Since 1977, Lazaneo has been the UC Cooperative Extension advisor for San Diego County urban horticulture, a job aimed at educating the county’s residents about plant selection, pest control and other cultural practices that protect the environment and ensure safe and successful gardens and landscapes.
During childhood, Lazaneo tinkered in his family’s backyard gardens, first planting bean and popcorn seeds from the kitchen pantry.
“Amazingly, they grew and produced an edible crop,” Lazaneo said. “I was hooked.”
Lazaneo has faced physical challenges in his life and career. As a 17-year-old high school student experimenting with fireworks, he shook a jar of chemicals to tragic effect. An explosion took off his right hand at the wrist and most of his left hand. Lazaneo also was born with a degenerative eye disorder that resulted in lifelong deteriorating vision and blindness in 2002. However these disabilities did not bring him down.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Lazaneo took a retail nursery sales position in San Jose.
“I discovered that the thing I enjoyed the most was educating customers about plants.” Lazaneo said.
He returned to college, earning a master’s degree in horticulture and a teaching credential in vocational agriculture at UC Davis. While looking for a permanent teaching job, a serendipitous contact led him to a temporary position with UC Cooperative Extension in Sacramento County, where administrators encouraged him to pursue a career with the organization. In 1977, he successfully applied for the urban horticulture position in San Diego County.
Around this time, an idea that took shape in the state of Washington was beginning to garner interest in California: Provide gardening enthusiasts with first-class training in horticultural methods in exchange for their commitment as a Master Gardener to share that information with others in the community. Lazaneo decided to offer the volunteer program in San Diego County, the second-most populous county in the state and a location which boasts a mild climate ideal for gardening year-round.
About 120 gardeners applied for Lazaneo’s first Master Gardener class in 1983, from which he selected 32 well-qualified individuals. The volunteers underwent 16 weeks of rigorous training with Lazaneo and other UC academics, including experts in integrated pest management, soil and water management, fruit tree, and vegetable culture. All members of the first class passed the final exam. San Diego’s newly certified Master Gardeners helped staff the UC Cooperative Extension booth at the county fair and answered phone inquiries from the public about plants and pests.
The application process has been competitive each time a new class of volunteer Master Gardeners was trained. Today, more than 220 active Master Gardeners staff well over 40 educational exhibits each year, and answer 5,000 phone and email inquiries annually. Another 55 Master Gardeners will complete the training program before Lazaneo retires.
In addition to working with homeowners, the San Diego Master Gardeners have maintained an active outreach program with schools interested in providing garden-based learning to their students. A group of Master Gardeners, with Lazaneo’s oversight and editing, created an elementary school curriculum, “Plant a Seed - Watch it Grow,” and offered to serve as consultants to schools that wished to develop gardens. On May 23 the School Gardens program was awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the San Diego Science Alliance.
“Our volunteers currently consult with more than 200 schools in the county each year,” Lazaneo said.
In the last few years, the Master Gardeners have also turned attention to community gardening. They have conducted workshops on how to start community gardens and worked with other gardening groups to change zoning regulations that will give county residents more community gardens.
Lazaneo also collaborated with the horticulture department at Cuyamaca Community College in El Cajon to study vegetable varieties that are best adapted to local growing conditions, including tomatoes and asparagus. He conducted a study in cooperation with Sunset Magazine evaluating floating row cover cloth for maximizing plant growth and deterring pest damage on vegetables.
“We used the quarter-acre community college plot for 12 years,” Lazaneo said. “When we harvested surplus tomatoes, we donated them to the food bank.”
Throughout his career, Lazaneo has written a gardening column for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He said he will continue writing during his retirement. He also plans to write answers to local residents’ most frequently asked questions to post for the San Diego Master Gardener website.
In addition to these activities, Lazaneo said he looks forward to having time for growing specialty plants in his home garden and for more reading, hiking and fishing.
The Selma native was raised on a farm, where his family produced fruits and vegetables for sale at Highway 99 fruit stands. McKenry earned his degree in soil science with a biochemistry minor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 1966, where his senior project targeted the microscopic soil-borne true round worms that would shape his career.
