Jennifer Davidson knows it takes more than just a green thumb to thrive in today's Extension environment. Her work as an ANR agent in Muscogee County isn't limited to answering questions about plants and heading up the Master Gardner program. It also involves being a leader in Columbus, Georgia's "green industry," a burgeoning group of ag-based organizations that run the gamut from professional landscapers to environmental outreach non-profits.
"Working with groups like Trees Columbus, Keep Columbus Beautiful, Columbus State University's Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, and the Columbus Botanical Gardens requires collaborative skills," Jennifer said. "You have to know how to work with different groups to achieve a common goal. I do a lot of grant writing, and a lot of informal communication with groups in Columbus that have environmental education or conservation as their mission. When there is such limited staff, funding, and time for everyone, collaboration is the key to getting a project done and having the most impact."
Jennifer learned to work together with others at a young age by helping her neighbor and grandparents in Eufaula, Alabama with their home gardens. When it came time to choose a major at Auburn University, the friendly, close-knit feeling of the horticulture department drew her in. "I'd considered biology, or botany," she recalls, "but the 'hort' people were so sweet, like a family." She went on to get her Master's in Horticulture from Auburn, in part so she could qualify to work with Extension.
"I was working in Atlanta doing landscaping for a high-end commercial developer, but I knew this wasn't my calling. I remembered an Extension professor I'd worked with as an undergrad and the off-the-wall questions I'd help him answer every day. I decided I wanted to do something interesting, something that would matter for my community. I wanted to work in Extension," she said.
Since starting with Extension in June of 2005, Jennifer has had plenty of opportunities to impact her community through her work with the green industry. A recent project had her writing and winning a grant to educate people on the importance of pollinators. She planted two "Perfectly Pleasing Pollinators" gardens at community sites in Columbus, arranged for interpretive signage, and held workshops on how bees and butterflies contribute to our food supply. When Jennifer realized that declining staff numbers at the gardens meant fewer experts to educate visitors about the plants, she wrote a second grant to secure portable MP3 players. Now guests can tour the gardens and listen to information about the plants they are viewing.
|Jennifer Davidson is pictured here with her 20 month old twins, Abigail Grace and James, and her 4 year old son, Ash.|
Understanding and working with technology is the rule, not the exception, in Jennifer's work with the green industry. Whether working with experts to record internet audio files about plants, or overseeing the content for a virtual online tree walk, Jennifer uses all of her talents to reach her clients, and keep her engaged with her work.
The projects she is proudest of, however, are the ones that bring her into direct contact with her neighbors, especially young people. "Sure, I get calls from people every autumn asking me why the leaves are falling off the trees," laughs Jennifer, "but I love working with my community. The things I do with my Junior Master Gardeners and with Girls, Inc. are amazing. Watching the kids grow the food and then harvest and cook it themselves…you just never know the impact that experience will have on them."
(Written by Robin Pratt, Office of Communications and Technology Services.)
Released October 2011.