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Diary of a University of Idaho Extension Horticulturist

One Week

Story by Ariel Agenbroad ’05, ’07
Photo by Pam Benham

we all find ourselves being asked: “What do you do for a living?” Sure, I have my elevator speech: “I am a horticulture educator with University of Idaho Extension in Canyon County. As UI Extension faculty, we work with Idaho residents to tackle youth, community, family, environmental, natural resource, and agricultural issues through our land-grant mission of teaching, research, and extension.” But, already, even my eyes glaze over. And is that really what I do?

It’s hard to describe UI Extension work. To reach our audiences when it’s convenient for them, we work nights, weekends, even holidays. We plan, teach, train, facilitate, write, research, evaluate and report, connecting with hundreds,  if not thousands of people every year directly. Hop in my station wagon! Join me on a weeklong virtual UI Extension “ride along.” I chose a particularly busy week last February.

President’s Day. 
A paid holiday. My night to teach our Treasure Valley Living on the Land class  in Meridian, and the participants’ soil test results are back from the lab! Fellow         educator and course organizer Stephanie Etter will be there, too. She’s worked every President’s Day since 2005! We spend the evening on soil science basics and  discuss the most suitable crops, pasture, or garden plants.

I’m in my Caldwell office, responding to e-mails, finishing up tomorrow’s lecture for my Master Gardeners-in-training and developing an outline for my bi-annual Dig In! newsletter. I submit ideas for a summer 4-H gardening day camp and search files for photos for a March talk on edible landscaping at Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge.

At 4 p.m, I head for Farmway Village, nearby housing originally intended for migrant farm workers. Colleague Nancy Shelstad and I teach gardening for a weekly 4-H afterschool program: 12 to 24 children come, all from Hispanic backgrounds, some with limited English. We use hands-on activities from the Junior Master Gardener curriculum, chosen by two of our newest certified JMG volunteers. What would we do without them?

I arrive at the office to find our amazing Canyon County staff has set up tables and chairs for me. From 9 to noon, I’m in class with my newest “crop” of Master Gardeners. We’ll meet for 16 weeks before they start their volunteer service, answering consumer gardening questions and putting new skills to work in their communities. They keep me on my toes.

Next comes a call to plan the 2012 National Small Farms Conference in Tennessee. Afternoon, it’s home to see my always-supportive husband, James. I’m back at 6 p.m. for our final Backyard Poultry Class with organizer Stephanie Etter. I’ve been a student here: Tonight I teach “Fowl Play in the Garden”—how to protect gardens from chickens and how to compost manure—almost 100 pounds per bird per year!

It’s going to be another long day away from home, so my Sheltie Oliver joins me and naps while I catch up on e-mails, return phone calls, brainstorm with a small-acreage landowner on potential enterprises, and take a walk. 5 p.m. Nampa.

Our Idaho Victory Garden series. This 6-week class readies 50 participants to economically plan, plant, harvest, and preserve more of their own food at home. Advanced Master Gardener volunteers help teach seed starting and raised bed gardening. Two class members in electric wheelchairs are thrilled that raised-bed gardens could get them growing again. Head home by 10 p.m.

Out early, I pick up doughnuts and get to Camille Beckman Factory’s small orchard in Eagle by 8:30. We’ve asked Essie Fallahi, pomologist from the UI Parma Research and Extension Center, to teach regional Master Gardeners a fruit class and demonstrate pruning. Also invited: our current Living on the Land, Backyard Poultry, and Victory Garden students. Essie does a tremendous job, and the crowd is happy. By late afternoon we all head home to thaw.

Morning. I meet Katie Painter, a Living on the Land alumni who coordinates Global Gardens for Idaho’s Office for Refugees. We partner on a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant project, training refugee farmers about horticulture and marketing. Enroute, I purchase meat thermometers, which work surprisingly well for soil, and join Katie and 12  refugee students at a Boise community garden. We talk about cool vs. warm weather crops and why temperature is so important for sprouting seeds.

Thanks for coming along on the ride. When I feel that I’m helping my community learn and grow and I’m sharing our university with people from every walk of life, my work is truly meaningful to me.

There is never time to be bored. We need to spread the word! See for yourself at and share with others.

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