2015 Advisory Committee Report

Visioning the Future in Urban Agriculture


The Center for Urban Agriculture is housed within the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the Griffin Campus. It is a non-departmental unit dedicated to supporting UGA Extension and Research in Georgia’s urban areas. It currently supports extension and research programs in sustainable turfgrass, urban environment, nursery and landscape, local food, professional training and certification, and urban forestry.

An advisory group came together to provide advice, gauge future trends, identify strategic positions, and build relationships. Members were invited from a broad array of stakeholders that included research and extension faculty, industry representatives, and other users and benefactors of Center activities. A total of 58 committee members accepted the invitation to provide input.

Prior to meeting on December 5th, 2014, participants were polled and asked to identify important issues in six Center program areas. The areas were Sustainable Turfgrass, Urban Environmental Issues, Nursery and Landscape, Local Food, Professional Training and Certification, and Urban Forestry. Forty-seven members returned the survey and 42 were able to attend the advisory group meeting held on December 5th, 2014.

The survey results highlighted many common interests and concerns among advisory group members. Water use, drought management, public awareness, and agent training were identified as important issues in five of the six program areas. Organic land care, education, and an educated workforce were selected in four Center program areas. Certification and training, cultivar selection, green infrastructure, pollinator health concerns, and storm water management were selected in three program areas. Safety training was an important issue in Professional Training and Certification and Urban Forestry. Irrigation was identified as an important issue in Sustainable Turfgrass and Landscape and Nursery.

The survey also identified issues that are both important and unique to specific Center program areas. For example food preservation, healthy lifestyles, and marketing are important issues in Local Food. On-line education and leadership are critical to the Center Training and Certification programs. The advisory group identified stream health as an issue in the Urban Environment and forestry judging and wildlife as issues in Urban Forestry.

On December 5th, 2014 advisory group members gathered together and broke into program area working groups with the goal of further clarifying critical issues and short and long term needs. The following pages summarize the working groups discussions.

Sustainable Turfgrass

The Sustainable Turfgrass Working group focused on the need to communicate scientific facts to homeowner associations, sports field managers, environmental groups, county and city governments, and other policy makers. They emphasized the discrepancy between what many people believe about water use, pesticides, GMOs, pollinator protection, and pollution prevention and the scientific facts concerning these issues. They emphasized the need to apply science to offset the rhetoric.

The group suggested targeting new audiences with new outreach efforts. Science based Best Management Practices (BMP) should be developed and promoted. The working group strongly supported applied research and broad educational efforts. They supported the completion and promotion of the State Pollinator Protection Plan.

Local Food

The Local Food working group also identified the need for science-based information on the environment, GMOs, organic land care, pesticides, and pollinator health. It also noted widespread misinformation on these topics. The group identified the need for education in community garden management and leadership, composting, use of pesticides and sprayers, and the need for advanced training of Master Gardener Extension volunteers to better assist in community gardens. Water management, including rainwater capture, storm water drain labeling, water testing, and erosion and sediment control were also topics of discussion.

Issues important to local commercial food producers were also identified. These issues included food preservation and safety, and business management and financial planning for small producers. The working group identified programs in Agriculture and Natural Resources and Family and Consumer Science, which address these issues and urged promotion of these programs at the county level. It was suggested that regional conferences on specific topics be created, as well as the need to continue large-scale events such as Pizza Farm. The group encouraged the identification of and collaboration with other organizations working in local food and highlighted the need to use technology (videos, blogs, web sites and distance learning) to deliver training and information.

Environmental Issues

The Environmental Issues working group focused on water conservation and drought management by encouraging WaterSmart landscaping, increasing irrigation certification and providing continuing education opportunities. The group expressed interest in urban water conservation and water quality issues. The need to minimize storm water runoff and implement erosion control via rain gardens, rain barrels, vegetative coverage, pervious surfaces, and retention and detention ponds was expressed.

The group members recognized the need to promote and encourage the preservation and creation of vibrant urban green spaces that encourage well-being and healthy outdoor lifestyles. They highlighted the need to create increased awareness of waste management and its impact on water quality. Topics such as management of pesticides, paint, food and landscape waste, compost and septic systems were discussed along with healthy habitats and sustainable practices that included increasing awareness of the benefits of recycling. Pollinator health issues, identifying and controlling invasive species, promoting healthy urban forests and trees, and developing ecologically friendly landscaping were supported.

Public awareness of water issues and healthy habitats was discussed, particularly in the context of Internet outreach strategies. The group identified existing programs that could meet many of the educational needs identified.