“Very few farmers knew much about nematodes at the time,” McKenry said. However, the pest was causing serious damage and yield loss, especially when crops were replanted into previously farmed land.
After serving as a vocational agriculture teacher in Yucaipa, a town east of San Bernardino, and conducting field trials with his students, McKenry was offered the opportunity to study nematodes at UC Riverside. He obtained his Ph.D. in 1972 and was soon appointed by UC Riverside to his nematology research position at Kearney.
McKenry said his research focus changed with the times. The first two decades, he studied the movement of fumigants and other pesticides in soil, and the timing and placement for nematode congregation under trees and vines. Equally important were his activities to develop newer methods to assure that California’s nursery stocks would remain nematode-free.
“As drip systems evolved, we encouraged farmers to pay more attention to the root flush in order to be more efficient with whatever treatments they used,” McKenry said.
Increasingly stringent regulations and bans on the use of certain fumigants began to turn nematologists’ attention to reduced rates using timing and placement as well as botanically derived alternatives to synthetic products. McKenry noted an unreported biological control process under way at Kearney where certain naturally occurring fungi and bacteria were lethal to nematodes.
“We’ve been working on that for 40 years,” McKenry said. “We’re still missing pieces, but the potential and limitations are better understood.”
During this period, McKenry also developed a portable drenching system that reduced off-gassing of soil fumigants and led the way for pre-plant delivery of degradable nematicides deep into soil.
The next 20 years was the period of rootstock exploration. Grape rootstocks that had been released in the 1960s were losing their resistance to nematodes in the 1980s. McKenry and his staff evaluated as many as 1,000 potential grape rootstocks from around the world. This was followed by evaluation of 100 peach and almond rootstocks and then thousands of potential walnut rootstocks.
More recently, McKenry identified the first effective nematode treatment that in very low doses could be sprayed onto leaves of trees and vines. This new chemistry was hidden away as an insecticide. Thousands of soil samples evaluated by McKenry and his research team at UC reported that if farmers followed a few guidelines, their yields could be boosted 10 percent to 20 percent.
In all, McKenry has written more than 250 research papers, half of them in pest management manuals, the other half peer-reviewed conference proceedings, book chapters and research journals.
Even though he will retire this summer, McKenry said he plans to continue with a few special projects.
“There is so much yet to be done,” he said.
He said he also looks forward to having more time to spend at his coastal home in Cayucos while continuing his worldwide travels.
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“Rangeland has always been a passion for me – rangeland and livestock,” he said. “I like what grows there. I like the relationships. I’ve always understood it. I don’t care if it’s public land or private land, if it’s rangeland, I’m all in.”
McDougald earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from California State University, Fresno and a master’s degree in range management from UC Davis. He spent the first 10 years of his career as a rangeland manager for the Forest Service, then joined UC Cooperative Extension in 1978 as an advisor in Madera County for livestock and natural resources. He is currently also the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Madera County and the manager of the nearby San Joaquin Experimental Range.
McDougald’s family has deep roots in Madera County. On a drive from his Madera office to the San Joaquin Experimental Range, he points across the street and explains that his mother’s family donated land for the historic county courthouse, built in 1900. He discusses his family’s involvement in the local beef and timber industries. And before we arrive at the experimental range, we drive by the entrance to his family’s ranch, which has been home to seven generations of McDougalds.
“I’ve always had an interest in the ranch – and I would have come back no matter what – but I was lucky. I was able to come back to the ranch and work here in Madera too,” McDougald said. “This has been my office since the day I started working for UC Cooperative Extension.”
One of the major accomplishments in McDougald’s career has been helping to establish residual dry matter standards, which measure dry plant material left over from the current year’s growth as a way to gauge the health of rangeland.
Mel George, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Plant Sciences department at UC Davis, explained that these standards are an alternative to the range condition method, a once commonly used method, which George says didn’t work in California.
