Centennial Staff Profiles
UCCS San Diego County - San Marcos Office
Time with ANR
Tucked in the back corner of one of two San Diego County buildings in San Marcos, California, one can find the Farm and Home Advisor's office for San Marcos that serves all of northern San Diego County. Most folks come in through the side door, past the elevator, and down the hall where the restrooms are before they enter our doorway. Others are directed to our hallway from the main lobby by someone at the county Departments of Agriculture, Weights and Measures, or Environmental Health. The first face you would see would be mine. On an average day I would first open the office door, which means that we are ready to receive customers. The door is rarely open without me. I work with an eclectic team of staff members that make up our little family. Dr. Gary Bender is a tall gentleman who specializes in avocados and citrus mainly but also dabbles in exotic and non-exotic fruit trees. I call him doctor because we have another Gary in the office and everyone always asks, "What Gary are you talking about?" When I say Dr. Bender, everyone knows it's him and not Gary Tanazaki. Gary Tanazaki is the glue that holds many of the projects together for our advisors. He is a hard-working man who travels from our main office to my office delivering our supplies and returning with our paperwork and messages. Since I have two workstations attached to the reception desk, he can usually be found behind me working on projects or ordering parts for the field research. Ramiro Lobo occupies one of the advisor offices directly behind me. As the small farms advisor, he is often out in the field at one of the many research plots he is working on, but when he is in, his jovial, mild temperament makes him easy to be around. On the other side of my reception area is a cubical wall that separates four workstations. Two are continuously occupied, one by Mary Maser, an EFNEP nutritionist program representative and the other by Marianne Whitehead, an old bug chaser by way of New Jersey, but what the University would title Staff Research Asst. The third workstation is home to our roving EFNEP coordinator Connie Costello who is also responsible San Diego and Riverside as well as San Bernardino County. She is rarely here, being so busy. She just started, and it seems like things are working out. We hope to see more of her. The last workstation is exactly that. We have our microscope there, where advisors and staff can do quick work on the microscopic level. Until recently, David Shaw was with us, then he retired as our landscape and turf specialist. Jim Bethke, our current county director, maintains an office here as well, but it's rare now that we see him; pressed with all the county administrative duties, he is usually ensconced at the main office. When he is here, his office door is usually open for the questions about bugs and floriculture, which are his specialties. On a typical day I start out with the emails that came in from last night or phone calls. I work extensively with support for the 4-H program as one of my main duties since I served as a program rep for San Diego County and the state office earlier in my career with ANR. Since we have one of the largest 4-H programs in the state, it requires a lot of hands to run smoothly. Most of the correspondence will be from volunteer leaders concerning enrollment or policy. I answer at liberty what I can and forward the rest to the current 4-H program rep, Linda Corrales. After that, it's a round of reviewing 4-H enrollment. During enrollment, that would be several hours of reviewing data, ensuring compliance and accuracy. At the height of it, it could be an all-day project. Mostly it's an hour or two in the morning. By then Dr. Bender and Ramiro have arrived. Both begin their morning rituals: Dr. Bender to the coffee machine, Ramiro through his desk work. Ramiro will usually have his write-ups, documentation, and bills, and finishes up in an hour or so, handing them to me, then off to his test plots. Dr. Bender would begin his round of phone calls and emails. San Diego County has a long and proud history of avocado and citrus production. Many of those groves are on the decline due to water prices, but there are thousands of backyard growers who have problems and there is really one person everyone wants to talk concerning avocado and citrus, and that's Dr. Bender. He will call out from his office asking for research about certain items and if they can be mailed off to people. He will have contacts that need to be entered into the email database that his grown to over 7000 people. His folksy voice is never raised as he explains leaf miner, Asian psyllid, or red scale to people who just want to know why their oranges are dying. Most of the time he will laugh with them, commiserating about the bad news he has to deliver: their tree is dead. By now I would have one or two clients come in with plant or bug specimens. Part of our relationship with the North County Office is intake for these specimens. Our advisors are usually on the premises to talk about a bug or fungus and how to take care of the matter. I take in the specimen, mimic the questions that the advisors usually ask, and route them to the advisor if available. In general I will also take the sample and place it on the transport table. San Diego County maintains a plant pathology lab as well as an entomologist. These samples are taken down to the labs for identification and processing. Diagnosis is then emailed to the customer. It's a wonderful service to the community. Many arborists, landscape maintenance staff, gardeners, hobbyists, and members of the general public have come to know that our office is here to provide information and service to the community, free of charge. Usually I am all that they have to talk to and I do my best to answer their questions or direct them to the sources that might help. In the afternoon Dr. Bender is also out the door, heading out to field visit or meeting with grower associations and their ilk. Jim Bethke rarely takes a lunch. If he is here, he would try to review another paper or write up a critique on an article. On the days he is here he would usually consult with Marianne, who is usually knee-deep in one of his pesticide research projects. They would chat endlessly about trial A, or redo trial B, or we need more wasps for trial D. By the end of the conversation Marianne would be ready to pull her hair out and Jim would be back to reviewing her Excel analysis. Loretta Bates is another staff research assistant, but conducts our Water School, a program required by law for farms and business to get a discount on their water bill. With her Ph.D. she would author some of the papers in conjunction with Jim and Dr. Bender that Jim seems to be constantly reviewing. After Jim would finish with Marianne he would surely head over to see Loretta and off they would go in discussion about certain sections of their most recent paper. With Dr. Bender out and Ramiro out, Jim is the only advisor in the office for questions from the public. I think he enjoys this the most. When folks walk in with a hunk of wood from a dead oak, Jim would enthusiastically beginning digging into the wood to find borer trails or larva or chambers. Taking whatever he finds to our microscope station, he will welcome whoever brought it in over to the scope to let them see what he found and begin to explain what it is and what happened to the tree. It is too bad that being county director takes him away from this so much. By the end of the day I usually can wipe the layer of grime or dirt off the reception desk, pick up the errant leaf that got away from the specimen bag, and refill the business cards—because most customers take more then one, to give to their friends to let them know about us. Day in and day out there seems to be a new bug or fungus killing off someone's plant. A lot of our customers are older and have cherished their plants like members of the family. They come in and ask their questions, bringing in samples, and asking if there is anything to be done. Many times there is an answer. The advisors and staff provide a wealth of experience that few can match that are so easily reachable. The UC IPM website, a friendly and knowledgeable staff person, a kind smile and "How can I help you?" When they smile back knowing that there is an answer, it is a job well done. When I leave the office at the end of the day, I also usually close the door behind me. That's part of my job, open the door in the morning to let people come in and closing the door, to say the office is now closed. It's my unique contribution to the family here in San Marcos. I deal with the problems, sort it out, and provide directions to the resource that might best help. By that I epitomize what our office does for the Agriculture and Natural Resource community. I may not know the answer, but I sure can begin the journey to get one.
Most Memorable Moment
Touching the life of a person and changing it in a positive way.
What I love Most About Working for ANR
People; I enjoy working with people.
I started as a Program Rep I, a contract employee for the 4-H program.