Darrell Blackwelder: So long and thanks for everything

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 31, 2015

Throughout my career with the Cooperative Extension Service, one of my goals was to teach proper planting to conduct ongoing research test plots.

Often there were those who complained when I suggested that it was time to remove older plants and insert newer varieties, or even start a new type of garden in a former garden bed.

The moment has finally come for me to be replaced and the Cooperative Extension Service to be reconstructed as I retire to pursue other avenues.

     This is my last garden column as an Extension Agriculture Agent for The Salisbury Post as this is actually my last day of work after 34+ years with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

I began these weekly gardening columns in 1980 when I asked Linda Bailey, then managing editor at the Salisbury Post, if I could write a weekly column about horticulture and gardening related problems. With the volume of calls, monthly columns were not sufficient to answer all the questions I was receiving as a newly hired agent.

She was kind enough to give me a chance to provide weekly garden columns as a way to convey timely information. Communicating information quickly was one of our biggest challenges at that time and still remains a serious issue.

    As you can imagine, there have a multitude of changes that have taken place in Rowan County agriculture since my arrival. Tomato producers had high school students harvesting and working the summer season. Pick your own strawberries were in matted rows with overhead irrigation. Leyland cypress was a new shrub that would grow very fast to make a good, quick hedge. A new small tree, the Bradford pear, was the tree of the future with massive spring blooms and fall color.

All things come to an end or grow with use and each of these “new” and valued assets have been shed for newer and more productive alternatives or have grown to be the most utilized farm asset.

     Change is inevitable and constant, both with horticulture and Cooperative Extension. I thought the new push button phones would really streamline our method of taking calls and communicating to the public. Now, I have a voice controlled, hand held computer phone. I can instantly monitor the weather or use an app than can measure and calculate fertilizer requirements within seconds.

     Without being too cliché, change is inevitable with everything, especially horticulture. Even our organization’s name, Cooperative Extension, has officially changed three times since I began work.

However, there is one aspect of my profession that really hasn’t changed that much over the years — it’s the genuinely positive and helpful attitude of the people in Rowan County. I have really appreciated the kindness and patience of our clients throughout these years.

The support from farmers, volunteers and others is overwhelming. There were very few days when I really didn’t want to go to work. But, as my wife metaphorically reminded me, “The horticultural test plots were all about change, so is your retirement.”

     I would be amiss if I didn’t recognize Cooperative Extension volunteers, the backbone of the organization. Master Gardener Volunteers, Advisory Council members, 4-H leaders, Family and Consumer Science volunteers and County Commissioners are just of few groups that have guided me both as a horticulture agent and County Extension Director during my tenure in Rowan County.

Support from coworkers, especially during my tenure as County Extension Director has been amazing. One last special thanks also to the Salisbury Post, especially Deirdre Parker Smith and Elizabeth Cook. These ladies have allowed me the opportunity to provide information though these weekly columns and realize the true kindness of Rowan County.