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Passion for plants: Ag agent joins UT extension

Adam Watson is excited to have joined the Jonesborough community. (Photo by Marina Waters)


Staff Writer

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Adam Watson grew up exploring the backwoods of Corbin, Kentucky, surrounded by tall oak trees, honeysuckle and the occasional yellow field of goldenrod. Now the horticulturist, who has joined Washington County as a University of Tennessee Extension agriculture agent, has traded in running through the woods for adventuring through Tennessee’s oldest county helping provide information for farmers and tree enthusiasts.

“The thing that got me started with horticulture was just running through the woods as a kid and the whole native plants, that sort of thing,” Watson said. “I always found plants very interesting. I grew up on a small sheep farm, but I always just called it a hobby farm because my parents worked (away from) the farm.

“The best thing is working with people, whether it’s homeowners or farmers, applying science, finding resources they can use, that sort of thing. That’s what I like best about anything I’ve ever done and that’s basically what this job is. It’s about educating and connecting people with resources.”

Watson was added in July and has since done his share of helping locals improve their landscape and learn about new farming industries among other horticulture-related tasks, which he said is precisely what UT Extension hired him to do following his work at a food hub in Southwest Virginia.

“The food hub was essentially a place where we’d work with multiple produce farmers across central Appalachia,” Watson explained. “We had growers in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Kentucky. They would grow vegetables, pack them and bring them to us and we would redistribute them out to large wholesale buyers.

“So basically what a food hub does is allow farmers to access markets that they otherwise couldn’t on their own, whether it was because of distance or size requirements. We might have three or four farmers satisfying one order for peppers for instance. Individually they were too small to get that large order, but collectively, we were able to get that large order and get a market for them.”

In addition to offering his expertise to the community, Watson said he’s also gotten to spend a lot of time with the people here, which has convinced him there’s no shortage of kindness and hospitality throughout Tennessee’s oldest county.

“It’s great because generally when you work with farmers, you’re working with people that are doing a job because they love it,” Watson said. “Most of the time, with their work ethic and their skills, they could go make more money doing something else, sadly. But they are into farming because it’s something they love. So to be able to be a part of that and to help them achieve the success that they want is always rewarding.

“(Kindness is) in the ag community, but I think it’s in rural communities in general. They are the most welcoming folks. If I’m going out to look at something at their home, they offer me a drink. It’s just that hospitality that they offer. It is appreciated and it definitely makes you feel welcome.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Watson plans to continue introducing himself to the community with a meet and greet from 3 to 5 p.m. at the UT extension office, located at 206 W. Main St., Jonesborough.

“The biggest danger for the extension is to be the best kept secret,” Watson said. “Especially being new and having a little bit different thrust towards homeowners than in the past, we want to make sure people have the opportunity to know we’re here and use us. We are a taxpayer-funded entity, so we want folks to know we’re here and we want to be able to work with them. We want people to know I’m a resource they can utilize.”

No matter if Watson is driving to another community member’s farm or brushing up on his hemp farming information, there’s still a part of him that is that Kentucky boy wanting to share all he knows about the plants in the nearby fields and woods.

“I like horticulture because there’s diversity to it,” Watson said. “I work with farmers who are growing for farmers markets, so I’m working for those ag professionals, but I also work with folks who are really passionate about the trees in their yard. And that’s great too.

“Anytime I get to work with folks that are passionate about something, that’s always enjoyable.”