- Writer: Adam Russell, 903-834-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contact: Dr. Joe Masabni, 903-834-6191, email@example.com
OVERTON – Jerry Higgs, Flint, and Dale Johnston, Gresham, showed up at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton looking for tomatoes but left with much more.
Higgs, a 93-year-old retired nursery owner, and Johnston, an amateur onion grower, were preparing to plant their home gardens and searching for hard-to-find tomato varieties and advice for peak performance.
Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service small-acreage horticulturist at the center, ushered the two men to his greenhouse where eight standard tomato varieties were being prepared for spring planting. He provided the men with a dozen plants of each variety on the condition they report on the plants’ performances – disease and pest resistance, yield and taste – after the season.
“It’s an outreach opportunity and, in my opinion, is in the spirit of what we do at AgriLife Extension,” Masabni said. “We’re here to teach growers at all experience levels and help them throughout the season.”
Incorporating area home gardeners into variety trials he and AgriLife Extension agents utilize to learn about plant production levels under certain conditions, including soil type, climate and fertility programs followed by individual growers, helps him collect a wider range of data, Masabni said.
Masabni said plant trials help expand AgriLife Extension’s knowledge about varieties and introduce home gardeners like Higgs and Johnston to new options.
“This is a joy to visit (the center),” Higgs said. “To come here and pick up some plants and some knowledge sings to my heart.”
Meeting amateur growers like Higgs and Johnston also helps AgriLife Extension specialists like Masabni share time-tested tips, like providing phosphorus-rich fertilizer to seedlings to push early root establishment, he said. Connecting with experienced growers also expands specialists’ reach within the region they serve.
“Presentations and education events are good, but these types of interactions have a strong impact,” Masabni said. “It helps us connect with our community. They participate with information-sharing and discover a newfound appreciation for the work Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension does around East Texas and the rest of the state.”