Many readers might not be current on the Kentucky Extension Homemaker Association.

I have known about Homemakers my entire life. My grandmother was very involved in this organization when I was growing up. I am not sure she would recognize it today if she were still with us, and she would be so pleased about that.

The week of Oct. 11 through 17 is Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association Week and I thought it would be appropriate to write about the Homemakers.

Homemakers in Kentucky began in the early 1900s with the purpose to educate and connect rural women through demonstration or "tomato" clubs. It began in 1912, when UK made contact with farm women to organize clubs. The contact methods included a demonstration train that carried staff and lecturers and made stops to do demonstrations. Then came the "movable" schools that brought three-to-four day educational events to rural women.

In 1913, county extension workers were organized to work with these women on (canning), clothing construction, health and sanitation.

By the end of 1925, many counties had local Homemaker groups. By 1932, 24 county groups unified in the Kentucky Federation of Homemakers. The dues were 2 cents per member. It eventually rose to 5 cents and in 1958, they raised it to a whopping 15 cents.

There were four original standing committees – membership, publicity, reading and citizenship. By contrast, there are now eight, as revised in 2001 - 4-H Youth Development; cultural arts and heritage; environment, housing and energy; family and individual development; food, nutrition and health; international; leadership development; and management and safety.

The Homemakers of my youth, and my grandmother’s time, have greatly expanded their scope. Many of the issues and programs they offer today would have simply been unheard of.

The Homemakers today are still closely associated with the UK Cooperative Extension Service. In fact, in 1974, they officially changed their name to the Kentucky Extension Homemakers and today are in 119 of the 120 counties in the state. A big change: Men are welcome in the clubs today, which would never have been the case in 1912.

If you think the Extension Homemakers are still only groups of stay-at-home housewives, you have another think coming. While some members may still fit that mold, many are professionals who enjoy the comradery and programs the Homemakers offer.

The Homemakers have been instrumental in bringing awareness across the state to ovarian cancer testing and screenings. They donate thousands of dollars each year to various scholarships. A major part of their programming every year is focused on leadership and its development in them as individuals.

This is not to say you still cannot find a Homemaker class on food, but today it may well be on seafood or 15 different grains as opposed to canning tomatoes. But those classes could still be arranged if there is a demand for them.

Another large part of being an Extension Homemaker today is public and community service. In the 2019-20 fiscal year alone, the Boyd County Homemakers volunteered and worked in our community 9,652 hours, which included several months under COVID-19 restrictions or it would have been a much higher number.

They volunteered for many different groups and activities, including but certainly not limited to: decorating the Highlands Museum for Christmas; making more than 1,200 handmade cloth masks for KDMC when COVID-19 first hit; judging 4-H events such as speech and demonstrations; and the on-going multi-year project of making mats out of plastic bags for the less fortunate in our community, along with many more programs too numerous to list here.

A small sample of the plan of work for this year includes:  

• Cultural Arts Committee — Learning fabric weaving;

• International Committee — Making eco-bricks with plastic bottles;

• Food, Nutrition and Health Committee — Get Up and Get Moving;

• County programs — Back pack program with school resource centers, sponsor a veteran on an honor flight, Build-a-Bed project, and many, many more.

As you can see, the Extension Homemakers have come a long way in their scope and programming areas since those first tomato canning clubs were started in the early 20th century.

The local Homemakers clubs, of which there are six in Boyd County, meet monthly for, in normal times, a meal and always a lesson of their choosing. Educational programs are offered each month, some for Homemakers members, but many are open to the public and sponsored by the Homemakers.

There are typically two types of these programs open to anyone who would like to attend. One is taught monthly by FCS Extension agents from other counties on set topics. Others are taught by qualified persons recruited by the local Homemakers to teach on topics that they have an interest in.

Last year, programs on new and different healthy ingredients and recipes was a running theme, and they asked me to teach several of them. They included: Grains – where I cooked and they tasted recipes made with 15 different grains; Wild Game – several recipes were made with various game, including duck, venison, rabbit, etc.; and a favorite of mine – non-traditional fruits and vegetables.

A few classes, canceled because of COVID-19 but sure to appear in the future, include legumes — different legumes were to be cooked and recipes made with them; and rice — multiple types of rice and recipes were to be offered.

As a person who likes good food and fellowship, I must say that two of my favorite meetings each year are the annual Homemakers Banquet and their county Christmas party. These ladies know how to put on a good feed, as my grandfather would have said, and have a tremendous amount of fun doing it.

For more information about the extension homemakers, call your local extension office. In Boyd County, call (606) 739-5184.

LYNDALL HARNED is Boyd County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

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