Extension flowers despite hard times
Extension changes focus as cuts pare back resources
By CHRISTY LOCHRIE
For the Capital Press
VANCOUVER, Wash. -- No one digs a move. Especially after years in one spot.
But there was Charles Brun, Washington State University Clark County Extension horticulture adviser for 28 years, two weeks after the extension's move to 78th Street Heritage Farm, nearly unpacked and settling into an office that was once a boarding room for the county's poor farm. The building recently underwent a $1 million renovation.
"It's hard. It's hard to see something that I love get smaller," Brun said of the staffing cuts he's seen over the years.
When Brun started at the extension in 1983, with a freshly minted Ph.D. in horticulture from WSU's Pullman campus, 287 field staff worked for the extension. Today, after WSU's operating budget was cut 52 percent over the last four years, the extension's staff comprises 87 people.
Brun, 58, sighs when he discusses the staff reductions and the loss of some 200 friends and colleagues.
"I think we'll survive," Brun said, choking on his words. "The extension will survive."
The move to 78th Street Heritage Farm is part of that survival. Clark County acquired the farm in 1871, after it was forfeited to the county. From 1873 to the mid-1940s, it was a working poor farm, where residents lived and worked for their meals. Then it was deeded to WSU for agricultural research. In 2008 Clark County resumed control of the 79-acre farm and continued a partnership with WSU. Several agencies, including WSU Extension and its master gardener program, are housed in the main building.
The heritage farm site includes a community garden, an orchard, a farm field where carrots are grown for area food banks and a bank of greenhouses. During a site tour, Brun paused where a new, state-of-the-art greenhouse will be built this summer. The project, which he spearheaded, cost $130,000.
"It's been quite a lot of fun," Brun said, adding that the greenhouse will have not only high-tech heating, cooling and shading, but will be wheelchair accessible, too.
The master gardeners use the greenhouses for plant starts -- flowers and vegetables -- which they sell to help support the program. Now the gardening action is just outside his office.
Brun splits his time between the master gardener program and commercial horticulture, where he works with area growers. It's the hands-on work that Brun likes, a passion that started with his doctoral studies.
Roger and Kathy Sego of La Center worked with Brun 13 years ago when they decided to grow organic ginseng and golden seal. Roger Sego recalls Brun helping not only with the particulars of growing the crop, but with creating a budget, too.
"He has a wealth of knowledge," Sego said.
For Brun, change has been the norm for the last 28 years. The biggest transformation he's seen: A move from commodity crops to farmers' markets and agritourism, with shoppers visiting farmers at markets and at their farms for berry and pumpkin picking or wine tours. Consumers are also trying to acquire their food from within 100 miles of home, an effort that cuts down on carbon footprints.
"That movement is stronger than the organic movement," Brun said.
Over the years, he's helped the county's wine industry grow from one to 11 winemakers and watched farmers' markets bloom from zero to five.
All of it makes for interesting days. He might talk with a farmer about herbicide residue one moment and identify slug damage for a home gardener the next.
"I like the changing role," Brun said. "I love talking and sharing with others."
Occupation: Horticulture Advisor, Washington State University Extension, Vancouver
Home: Vancouver, Washington
Family: Mary Jo Brun, wife
Education: Ph.D. in horticulture, Washington State University, Pullman
More information: clark.wsu.edu