, thereby improving their college readiness.

How Harris County CES attracts, develops, retains, and structures competent talent:

In order to achieve the above goals, Harris County found it necessary to adjust staffing positions, job descriptions and their pattern to meet urban needs.  The list below describes the personnel necessary to attain the objectives previously described, as well as their responsibilities.

  • County Extension Director.  Goal: To oversee all project operations
  • County Extension Agent – Urban Youth Development. Goal: To provide day-to-day leadership and guidance, assisting with coordinating and monitoring all project activities. Also responsible for relationship-building between school faculty and staff, parents, and youth participants. This position was adjusted to ensure the needs of the schools were met. This agent also provides reports, oversees the budget, and collects evaluations and program aide trainings for the project.
  • Extension Program Aide. Goal: To assist with project operations; provide on-site representation and implementation of activities. This position was adjusted to meet the operational needs of school gardens.
  • County Extension Agent – Family and Community Health.  Goal:  To coordinate events and activities around food and nutrition, and to organize family events to incorporate parental involvement.
  • County Extension Agent – 4-H & Youth Development (Agriculture & Livestock).  Goal: To coordinate programs such as:  ‘Ag in the Classroom,’ ‘Egg to Chick,’ and entomology-focused activities.

How Harris County CES collaborates to leverage resources for collective impact:

The programming described above requires that Harris County Extension engage with new and different kinds of partners in their community, which requires identifying unique opportunities to provide memorable educational experiences through such collaboration.

One such partnership is with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, where students tour exhibits and are assigned an Agricultural Scavenger Hunt to gain a greater understanding of the Texas Agricultural system.

Another example is the Finca Tres Urban Farm, where students undertake the Agricultural Immersion Tour. They are then provided a presentation on food sustainability and urban farming, and are offered a tour of the farm grounds. Students shadow farm volunteers and staff, harvest fresh produce, and prepare lunch with the items chosen.

A third example of CES partnerships is that of their work with the Prairie View A&M University.  The institution offers an Ag Field Day, where students attend presentations by College of Agriculture and Human Sciences staff to gain knowledge of ag-related career options and opportunities offered at the university. Students tour the campus and attend a demonstration delivered by a Farm Research Specialist.

And lastly, there’s the relationship between Harris County Extension and McGovern Centennial Garden, where, as part of a service project, students visit the garden sites regularly to aide horticulture staff with maintenance of the eight-acre garden.