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Ruth Hazzard, Longtime Extension Educator for Vegetable Farmers, to Retire

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Ruth Hazzard teaching vegetable farmers
May 27, 2015

When Ruth Hazzard’s name is invoked on farms across the Commonwealth, the very image of a dedicated agricultural specialist comes to mind.

Since she joined UMass Extension in 1989, her commitment to the work of UMass Extension’s Vegetable Program has grown and evolved as techniques and new developments have emerged and evolved as the nature of Extension itself has changed.  During these decades full of change, what has remained constant is Extension’s ability—and Ruth Hazzard’s commitment--to serve an industry with science-based research and education. 

Hazzard began her career in Extension at the University of Massachusetts as a specialist in Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, as it is known. At that time, the Extension Vegetable Program’s regional agents included John Howell, Alden Miller and Dominic Marini, as well as several other faculty and staff. Regional agents were able to consult on farms across the state as they offered “boots on the ground” advice.  Over the decades, the work environment changed as resources dwindled, leading to positions going unfilled when agents and faculty retired.  While the essence of the work Hazzard has always done may have changed very little, her portfolio has grown as she assumed the work of her fellow specialists as they retired, one-by-one.

Through the 1990’s, Massachusetts experienced a decrease in the number of vegetable farms across the state. However, that all changed about a decade ago: it seemed as if the fast forward button got hit at some point in the first decade of this century. The current resurgence of farming in the Bay State has resulted in farm numbers increasing. Hazzard is excited to witness the new energy as the next generation takes the reins on both new and established vegetable farms, as well as more diversified farming businesses. 

Over the years, much has transpired under Ruth’s leadership. Her efforts through grant applications and collaborations have brought in over $1,000,000 for Extension.  She carried out many field-based research projects in entomology and plant pathology, helped coordinate the writing of the biannual New England Vegetable Management Guide, published the revered UMass Vegetable Notes to over 2,000 subscribers weekly during the growing season, scheduled twilight meetings at farms, organized field days, and produced many educational programs. Her summer scouts have scoured vegetable fields in Massachusetts for insects and diseases and their findings have been reported electronically to the farming community. Hazzard’s work has been enriching the knowledge of farmers across the Commonwealth for over 25 years.

Praise from Colleagues

Rich Bonanno, longtime colleague and current president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, says, “Ruth Hazzard has been a driving force, educator, and leader of the vegetable team for many years.  During times when staff numbers have been decreasing at UMass, Ruth worked to grow the team, increase communication with growers, expand IPM services and expertise, and improve educational opportunities for growers.  She has been a leader with both the New England Vegetable Management Guide and the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference.  She was recently awarded the Bob Young Award, for outstanding lifetime service to the vegetable industry from the New England Vegetable & Berry Growers Association.  Her genuine concern for growers and her ability to foster cooperation among faculty and staff on behalf of the vegetable industry will be missed.”

Kathleen Carroll, program director for UMass Extension, states that, “Ruth's legacy will be the important role she had in educating vegetable growers, helping them, sustain and thrive under challenging regulatory, environmental and economic pressures of an urban state.  She is an entomologist by training, yet always wove all aspects of the whole farm into educational programs.  Her articulate communication, leadership and teaching style has earned the highest respect from both beginning and established growers.”

Professor Rob Wick, Stockbridge School of Agriculture, adds that, “Ruth has done an extraordinary job coordinating our Vegetable IPM program. Through hard work and creativity she was the recipient of many grants that sustained technicians and summer help. For 27 years, she has produced a newsletter (Vegetable Notes) which is distributed to more than 2,000 growers. Ruth also started the Student Farming Enterprise, now carried on by one of her former technicians, Amanda Brown. Whoever takes her place will have some big shoes to fill.”

“Ruth is amazing in many ways,” said Amanda Brown, lecturer, Stockbridge School of Agriculture.  “Her knowledge about entomology and crop production is matched by her commitment to supporting the agricultural community.  The programming that Ruth created is resilient and continues to foster sustainable farming practices on both local and national levels.  She is an incredibly strong person, community activist, excellent mentor, grandmother and friend.”

Reflections on a Rewarding Career

Hazzard reports attaining her greatest job satisfaction when she worked with farmers on their farms. When she has been able to pay close attention to their concerns and has solved a problem, the result has been gratifying in many ways. Along with the pure education and outreach extended to these farmers has come the building of lifelong relationships and real friendships. The freedom to tackle difficult problems and the opportunity to work with “really great people” has given Hazzard a sense of gratitude for her work.

From her vegetable patch, the future looks bright. Hazzard sees in new faculty and staff a deep interest and willingness to reach out across the university and outside of it, to work in partnership around related work. She believes such cooperation can be fruitful on all sides.

Advice for Next Vegetable Specialist?

What advice does she offer her replacement? “Organize projects that get you on farms. Although it is daunting to know you are one person with hundreds of farms, you can be useful,” she suggests. Her strategy has been to find ways to share the real fieldwork and research with many farms beyond the ones she works with. One successful method has been sending out “Vegetable Notes,” a weekly newsletter full of timely tips for farmers.  Growers get immediate feedback on issues such as pest alerts, scouting tips, management recommendations, current crop conditions, and other topics.

Where Will We Find Ruth Post-Retirement, late June, 2015?

Not surprisingly, she plans to enjoy home gardening on an acre of great soil and intends to build a greenhouse. One might hear the tinkling of ivories or the pure sounds of a recorder and singing as her musical side will have some space and energy to re-emerge.  And she will hang out with her family. She doesn’t know what direction her involvement with agriculture will take her next, but she is sure that she’ll continue to be active in some way. Sounds like a perfect plan.

Retirement Party

If you would like to attend Ruth’s retirement party, Monday, June 29 at UMass Cold Spring Orchard and Education Center from 4:00-7:00 p.m., click here to download details and to RSVP.

Topics: 
Agriculture
Related Images: 
Ruth Hazzard relaying research data at Massachusetts Ag Field Day
Ruth's office door sign
Ruth Hazzard at Extension Service's 100th party