“Neil was instrumental in taking these new ideas – residual dry matter standards – to the Forest Service,” George said. “And then every federal agency of any consequence, when it comes to land management, also adopted these standards for local, state and federal lands in California.”
Today the range condition method has been replaced throughout the West with a more comprehensive set of metrics, but residual dry matter standards continue to be used by land managers in California as one way to quickly and simply evaluate rangeland, George explained.
McDougald also helped develop mountain meadow standards, determine values of rangeland loss in wildfires, and establish a system to determine livestock-carrying capacity for rural lands under the Williamson Act. These science-based standards assist in evaluating the health of rangelands and often support continued use of land for grazing.
Each year, McDougald’s seasonal routine mimics the historic movement of cattle in the area.
“In the spring, we work in annual grasslands because it’s beautiful,” he said. “And when it gets hot in the summertime, I go straight to the mountain meadows. It allows me to look at both annuals and perennials – that’s the fun part of it for me. I get to know all the cool-season plants.”
McDougald has brought this rangeland experience to address various aspects of natural resource management. In 1986, he was the first advisor assigned to work for the Integrated Hardwood Range Management Program, where his work focused on effective grazing in oak woodlands, forage production under oak canopies and monitoring grasslands. He later added a focus on rangeland water quality to his expertise, as a regional watershed advisor looking at beef cattle and pack stock. As part of a UC Cooperative Extension team, he assessed possible risks to water quality and then developed management practices to mitigate or reduce those risks.
His plans for retirement include some travel, more fishing and continuing to manage rangelands for his family’s ranch and the San Joaquin Experimental Range. The university has granted McDougald emeritus status so he will also finish up the research projects he has currently under way.
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“I was the little tag-along with my older sister until I was old enough to join, then I was a 4-H member for nine years, then a volunteer through college, and since college I have been a 4-H staff member,” Gregory said.
Gregory, the 4-H youth development advisor and county director of UC Cooperative Extension Kings County, retired Dec. 31, 2011, after 37 years of service in the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Gregory’s career started as a 4-H advisor in Kern County in 1974, after earning a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from San Diego State University. She later earned a master’s degree in education from California State University, Bakersfield. In 1991, she began working as a UC 4-H youth development advisor for Kings County and became the UC Cooperative Extension director for the county in 2004.
Carol Collar, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Kings County, described Gregory as a “very service-oriented” team player.
“Here in Kings County, the 4-H program is very highly valued. She provided excellent leadership and support to leverage volunteer resources for the 4-H program,” Collar said. “Peggy really worked at providing all youth — not just those in the traditional 4-H programs, but all youth — with essential elements in youth development.”
Gregory partnered with various organizations to provide development opportunities for youth in Kings County. One such project was Teen Teams in 2008, which trained at-risk high school students to lead fun, hands-on science activities with younger children in elementary after-school programs. Community collaborators for this program included former NFL player Dameane Douglas and Hanford police officers.
“The program was great because it gave kids who had self-esteem issues a sense of worth by telling them, ‘You're going to teach, and you're going to lead those younger kids,’” said Hanford Police Chief Carlos Mestas. “I like the fact that it brought together different groups of people who wouldn’t normally cross paths for this very, very positive program.”
Through Teen Teams and similar programs, Gregory has trained more than 50 at-risk teens to lead science projects with elementary school students in this rural community.
Gregory worked with volunteer development throughout her career, as a critical component of youth development programs and part of her career’s overarching philosophy.
“A good youth development program engages the entire community to support its youth,” she said. “You really can’t have a strong youth development program without a strong community to support it — and obviously part of that is volunteers in the community who are willing to work with young people.”
More than half of Kings County’s population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and in 2007 Gregory was the principal investigator of a project examining civic engagement in Latino communities. The project culminated in the ANR publication, “Recommendations for Working in Partnership with Latino Communities.”
Dave Campbell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in community studies with the UC Davis Human and Community Development Department, said the outcomes of the study were eye-opening.
