"I want to help others learn
the value of a good education.
I want to pass the knowledge
that was bestowed on me to
atching Dalton Dockery’s cable TV program “The Gardening Show” is like walking next door to ask your neighbor advice on getting your plants to grow — if you’re lucky enough to have a neighbor with extensive expertise in consumer horticulture. There’s a casual friendliness that puts you at ease as he explains the finer points of composting and crop rotation. In one segment, he even has trouble starting the tiller, just like any weekend gardener.
But once he gets that tiller started or lays out plants or explains the science behind it all, he’s all business.
Dockery is an agricultural extension agent in Columbus County, N.C., and, with his co-host Selena Rowell of Southeastern Community College, he guides viewers over the hurdles from dealing with winter weeds to planting dwarf yaupon holly to appropriate application of fertilizers and pesticides.
The show is a collaborative effort between the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and Southeastern Community College. Taped at a studio at SCC, the show airs on cable stations in Whiteville, Lake Waccamaw and Tabor City. On the show, Dockery and Rowell, who handles public relations for SCC, demonstrate the correct procedures of identifying and controlling pests (insect, disease and weeds), as well as how to properly maintain an ornamental landscape or a successful vegetable garden.
“One purpose of the show is to educate consumers on how to identify and control pests with limited pesticide usage,” Dockery says. “At the same time, we show how to use best management practices in the landscape to preserve the environment. As a result, consumers should be able to demonstrate the proper procedures of using pesticides.”
Asked how he gauges this viewer proficiency, Dockery says, “The way we measure this is through surveys and direct observation. Each year, I have a landscape seminar in which I invite homeowners to participate; at the end, I pass out a survey with questions based on the county horticulture program. Also we gauge this by feedback that we receive from viewers and from direct observation: I make a lot of homeowner visits to get a feel of what is happening in the county.”
The basic design of the show, he says, “is that I provide the technical expertise in the area of horticulture, such as vegetable gardening or landscaping, and Selena asks various questions pertaining to gardening. We quickly realized that we had to do more than just talk about horticulture for 30 minutes. So we came up with the idea of doing a sort of hands-on demonstration type of gardening show. Instead of taping in the studio 100 percent of the time, we decided to go out and actually do on-location taping. This proved to be very beneficial, because not only did we tell people how to fertilize their lawns or build a compost bin, we were able to demonstrate and teach them how to do it at their individual homes.”
At the same time, he says, “This is an excellent marketing tool. It is a way for me to get the information out about the activities of my horticulture program as well as the NCCES to many of the citizens of Columbus County. In my opinion, information is useless unless you share it with others. The cable station at Southeastern Community College is just one of the mechanisms that I use to transfer my information to the clientele that I serve.”
Over the past year Dockery and Rowell have received a tremendous amount of support and positive feedback. “Viewers like it that the show is Columbus County-based, so they can relate to the problems that arise not only in Whiteville, but also in Chadbourn, Tabor City, Lake Waccamaw and surrounding communities,” Dockery says.
Also, because of the positive feedback, the partnership between Southeastern Community College and the NCCES has been made even stronger, he says. “It gives the local Extension Service more visibility and not only serves as an educational tool for college students but the county as a whole.”
As a native of the area, Dockery takes a personal interest in the success of his efforts. “It is very important to do these practices to help preserve and protect our environment,” he says, “I think people can sometimes be irresponsible because of a lack of awareness. I feel it is our job to keep them informed. The show is an avenue by which to do this.”
It’s also an avenue by which Dockery can set an example for youth in the county. “I see myself as a positive role model,” says Dockery, who graduated from N.C. State in 1994 with a B.S. degree in agricultural education and earned his master’s in agricultural and extension education in 2000. “Horticulture is my strong point, and my target audience is all of the citizens of Columbus County. I hope to portray myself as an energetic African-American male who has a love not only for horticulture, but for my fellow brothers and sisters, regardless of sex, race or religion. I want to help others learn the value of a good education. I want to pass the knowledge that was bestowed on me to others.
“I guess the greatest achievement for me is to see the smiles from individuals that I have helped learn something or to achieve a goal. Because I have helped them to reach their goals, they can help others to obtain their dreams also.”
Actually in so doing, Dockery is practicing a “pay it forward” attitude, giving to others what was given to him, years ago in his hometown of Nakina, N.C. — “the best little town in North Carolina,” he says. “We had a local Extension agent named Haywood McKoy who would go out and make visits to help just anyone who asked. He was well-respected in Columbus County and just a nice individual who would help you in the area of horticulture in any way he could.”
And it was McKoy who would lead Dockery to his ultimate career. “Upon reaching high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be in some field in agriculture,” says Dockery. “So I had an opportunity to shadow an Extension employee for a day, and to my surprise, it was Haywood McKoy. As we went and visited clientele, I knew I wanted a job like his someday.
“The impression that he left on me was that no matter where he went, there were people in need of help or advice. It was his responsibility to share the knowledge he had gained from others with the individuals he was trying to help. I guess that is the real reason I am an Extension agent today — because someone in Extension helped me. Now is my turn to help someone else.”
Helping others is part of a busy schedule. Dockery’s wife, Sheila, a 1995 N.C. State graduate (B.S., math) and a financial analyst at BB&T, is working on her MBA degree at UNCW. Dockery himself plans to pursue his doctoral degree within the next year. And the two will soon be moving from his hometown of Nakina to the Western Prong community to be closer to his job in Whiteville. “As far as plans and projects for the future,” he says, “I hope to also expand the consumer horticulture program in Columbus County by obtaining more funds through grants.”
Moving forward, Dockery plans to make sure that everyone in Columbus County knows about the Extension Service and what it has to offer — “marketing our product,” he says — as well as to continue collaboration efforts with fellow Extension employees.
As for any changes or improvements he’d like to see, Dockery says, “The thing that I would like to see improved — and the wheels are already in motion — is bringing in more hands-on training with new agents. What I mean by that is not only telling agents how to do their jobs but showing them how to do it. So many times I see new agents right out of college come into Extension and stay one to two years and then leave. There are several agents that came in the same time I did and they have left Extension. I honestly believe we need to work on retaining new agents.”
Among his favorite things about Cooperative Extension are “the teamwork between co-workers and the willingness to help others, sometimes even at our own expense,” he says.
“We all work together, whether we are the county Extension director, family and consumer sciences agent, 4-H or the ag agent. As agents, we all work together to achieve the common goal, which is to help the citizens of Columbus County. If there is a need, you can bet Extension will be there to help.”
After seven years on the
job, Dockery is able to say, “The NCCES is one of the best organizations
in the state, and it is the best job that I have ever had. As one of
the few African-American male agricultural Extension agents in the state,
I would definitely like to encourage other minorities to consider the
NCCES as a source of employment. It is a good organization and a great
place to work.”