The County Agent’s Kitchen is the premier public relations program of the Alabama Association of County Agricultural Agents and Specialists. As an annual event since 1969, the County Agent’s Kitchen promotes Alabama Cooperative Extension System agricultural programming to the County Commissioners and administrative staffs across Alabama. During what has evolved into a luncheon and breakfast event at the annual meeting of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama, County Agents and Specialists from across Alabama serve Alabama grown products while showcasing educational programs focused on agricultural and forestry production. The County Agent’s Kitchen continues to highlight agricultural education and the work Extension and AACAAS does to our counties most influential decision makers.
The County Agent’s Kitchen began as the “Country Kitchen” at the annual meeting of Judges and Commissioners in Birmingham on June 19 & 20, 1969. The first Country Kitchen was planned under the direction of Past President, F.D. Robinson as the events first Chairman and under the leadership of Gene S. Sessions, President AACAA 1969. (AACAA President Gene S. Sessions’ 1969 President’s Report) Since the first Country Kitchen actually occurred in June following the Annual Meeting, Mr. O.C. Helms provided the Association’s leadership for the event as current President. According to AACAA President’s O.C. Helm’s Report of 1969-70 presented at the 22nd Annual Meeting – The Battle House, Mobile, Alabama, the Country Kitchen was conducted…with the cooperation of our administrative staff, officers and directors and other helpers from the four Extension Districts. Producers, processors and distributors of Alabama grown farm products cooperated generously and cheerfully in providing needed products for this event. It opened the door to another opportunity for us to keep our county programs before these important people through our contributions each month to their official publication, “Mr. County Commissioner”. Also serving as the Association’s Policy Committee Chairman, Mr. F.D. Robinson also thanked all the members of the association that helped with the new project for the county commission—“The Country Kitchen.” (Report of Association Policy Committee 1969)
According to the AACAAS historical record, the first Country Kitchen was a great success and only strengthened the relationships between county officials and County Agents; county commissioners and county Extension offices; all across the State of Alabama. The success can be contributed to the planning. During that first year, Country Kitchen Dues for current members were established to go along with the membership dues. According to the 1970 Membership Report, 190 members paid annual dues and 157 paid Country Kitchen dues. District I lead in the number of member dues and District IV lead in the number of Country Kitchen dues. The member buy in coupled with the strong support from the agricultural community provided the basis for a successful first Country Kitchen. The success continued and in 1974 a few changes were on the horizon.
The 1974 AACAA Relationship Committee chaired by Charles B. Vickery was very active according to the committee’s report of 1974, Gulf Shores Annual Meeting of AACAA. Members of the committee present at that meeting included Mr. Vickery (AACAA President 1978), Lloyd P. Owens, Vice Chairman, T.L. Bass, B.B. Fields, Cecil Miller (AACAA President 1981), Paul Moore, Jess Walton, and W.L. Deakle. This group provided the membership an extensive list of recommendations in their Committee report dated June 12-14, 1974 resulting from a survey of their committee members, officers, and directors conducted by the group in April of that year. Among this list of recommendations was one that proposed a change in the name of the Country Kitchen to the “County Agents Kitchen”. All of those surveyed by the group supported the name change and it was made official at the 1974 AACAA Annual Meeting. They also recommended that members pay for all of the expenses of the County Agents Kitchen rather than ask for donations from other organizations and that more Agents be involved in the Kitchen. They further recommended that a publication be printed about “Cooperative Extension Service” and distributed to the Commissioners as they visit. The committee suggested that napkins and/or plates be imprinted with “Alabama Association of County Agricultural Agents” and that a committee be appointed to set up Guidelines for the County Agents Kitchen. Finally the committee recommended that photographs used in County Commissioner Magazine be framed and placed on the walls of County Agents Kitchen each year.
Fast forward to today and we find the County Agents Kitchen has maintained much of the tradition established by these early AACAA(S) leaders. As current AACAAS members we still value the service and sharing of a meal we provide to the County Commissioners in an effort to keep our county programs before these important people. Although the printed publications about Cooperative Extension Service have evolved into electronic presentations, the methodology of building and maintaining strong relationships is still sound today. Relationships that allow our Regional and County Extension Educators to continue to provide research-based, relevant, and timely information to agricultural clientele all across our State is still the purpose and mission of the County Agents Kitchen.
Jim G. Todd
County Agents Kitchen Chair, 2004-2009