Tennessee Plant Sciences Faculty Receive Award for COVID-19 Communication

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Southern Region of the American Society for Horticultural Science Recognizes Timely Extension Publication

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Two University of Tennessee Department of Plant Sciences faculty earned the Blue Ribbon Extension Communication Award from the Southern Region of the American Society for Horticultural Science for their publication Operation of a Garden Center During the COVID-19 Pandemic. The project was led by Amy Fulcher, an associate professor and Extension specialist, and supported by several colleagues across the UT Institute of Agriculture, including  Annette Wszelaki, plant sciences professor and Extension specialist; Megan Leffew, Center for Profitable Agriculture Extension specialist; and Margarita Velandia, professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

“I try to approach my work holistically, says Fulcher. “A pandemic is an extraordinary circumstance, and, as an Extension specialist, I saw the opportunity to provide assistance in a way I never had before. Garden centers were fortunate to be considered essential businesses, and the need for resources geared toward helping them operate safely was great.”

Fulcher’s colleagues were also ready to contribute. “As an Extension specialist working in food safety, much of my outreach overlapped with Dr. Fulcher’s project. I focus on farm worker health and hygiene, keeping surfaces clean, and making sure policies and procedures are in place if employees get sick. We all came together to help our stakeholders,” says Wszelaki.

The publication stemmed from a webinar series hosted by the Center for Profitable Agriculture. Fulcher explains, “The webinar hosted garden center owners from across the nation to assist in creating best practices during the COVID-19 outbreak. Afterwards, there were so many questions. I realized information shared during the webinar could assist many businesses.”

The horticultural industry in Tennessee has done well through these extenuating circumstances. “Many garden centers did even better in 2020 than the previous year, and 2019 was generally a very strong year for the green industry. During the pandemic, outdoor do-it-yourself projects and gardening became even more popular than they already were. Now, garden centers are trying to sustain the public’s interest in horticulture,” Fulcher comments.

There are encouraging attitude changes during COVID-19 according to Wszelaki. “People care more about who is handling their food and from where it is sourced. I am sure many found a new passion for gardening and local foods that will remain.”

“I am very fortunate that Tennessee’s horticulture industry is incredibly giving. All I have to do is ask, and I am given resources and access. Garden center owners make their days longer to contribute to my projects and lift up others in their industry, which may even be their competition. They are true leaders,” Fulcher says crediting businesses’ generosity.

The Blue Ribbon Award recognizes Extension communications based on the creators’ connection to audience, purpose for writing, and quality of content. The Southern Region of the ASHS feature member publications concerning the improvement of the field of horticulture.

“There are so many excellent publications out there, and it is a privilege to be recognized,” comments Wszelaki.

“It is an absolute honor to have publications selected by my peers for the Blue Ribbon Award. I am grateful to be a member of the ASHS and for the work of my co-authors,” says Fulcher.

Fulcher also led the creation of A Green Industry Guide to Plant Patents and Other Intellectual Property Rights, supported by Lauren Fessler, an Extension assistant in the Department of Plant Sciences, and Tammy Stackhouse, a former Extension program assistant. This publication also received a Blue Ribbon Award.

“Dr. Fulcher, along with her colleagues, continues to provide high-quality, relevant and impactful materials for the horticulture industry. It is impressive, yet not surprising, that two articles led by her efforts have been chosen by her peers. Her commitment and passion for serving the horticulture industry certainly shine through in these materials,” says Scott Senseman, plant sciences department head.

The ASHS is an international professional society and promotes research and education in all branches of horticulture, including the breeding, propagation, production and management, harvesting, handling and storage, processing, marketing, and use of plants.

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Media Contact

Jake Nelson

Department of Plant Sciences