Extension Office Has New Horticulture Agent!

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Article written by: Jessica Webb, The Smoky Mountain Times

Minda DaughtryThe first thing Minda Daughtry, the new horticulture agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension offices of Swain and Jackson counties, noticed when she visited my office was the row of plants soaking up the sunlight from the large window.

“This is going to be a great hanging plant,” she said of the spider plant.

“Have you had blooms on these?” she pointed to an Easter cactus, then corrected me about my Christmas cactus that is in fact a Thanksgiving cactus. Look, there are the four points, so you can remember it like a fork for Thanksgiving,” she noted.

Daughtry is a fast talker and loves sharing her knowledge and resources when it comes to plants. She comes to western North Carolina following having served as the horticulture agent in Lee County, North Carolina. While she originated on Long Island, summers were spent in Johnston County where her mother’s family is from.

Her background began in business administration, then as a paralegal before she found horticulture after taking a few community college classes. Her husband and children wondered at her interest, you kill everything, but that era is long behind her.

“I went to the classes, and I loved it, and I discovered there’s something I really got about plants,” she said. “It’s a question of knowledge, the more you know the better you can grow, that’s how I approach it with folks.”

Since her family has spent vacations in the mountains over the years, she said, the plan was always to end up in this region somewhere.

She’s looking forward to hearing from the community with their plant questions, whether it’s the backyard gardener or commercial grower.

“I’m very interested in hearing folks’ experiences and what they love about the area, what they want to do, and what’s giving them grief; about what’s not working and helping them learn the right plant, at the right place, at the right time, so they can be successful,” Daughtry said.

She’s enthused about hosting Master Gardener Program classes as well as Garden Life series programming.

“Absolutely, one thing I’m looking forward as I meet people is creating educational programs for the consumer and commercial grower,” she said.

Daughtry encourages people to call with their questions and said she wants to be a familiar face.

County Extension Director Rob Hawk said it’s good to have a horticulture agent on staff again to serve the county.

“Horticulture and plant agriculture, the agribusiness, is so important in both Jackson and Swain counties with specialty crops tomatoes, strawberries and the backyard and kitchen gardener and helping these folks continue the practice and heritage of gardening here,” Hawk said.

Daughtry described the local climate as a warm, wet hug, one that has its own challenges for growers in the form of pests and fungal diseases, among others.

Plus, Hawk said, there are a lot of microclimates here in the mountains, which allows for the ability to grow different things but also to bring challenges.

“We try to bring the latest, researched-based information from the N.C. State University,” Hawk said when it comes to solutions. “We work with conventional growers and organic growers; we work with all the different ones.”

To reach Daughtry, call the Swain County Extension Office at (828) 488-3848 or email at minda_daughtry@ncsu.edu.

Check out Extension news articles weekly, in the The Smoky Mountain Times.