Professional Training and Certification

The overarching goal of the Professional Training and Certification working group was to grow a qualified professional workforce for the landscape and nursery industries. The working group recognized the need to show the value of certification to both employers and potential applicants by developing promotional materials that promote both the Georgia Certified Landscape Professional Program and the Plant Professional Program. Once again, the focus was on public awareness.

The working group discussed ways to reach youth and the need to coordinate youth outreach efforts with existing programs such as 4-H and the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index, which promotes career readiness for Georgia public school students. Certification programs can prepare high school students for careers. Participants strongly agreed on the importance of continued growth and development of the junior certification programs.

Outreach efforts should also include innovative online training and modules on water quantity and quality that highlight the landscapes ability to clean water and provide recharge.

Nursery and Landscape

Common themes wove themselves into the conversation of this working group. Water use and drought management were a top priority. The group suggested reaching out to Homeowner Associations, the Building Owners and Managers Association, parks and recreation managers and professional associations. Many existing extension water programs were identified for use and expansion. The need to target youth and use social media in outreach efforts was noted.

State and federal funding must be identified for research in new irrigation technologies for both consumers and producers.

Working group members identified building a knowledgeable and skilled workforce as a top priority. They suggested partnering with technical schools in Georgia that have environmental horticulture programs.

Group members noted that sustainability and pollinator health depended on cultivar selection. Identification and use of an increased plant pallet requires research, plant trials, and a robust promotional effort.

Urban Forestry

This group focused on the need for education including agent training, Master Gardener volunteer training, homeowner education, and professional certification. They urged continued partnering with departments, agencies, and institutions supporting urban forestry such as Warnell College, The Urban Ag Council, GA Arborist Association, GA Forestry Commission, GA Urban Forest Council, and others.

The group stressed the importance of increasing public awareness of the need for certification, the value and importance of urban trees, and an understanding of legal aspects of tree ownership. Many aspects of outreach were discussed. Holidays such as Arbor Day and Earth Day should be used to promote tree value, tree care, and professional certification. The group also urged the creation of Public Service Announcements (PSAs), e-newsletters, tree signage, videos, email blasts, Facebook posts, and tweets to create effective promotional campaigns. Youth can be reached by working with organizations such as Georgia 4-H, Girl Scouts, and many other youth programs.

Post-Meeting Summary

  • Even though the working groups were focused in distinct program areas, and discussed diverse programs, research projects, and potential activities, several strong themes emerged from the pre-meeting survey and advisory committee meeting.
  • All aspects of urban water were important to the advisory committee. The groups discussed best management practices (BMP), conservation, water storage, irrigation, certification, continuing education, and additional research particularly on septic systems and urban irrigation systems.
  • Strong support exists for the Center to continue its efforts in agent education (Agent Updates and supporting agent working groups).
  • Committee members showed strong interest and support for organic land care, education, certification and training, and pollinator health.
  • Public awareness and outreach is critical. Advisory counsel members wanted increased outreach and to reach out to new audiences (i.e. homeowner associations, building contractors, and youth). They wanted more innovation in public outreach. All groups identified the need for an expanded, integrated approach to social media.
  • Committee members stressed the need for increased collaboration and partnering with other colleges and departments within UGA and other institutions and agencies to increase outreach efforts and impacts. They also encouraged increased integration of Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) and 4-H programing into Center programs.
  • All groups requested more from the Center. The requests included: seeking funds and spearheading new projects;
    • marketing research projects,
    • extension programs and commodities;
    • creating white papers;
    • and facilitating university, local, regional, and national collaborations.

New Positions Recommended

The team members expressed keen interest in seeing two new positions added to the Center. They repeatedly expressed the need for a position dedicated to and supporting social media outreach efforts. The person in this position would coordinate efforts and work with teams to create content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and whatever other media comes next. They would oversee the expansion of the HOA (Homeowners Associations) outreach efforts and develop other similar outreach efforts.

The team members also expressed particular interest in hiring a water coordinator to the Center to support extension and research in the urban areas. This position would head up irrigation certification programs, assist agents in outreach efforts, and work closely with researchers on urban water quality and quantity projects.

Topical Summary

Top 10 issues identified by survey and percentage of respondents that identified that issue as relevant to the topic.

