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Photo: Paul Pugliese

Personnel Profiles

Paul Pugliese

With economic changes, budget cuts and job losses, Extension agents must constantly adapt to the changes in their community—and Cherokee County Extension Agent Paul Pugliese is doing just that.

"With the economic downturn, more and more people are interested in starting their own gardens to supplement their food budget and for food security," Pugliese said. "[As an agent] we have to adapt and address the needs of the people in our county."

Along with home gardening, residents are coming to Pugliese for information on home landscaping and starting their own farms.

"People can't afford to pay a landscaper anymore, so they are learning how to do it on their own," he said. "More and more people are coming with questions about basic information on lawn care and landscaping on a budget."

The recent interest in locally grown foods has also spurred interest in starting small farms, Pugliese said. He helps new farmers searching for funds, develop business plans and learn about regulations.

The demand for basic farming information was so high that Pugliese created a beginners school for small farmers. The first class in February was so popular it had a waiting list. Pugliese and collaborating agents will hold another class for multiple counties on Aug.31.

Having a small farm provides supplemental income as a safety net for people if their job future seems uncertain, he said. "Starting a farm is not easy, there are risks and challenges. You have to do your homework and plan," he said.

Pugliese knows a thing or two about having your own farm. He grew up in Bartow County on a first generation beef cattle, hay and timber farm. His father and maternal grandfather were both farmers.

"Growing up, I was always outdoors helping with the farm and garden, growing my own vegetables," he said. "I was cultured at an early age to pursue horticulture."

He even saved his own money to buy unique seeds so he could plant new crops and watch them grow. And he took his love of gardening into 4-H where he mastered in plant and soil science.

4-H was a part of his youth, his family and his future. "I grew up with county agents Kathy Floyd, Greg Bowman, and Ed Hornyak – all excellent agents, and my older sister (Vickie Martin) was a 4-H agent in Hart and Stevens Counties for several years."

Pugliese received his undergraduate degree in horticulture at Berry College. He then went on to pursue a master's degree in plant protection and pest management at the University of Georgia.

He worked for the Georgia Department of Agriculture for three years before becoming a county agent in 2006.

Now his daily office routine includes identifying several insect, disease, weed, and turfgrass samples every day. He uses his training in plant pathology, entomology and weed science to solve the majority of his client's problems. "It's kind of like being a plant doctor," he said.

Interning in Madison, Cobb and Gordon Counties also helped prepare him for his job as an agent.

An avid gardener, he has a 2,500 square foot vegetable garden and a small fruit orchard. Two years ago, he and his wife built a home on the family's farm in Kingston, Ga. They enjoy hiking, camping, mountain biking and being outdoors.

For Pugliese, being an educator and extension agent comes naturally.

"The secret of being a good county Extension agent is having the humble attitude that you really never could know everything about agriculture. Agriculture is such a broad discipline and it's always a fun challenge to work with such a diverse group of clients in areas like gardening, animal science, row crops, fruits, aquaculture, landscaping, nurseries, greenhouses, golf courses, entomology, forestry, water and other natural resources issues," he said. "To me, it's not work. It's second nature."

(Written by Allie Byrd, a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Released August 2010.