CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson University Extension Associate Amy Dabbs received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of County Agriculture Agents during the 2020 Annual Meeting and Professional Improvement Conference.
Dabbs, who serves as Statewide School and Community Gardening Coordinator for Clemson Extension, was one of several honorees who represent the top 2 percent of the membership selected by their peers and the director of Extension.
Based at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, Dabbs leads the statewide initiative School Gardening for S.C. Educators program that trains teachers to garden successfully with their students.
The program equips teachers with not only with training, but also curriculum and everything down to the seeds and plants they need to grow a successful vegetable garden on school property year-round.
“My goal is to spark an early interest in horticulture in South Carolina students by supporting school gardens,” she said. “By training teachers, parents and volunteers to garden with children, we will grow lifelong gardeners and introduce students to careers in agriculture and horticulture. There is a huge lag in workers qualified to fill horticulture jobs in the U.S.
“We’re also introducing young people to Extension programming and what we do as an agency, so we are also creating our next generation of clients who look to Clemson Extension for answers,” she said.
Dabbs celebrated her 12th anniversary with Clemson Extension in March and coordinates all horticultural aspects of school and community gardening and serves as a resource to program teams and agents who engage groups of constituents through gardening.
She said one of the outstanding benefits of the program is exposing students to new, fresh foods.
“Because the students are growing them themselves, they’re more likely to at least try them, if not be really excited about eating them,” she said. “We also have a K-8 STEM curriculum that is included in the course, and we are seeing the teachers be able to bring the garden into the classroom and bring the classroom learning to life.”
Since 2012, the school gardening program has expanded to 36 counties, has trained 1,694 educators and has helped establish over 200 school gardens.
Prior to her current position, Dabbs served as the Clemson Extension Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for three coastal counties. She also serves on the board of the SCACAA as Professional Excellence chair, The Bee Cause Project, SC Farm Bureau Charleston County and The Garden Club of Charleston.
—Steven Bradley, Clemson University