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Green Thumb: New Extension Agent comes to town
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It all started in high school for Steve Pettis.

As a student in Upson County High School, which no longer exists in Upson County, Pettis took vocational classes centered on plant life, an area of interest for him since he was a child growing up on his grandparent’s farm.

The high school had a greenhouse where his class would grow poinsettias and geraniums and then sell them in the summer and winter to raise money for the school’s Future Farmers of America program.

These were his first steps into the agriculture industry and he hasn’t look back.

“That’s how I got into the green industry,” said Pettis. “So basically, since 1988, I’ve been working in this field.”

Pettis, 41, now uses his love and knowledge of plant life to help the Rockdale County community as the Rockdale County Cooperative Extension Agent for agriculture. He’s been doing the job for two months replacing Jule-Lynne Macie, who was promoted in the UGA Extension Service as agriculture program development coordinator for the Northwest District in March after 26 years serving as Rockdale County Extension Agent.

While more rural agriculture extension agents have clients that mostly consist of farmers, working in the more rocky area of Rockdale, Pettis, who’s been working in Rockdale for two months, mainly hears concerns from homeowners for their home gardens, lawn care industry professionals who need credits toward their pesticide license and Rockdale County Parks and Recreation officials when they need help with one of the counties many park fields.

Pettis has plans to implement more agriculture themed programs for the community sometime in the Spring. He’s also working with the Kevin Surrette, program director for the Rockdale Career Academy Agriculture Education, to create a new candler education course.

Pettis’ previous experience working as an agent in Gwinnett County years ago helps him handle his current duties.

“I’m really lucky that I landed in Rockdale. One of the reasons I think I was hired for this position is my experience in a suburban county,” said Pettis. “County extension agents who are use to being in more of a rural county, may not enjoy this job.”  

But, Pettis is enjoying himself, primarily because he’s back helping people on a daily basis. 

No matter how strange the plant or problem seems to be, Pettis says he gets calls of all kinds. And if he can’t help solve the problem with the tools at his dispose, he’ll pass it along to the research professors at the University of Georgia. 

Either way, they’re going to work to get to the bottom of it, he says. 

“I’ve been eagerly trying to get back,” said Pettis. “The greatest thing about this job is that we do get to help people all day long. People come to us wanting answers and help and that’s a very rewarding feeling to be able to help somebody.”

Pettis received his bachelors in horticulture from UGA, and then his masters in plant protection and pest management also from UGA.