Sustainable Turfgrass

  • Water Use (77%)
  • Drought Management (68%)
  • Irrigation (47%)
  • Organic Land Care (45%)
  • Cultivar Selection (40%)
  • Agent Training (39%)
  • Education (36%)
  • Educated Work Force (32%)
  • Storm Water Management (32%)
  • Public Awareness (32%)

Urban Environment

  • Water Use (70%)
  • Drought Management (70%)
  • Storm Water Management (62%)
  • Organic Land Care (55%)
  • Public Awareness (53%)
  • Green Infrastructure (51%)
  • Education (49%)
  • Stream Health (49%)
  • Agent Training (45%)
  • Pollinator Health Concerns (43%)

Landscape and Nursery

  • Water Use (75%)
  • Drought Management (64%)
  • Cultivar Selection (64%)
  • Irrigation (50%)
  • Certification and Training (46%)
  • Educated Work Force (46%)
  • Pollinator Health Concerns (43%)
  • Storm Water Management (43%)
  • Organic Land Care (41%)
  • Green Infrastructure (41%)

Local Food

  • Food Preservation (77%)
  • Education (65%)
  • Public Awareness (65%)
  • Healthy Lifestyles (63%)
  • Pollinator Health Concerns (51%)
  • Water Use (49%)
  • Youth Education (49%)
  • Agent Training (42%)
  • Organic Land Care (39%)
  • Marketing (35%)

Professional Training and Certification

  • Certification and Training (67%)
  • Educated Work Force (63%)
  • Agent Training (58%)
  • Safety Training (56%)
  • Education (49%)
  • Leadership (47%)
  • On-line Education (47%)
  • Public Awareness (47%)
  • Drought Management (40%)
  • Water Use (37%)

Urban Forestry

  • Public Awareness (67%)
  • Agent Training (60%)
  • Wildlife (60%)
  • Certification and Training (53%)
  • Educated Work Force (50%)
  • Cultivar Selection (50%)
  • Drought Management (50%)
  • Green Infrastructure (48%)
  • Support for Forestry Judging (45%)
  • Safety Training (43%)

Advisory Members

Debbie Abernathy
Cobb Community Gardens

Doug Bailey
UGA Department of Horticulture

Mark Banta
Piedmont Park

Melanie Biersmith
Rock Eagle 4-H Center

Kevin Burke
The Atlanta Beltline

Chris Butts
Georgia Green Industry Association

Matthew Chappell
UGA Department of Horticulture

Kim Coder
Forestry & Natural Reserve Service

Ben Copeland Jr.
Super Sod

Mark Czarnota
UGA Department of Horticulture

Tim Daly
Gwinnett County Extension

Jennifer Davidson
Muscogee County Extension

Bobbi DeWinter
Atlanta Food Bank

Sheri Dorn
UGA Department of Horticulture

Kris Elliott
UGA Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication

Mark Esoda
Atlanta Country Club

Kisha Faulk
UGA FACS Program Dev. Coordinator

Wayne Gardner
UGA Department of Entomology

Mussie Habteselassie
UGA Department of Crop & Soil Sciences

Sheldon Hammond
UGA NW District Extension

Jenny Hardgrave
Simply Flowers, Inc.

Mark Holder
City of Roswell Rec Department

Will Hudson
UGA Department of Entomology

Wade Hutcheson
Spalding County Extension

Wayne Juers
Ask the Plant Doctor

Kay Kelsey
UGA Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication

Heather Kolich
Forsyth County Extension

Elizabeth Little
UGA Department of Plant Pathology

Kevin Livingston
Douglas County Extension

Jule-Lynne Macie
Northwest District Extension

Jeff Manley
The Rock Ranch

Alfredo Martinez
UGA Department of Plant Pathology

Patrick McCullough
UGA Department of Crop & Soil Sciences

Keith Mickler
Floyd County Extension

James Morgan
Dougherty County Extension

Sherry Morris
Georgia Green Industry Association

Ken Morrow
Sod Atlanta

Allen Nasworthy
Fortson 4-H Center

Donal Nichols

Bodie Pennisi
UGA Department of Horticulture

Gary Peiffer
DeKalb County Extension

Paul Pugliese
Cherokee County Extension

Melissa Riley
Central Region Ag Education

Lanie Riner
Thunderwood Farms

Mark Risse
UGA Marine Extension Service

Angela Rowell
UGA Director, Office of Communications and Creative Services

Eric Rubenstein
UGA Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication

Mary Carol Sheffield
Paulding County Extension

Dixie Speck
Solterra Landscape

Paul Thomas
UGA Department of Horticulture

Kim Toal
Fayette County Extension

Susan Varlamoff
UGA Office of Environmental Science

Clint Waltz
UGA Department of Crop & Soil Sciences

Carmen Westerfield
USDA / Natural Resource Conservation Service

Bob Westerfield
UGA Department of Horticulture

Mary Kay Woodworth
Urban Ag Council

Tenia Workman
Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association