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Elizabeth Garofalo: Fruit Aficionado

Elizabeth Garofalo: Fruit Aficionado

Growing up in Buckland, Elizabeth Garofalo remembers experiencing four distinct seasons by walking through her immediate environment, an orchard just down the road from her home. Every spring, tractors mowed fields, summer fruit was easily plucked from low-hanging branches, and a “lovely elderly woman” invited her to climb apples trees in the fall. Seasonal orientation is also in her blood with her grandparents’ dairy farm and other generational agriculture tasks flowing through her veins.  However, as an adult, the journey to the University of Massachusetts to become a well-respected Extension educator, has been a long and winding road.

Playing with Plants and Dirt

Garofalo has a keen sense of humor which finds a happy home in her work. She arrived at where she is today a bit circuitously. Before her busy life as an Extension educator, Garofalo worked in restaurants, travelled extensively and joined security forces in the U.S. Air Force after September 11 events.  With no clear life path and her wheels spinning, ultimately her path led back to Massachusetts where a basic Greenfield Community College horticultural class made everything click. Her “aha” moment was when she realized she was supposed to be playing with plants and dirt.

Garofalo earned her associate’s degree at Stockbridge School of Agriculture in sustainable food and farming and a bachelor’s degree in plant soil and insect science. She was awarded master’s degree while working with Dan Cooley at Cold Spring Orchard in plant pathology with her research concentrated on apple scab. “During much of her program, she also worked part-time for UMass Extension,” Cooley said, “helping farmers to manage insect and disease problems in crops using integrated pest management, an environmentally sound approach.”

Drawing on her creativity, Garofalo created an audio format of the Fruit Team’s online Healthy Fruit newsletter. This was a result of an off-hand comment made by co-worker, Jim Cronk who said it would be nice to listen to the newsletter when working on the tractor. Thus “UMass IPM Fruit Loop” was born in an audio form.  Garofalo hosts this format that includes music and jokes in a condensed version of the informative newsletter. Colleagues Jon Clements, Duane Greene, Dan Cooley and Jaime Pinero sometimes offer contributions.

Garofalo On the Move Through Massachusetts

Garofalo enjoys her job that never offers up a typical day. It is not uncommon for her to hop in car and drive to two or three farms near Boston or Cape Cod or in her backyard of Greenfield or Deerfield.  She may be performing a cider apple assessment in Amesbury (checking samples of fruit for sugar content or maturity.)  When Garofalo is in Harvard, she helps Carlson Orchard by teaching them to determine the best time to harvest. For them it is when the time is right for fermentation in order to produce hard cider.  She helps create a framework for many farmers from North Shore to the Berkshires learn how to make these decisions on their own. A hand-held tool allows farmers to pin down the level of brix (a unit of measure) for evaluating sugar levels--one determining factor.  Apple farms appreciate her assistance and are eager to comply with pre and post-harvest surveys.

Other tasks can include advising famers on diseases such as apple scab, bitter rot or powdery mildew.  During the dormant season, winter education kicks in.  She can reach lots of people now that a comfort level has developed in the zoom format.  Along with her colleagues, UMass fruit team is offering more specific educational meetings biz zoom on topics that include storage issues, blueberry diseases, and more.  Everyone from in the group takes lead on a particular session using a zoom platform, and this educational presentation is recorded for even further educational outreach. She proudly shares the fact they have had up to 170 participants from not only Massachusetts, but throughout New England, Canada and even South Africa.

As to her future plans, Garofalo says, “Right now, my goal is to continue to work with Extension, stay with the fruit team and maybe someday, I will get my Ph.D.” Given her drive and interest, that seems like a good bet.