‘Horticulture is my true love’

Cullman County Extension Coordinator Tony Glover set to retire

Cullman County Cooperative Extension Office Coordinator Tony Glover stands near a grove of his favorite native trees, the bald cypress. (Courtesy of Tony Glover)

CULLMAN, Ala. –  After almost four decades with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES), Cullman County Extension Coordinator Tony Glover is hanging up his hat. Glover has served ACES for 37 years and has led the Cullman office for the last 10.

In his final monthly newsletter, he wrote, “I am proud to have had the opportunity to work for and with the hard-working farmers across Alabama and especially Cullman County.” Glover said he plans to continue sharing his expertise in horticulture in different ways post-retirement.

Glover will work until the last day of March, marking exactly 10 years in Cullman.

“I started right before the tornadoes in 2011,” he recalled.

After graduating from Auburn University, where he studied horticulture, Glover went on to work for ACES in Jefferson County.

“I started in Jefferson County and I worked out of Auburn as a state specialist for three years,” he said. “Then, I went to Montgomery as a regional specialist for a couple of years. Then I went to Mobile for several years and then to DeKalb County as a coordinator for a short tenure.”

Glover said he stepped away from his position at the Extension for eight years to help with his father’s business, Glover’s Produce, but in 2006, he returned

He explained, “I went back to Jefferson County at the Botanical Gardens office. I did that for five years before the Cullman coordinator position opened up.”

Glover described his journey as coming “full circle.” A native of Cullman, he will end his career in his home county.

One of the programs Glover is proudest of being a part of is the Alabama Master Gardeners.

“The Master Gardener program in the state of Alabama started in 1981 and I started in 1984, so it was a real new program. It had only existed for one year in Jefferson County, where I had my first job. I worked with that program in that position and then I went to Auburn as a state specialist; my primary job was to grow the Master Gardener program statewide.”

Glover said he focused much of his time developing and growing the program and when he moved to Mobile, he introduced the program there.

“When I came back to the Extension, I was running the Master Gardener program at the Botanical Gardens Extension office,” he said, “so it’s been an integral part of my career from the get-go.”

Another source of pride for Glover is helping small farmers.

“Both of those things I am really, really proud of and pleased that I had the opportunity to do and are things I enjoy doing,” he said. “As a horticulturist- I have both of my degrees in horticulture from Auburn, and I have an education specialist degree from Auburn- horticulture is my true love.”

Glover is so passionate about horticulture, he even has a couple of gardening-related songs he lists among his favorite tunes: the hymn “I Come to the Garden Alone” and John Denver’s “Homegrown Tomatoes.”

During his second stint at the Jefferson County Extension’s Birmingham Botanical Garden office, Glover said, he had an opportunity that, as a horticulturist, he was honored to be a part of after being approached by a medical researcher at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Glover explained, “They wanted to do a study to determine if gardening could help cancer survivors, and we call that program ‘Harvest for Health.’ It eventually grew to be statewide, and other states are picking it up as well.”

The Harvest for Health program pairs a master gardener with a cancer survivor, who doesn’t currently garden, to be mentored in gardening. The researchers track the progress and compare that with a control group of survivors who do not garden.

Glover said, “They did find that the people who gardened did better physically and mentally. I was really happy to be part of that program because I think it proved things that we intuitively know- that gardening is good for people mentally, emotionally and health-wise to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. It was kind of a validation of a lot of things I had been saying my entire career.”

When Glover took the coordinator position in Cullman, he said, he immediately saw the need to help the beginner and small farmers

“I felt like they were being ignored by the Extension and the Ag universities that were catering to the big growers,” he said. “I started the Farmer 101 program here in Cullman where we would invite beginning farmers. Most of them, almost 70% who came, had never been to an Extension meeting in their life because they really didn’t think they had that much to offer to them. I am really proud of that program, and that program spread statewide shortly after I started here in Cullman. It really started putting more emphasis on our horticulture team who reach out to small, beginning and new farmers.”

With the last year of Glover’s career being during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said he noticed at least one positive trend as more people began looking for ways to grow their own food.

“One thing we saw last year was a big year for new gardeners. I think people saw the vulnerability in the food supply when things got really scary there with food shortages,” he said. “It had people worried, and I think people really started to reflect, ‘Do I know how to produce my own food if I needed to?’ I think that really caused an up-tick in interest.”

During Glover’s tenure as the coordinator for the Cullman County Extension office, a strong partnership with the North Alabama Agriplex, which opened the same year Glover took over the position, was formed.

“They started here in Cullman 10 years ago and I saw it as a real opportunity for us to extend our outreach by partnering with them,” he said. “I have been a really strong advocate for that and I am really hopeful that will continue in the future and I feel that it will. They are good folks to work with and they are very appreciative that we have researched and have specialists that can bring value to what they are trying to accomplish as well. We’ve done a number of programs with them and will continue to do. I told (Agriplex Director) Rachel (Dawsey), ‘I will still try to help you out doing programs.’ I’ve done a lot of programs over there, and I think I will continue to do some of that even in retirement on a volunteer basis.”

Glover has plans after retirement to volunteer his time in several places.

“I am going to work part-time with Farm Aid and doing phone consultations with farmers and those maybe struggling with their farm operations. It is something I can do from home and still stay engaged with the farm community,” he smiled. “More broadly, I will be taking calls from farmers all over the country, and not just local like I am used to. I am looking forward to that challenge and learning more about different types of agriculture around the country. I suspect that farmers have the same kind of issues almost everywhere, and I am hopeful I will be able to make an impact there.”

Glover is also involved with Northbrook Baptist Church and busy with projects at home.

He said, “I’ve got a small plot of land, 6 or 7 acres, and I have started planting some thornless blackberries trying to get my grandkids involved in a little blackberry orchard project.”

Glover was recently asked by the Master Gardeners to share his gardening and Extension work motto.  

He replied with a passage from the opening paragraph of the Extension Creed: “I believe in people and their hopes, their aspirations, and their faith; in their right to make their own plans and arrive at their own decisions; in their ability and power to enlarge their lives and plan for the happiness of those they love.”

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Cullman County Cooperative Extension Office Coordinator Tony Glover, Master Gardener Phil Gatlin (who recently passed away) and Glover’s daughter, Julie. After the April 2011 tornadoes in Cullman County, Glover worked on replanting trees around the city. He acquired more than $30,000 in grants to buy trees and shrubs, including all the trees and shrubs to re-landscape the Cullman County Courthouse grounds. (Courtesy of Tony Glover)
Cullman County Extension Coordinator Tony Glover stands behind Marion County Extension Coordinator Lisa Murphy. After tornadoes hit Cullman in April 2011, Glover got access to the mobile Wi-Fi satellite unit pictured. It was set up in Depot Park to provide Wi-Fi and phone charging for the community until power was restored. When power was restored in Cullman, Glover took the unit to Hackleburg, a community that was still without power. (Courtesy of Tony Glover)