Ten Years and Still Kicking! - June 11, 2008
Jeff Schalau, Associate Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
It’s been 10 years since I first started writing the weekly Backyard Gardener column for Larson Newspapers in Sedona and the Verde Valley. That’s well over 500 columns. It’s not that difficult to come up with fresh ideas. It’s often more challenging to find the time. However, I can honestly say that I have learned a lot from writing and researching topics for the Backyard Gardener and I hope it’s helpful or insightful to its readers.
I actually inherited the Backyard Gardener from my predecessor, Deborah Young. She was the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Yavapai County for about 10 years prior to my appointment in 1998. For those that remember Deb, she has advanced her career quite a bit since she left Yavapai County. She was an administrator with the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension and is currently the Director of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
Over the past 10 years, the Backyard Gardener has provided me with satisfaction in my work. As an Extension Agent, I try to provide science-based information to my constituents. In 2001, I created the Backyard Gardener website and I view the website as a repository for my past work and a way to continue engagement with the public. Many Arizonans find me through the website, but in recent years, there have been several national inquiries. These are opportunities to learn about other places and teach the person inquiring about their local Cooperative Extension resources.
The creative process is not always easy. I get some column ideas from trade publications, scientific journals, Science News, and Extension publications from Arizona and other states. Plagiarism is sometimes a concern, but thankfully, among Extension Agents it’s the highest form of compliment. Not that I steal other author’s material word for word, but I do get many ideas from others. I’d also like to think that some people use my columns as fodder for their writing too.
As longtime readers know, I don’t always write about gardening. Sometimes, I try to impart a more holistic view of the place we live and the natural resources that make it such a special place. Other times, I get on one of my many soapboxes which include science literacy, natural resource stewardship, invasive species, native plants and wildlife, “learning to love insects”, drought, water conservation, and sustainability.
A few columns are also travel logs. I remember writing about a visit to Wendell Berry’s Farm in Kentucky (the August 2, 2006 column). For me, it was an epiphany and I was moved to write about it. While attending a conference in Madison, Wisconsin this past May, I visited Aldo Leopold’s “Sand County” Farm and sat in “the shack” where he spent weekends with his family. I was similarly moved, but have not yet found the words to express it. I am currently rereading some of his writings and will likely write about Leopold and his ideas soon.
A friend told me once that she really needed my column to “tell her what to do in her garden and when to do it”. I knew then and there that I had failed her. I have written such things, but the older I get, the better I know there is no single solution to any given problem. If I always told readers exactly what to do, then I would certainly limit their creativity and probably hinder their growth as a gardener. Besides, how many great discoveries have arisen from simple “mistakes”?
Over the past 10 years, the Backyard Gardener has given me satisfaction and inspiration. While I’ve tried to provide answers to various questions, I’ve also learned many things from readers. I sincerely thank Larson Newspapers and their readers for having me. By the way, I’m not going anywhere – you are stuck with me.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on gardening and pest control. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 ext. 14 or E-mail us at email@example.com and be sure to include your address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or submit column ideas at the Backyard Gardener web site: http://cals.arizona.edu/yavapai/anr/hort/byg/.
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Last Updated: June 5, 2008
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