“The project expanded the range of our thinking about different modes of engaging with the diverse communities in our state,” he said. “Peggy was really the driving force in getting this project going, and it stemmed from really deep-seated, personal and professional interest she had in the project’s questions.”
Gregory also helped create the state’s first mandatory 4-H volunteer orientation and continued to work on volunteer development and policy for 4-H throughout her career.
Though Gregory said she is taking a break from 4-H after 53 years, she has been granted emeritus status and has offered to mentor 4-H staff and volunteers.
Mahacek was an industrious youngster. In addition to participation in 4-H projects in electricity, woodworking, cooking and raising cattle, he worked on the family farm and managed a 120-home newspaper route for 6 years. His earnings from the paper route and selling the animals he raised in 4-H went towards his college education.
Mahacek earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts at San Jose State University in 1974. He considered a career as a high school shop teacher, but ultimately chose a path that allowed him to extend the benefits he derived from 4-H with youth of subsequent generations. He was named the 4-H Youth Development advisor for Merced County in 1976. In 2005, Mahacek added administrative duties to his job, when he was named director of UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County.
During his career, Mahacek placed an emphasis on mechanical sciences and engineering projects. His work included development of curricula and activities in science processes, robotics, computers, GIS/GPS, bio-security and environmental issues, such as watersheds and wildlife habitats.
In 1988, Mahacek was a member of the team that developed the 4-H SERIES (Science Experiences and Resources for Informal Educational Settings) curriculum, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and Kellogg. SERIES was the first comprehensive pragmatic science education curriculum to join 4-H’s traditional projects. In 2004, Mahacek served on the national leadership team for 4-H SET (Science, Engineering and Technology), a program that succeeded SERIES. SET aims to enhance young people’s interest in developing the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century’s technically oriented careers.
The crowning achievement of his career was the development of the 4-H Junk Drawer Robotics curriculum in 2011. The curriculum shows how to engage children in building robotic devices with rubber bands, Popsicle sticks, medicine dispensers and bamboo skewers – the kinds of things people already have around the house. The robotics program develops skills that go beyond science and engineering. The children learn communications, teamwork and critical thinking.
“Junk drawer robotics is hands-on as well as heads-on,” Mahacek said. “We’re getting kids to be innovative, to come up with ideas themselves. When they come up with their own designs, and then build them, they have internalized the concepts much more than if they are just following directions.”
Junk drawer robotics is one part of a three-track robotics curriculum. The other tracks are virtual robotics, in which participants build virtual robots on computers, and robotics platforms, which employs commercial robot building kits for materials. The package of robotics programs was the No. 1 selling 4-H curriculum in the nation in 2011.
Mahacek received many honors for his contributions to 4-H and UC Cooperative Extension. In 1988 he received distinguished service awards from the state and national 4-H associations. The Merced County Farm City Ag Business Committee presented him its Agri-Education Award in 1992. When his daughter, Anne, was part of UC Merced’s first graduating class in 2008, Mahacek, his wife Susan and Anne received the UC Merced Student Affairs Parent-Family Recognition Award. Last year, Mahacek received the “Hands-On Heroes Award” at the Merced County Children’s Summit.
Mahacek said the 4-H program has evolved during his tenure, but it has not changed its core objectives.
“We went from being a predominantly ag program to including many other topics. Our members used to live in just rural settings, but now they come from the suburbs and urban neighborhoods,” Mahacek said. “But we’re still promoting the concept of working together and gaining confidence by learning practical skills.”
He said 4-H is fundamentally different from programs that focus specifically on developing self-esteem.
“In 4-H, we teach kids positive things to do and make and it builds their self-esteem when they have these abilities and capabilities,” Mahacek said.
All three of Mahacek’s children were active 4-H members, achieved 4-H All Star status – the highest county honor – and pursued higher education and careers in science and engineering.
In retirement, Machacek plans to visit Europe and, in particular, Southern France, where his middle son is working on an ocean acidification research project. Closer to home, Mahacek also plans to spend more time in his backyard workshop, where he is restoring a 1967 Pontiac Firebird and farm equipment that dates back to the early 1900s.