Writer: D'Lyn Ford
ALBUQUERQUE-Gardeners and landscapers in Bernalillo County can get expert advice on everything from lawn care to organic vegetable gardens from Joran Viers, new horticulture agent with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.
Viers, who directed the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission from March 1997 to February 2003, said he will place equal emphasis on organic and nonorganic controls when advising urban residents.
"There's a growing segment of the community that wants information about organic production, so I'll offer advice about organic and nonorganic options to anyone who asks," Viers said. "Generally, I try to emphasize the softest, most nontoxic approach when making control recommendations, because water and air quality are fundamental issues in an urban setting like Albuquerque. This is a crowded environment where use of toxic materials needs to be carefully considered."
Viers is an Albuquerque native who lived from age 6 to 11 in Costa Rica, where his parents were schoolteachers. He spent three years in Monte Verde-an isolated, mountain rainforest community on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast-and another two years in Caribbean-based Port Limon.
"My years in Costa Rica had an immense influence on the career choices I've made as an adult," Viers said. "Growing up in Monte Verde exposed me to biotic diversity. Having monkeys swinging from trees outside my home very much increased my appreciation for the natural world."
Viers earned a bachelor's degree in biology with an emphasis in plant ecology from the University of New Mexico in 1992. As a student employee, he helped maintain the biology department's atrium and herbarium and he performed native plant surveys at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro County.
He earned a master's degree in botany in 1994 from the University of Florida. He worked from 1994 to 1996 as manager of the university's Organic Gardening Research and Education Park, a three-acre organic demonstration plot in Gainesville.
Viers returned to New Mexico in 1996 and joined the Organic Commodity Commission as a part-time office manager. He became director in March 1997 and for six years supervised the organic certification program. During his tenure, the commission grew from a one-person agency with an $80,000 annual budget to a four-person, $240,000 operation.
"I did everything from coordinating field inspections to defending budget requests at the state Legislature," Viers said. "But day-to-day interaction with growers was always the most gratifying aspect of the job. That's a central reason I joined Extension."
At Extension, Viers will supervise the Bernalillo County Master Gardener Program-the largest in the state with about 200 active volunteers. He will help coordinate NMSU research and demonstration projects, including planned studies on biological control of leafhoppers and organic chile production.
He will also work with government officials and agencies, including helping the county's emergency management coordinator assess potential bioterrorism threats to agriculture.
But above all, Viers will be available to answer gardening questions from county residents. "My main goal is to be an easily accessible information resource person for citizens with horticulture-related questions," he said.
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