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Southwest Virginia counties have new hort specialist

By JANE W. GRAHAM

(March 2015) Virginia Cooperative Extension has hired a horticulture specialist to serve three of the most diversified agricultural counties in the state. Suzanne Slack arrived in Carroll County, where she is stationed, in January.
She is excited to be on the new job after graduating from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in plant pathology in December 2014. She earned her bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Penn State.
The Pennsylvania native came by her interest in horticulture because of her family’s businesses. Her father’s family had a farm and her grandmother was a florist, so she has been around growing things all her life.
“My emphasis is commercial horticulture, so I will work with anyone who grows/sells plants, crops or value-added products such as wine and cider or landscaping services,” Slack explained in an e-mail. “My counties are Carroll, Grayson and Wythe and I am housed at the Carroll County Extension Office in Hillsville.”
A little over a month into her new job, the new specialist has already begun meeting people and learning about the groups she will be working with.  One of her first events was the Virginia Pumpkin Grower Association’s annual meeting in Hillsville. This was a good beginning, as her counties grow enormous numbers of decorative pumpkins for fall displays.  Many of these growers are also among the growing number of Christmas tree producers who have turned to pumpkins as a second cash crop, one that does not take several years for a return on their investment.
Slack’s own special interest is in tree fruit and she is working with the apple growers in the area this winter.  She is planning an apple pruning meeting at 1 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Matthews State Forest. A speech to the Carroll-Patrick Fruit School is on her agenda as well.
“I’d like people to know I’m here for any question about horticulture,” Slack declared in a telephone conversation.  “I want to get involved in the community, get to know the people and established growers.”
One of the ways she is doing this is through farm visits. She has worked a couple of these into her schedule despite the difficult winter weather in the higher elevations of the state.
Slack sees her new job as a learning opportunity.
“The more I can learn, the better,” she stated.