UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance
University of California
UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance

Spring 2010: Introducing Maria de la Fuente, Farm and Master Gardener Advisor

Regional Report San Benito and Santa Clara Counties by Maria de la Fuente

Maria de la Fuente (photo by Nick Lovejoy, pinnaclenews.com)
Maria de la Fuente (photo by Nick Lovejoy, pinnaclenews.com)

I started with the University of California Cooperative Extension in 1996 as a farm advisor in Santa Clara County, conducting educational and applied research-based programs on key issues associated with commercial agricultural production. I worked with the agricultural community and other clientele groups, assisting farmers in solving their problems. I concentrated my research and extension services on the county’s major agricultural commodities: mushrooms and specialty vegetable crops (Chinese vegetables, specialty mushrooms, chile peppers, garlic, etc.), as well as waste management and recycling systems. My main goal was to enhance environmentally sound crop production and pest management programs that support long-term profitability and sustainability for the environment and the growers. In 2000, nursery crops (bedding plants, indoor decorative plants, and ornamental trees and shrubs) became the number one crop in Santa Clara County. At that time (1999 to 2009) I was also responsible for administrative duties as county director for UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), so I could not expand my work with the nursery industry.

In 2009, I was reassigned to be a farm advisor in San Benito and Santa Clara counties, serving the ornamental horticulture industry as well as mushroom growers and waste management systems in both counties.

My broad knowledge has permitted me to expand my research programs with UCCE in order to address critical concerns of primarily urban-based clientele and contribute to economic development through the Master Gardener Program that I lead in Santa Clara County. My programs emphasize environmental issues such as integrated pest management; plant, water and soil management; and green waste reduction and utilization through composting processes.

Before joining UC, I worked more than 15 years as a full professor at Monterrey Tech (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, ITESM) in Mexico, and served as director of the Research, Development and Extension Department, providing assistance to the dean of the Division of Agriculture and Food Technology.

I received a Ph.D. with a major in plant pathology and a minor in soil microbiology from Iowa State University (ISU) in 1990. My studies  focused on biological control of plant pathogens and related courses. My Ph.D. dissertation at ISU was on the interactions of plant pathogens and their hyperparasite and antagonistic populations in natural agricultural and amended soils. I also received a Doctor in Sciences (D.Sc.) degree (1986) from Monterrey Tech with transfer credits from The Pan-American Agricultural School at El Zamorano, Honduras, majoring in plant protection. My D.Sc. dissertation involved the study of tomato plants under arbusco-vesicular endomycorrhyzae influence at laboratory and field levels.

I was awarded fellowships and scholarships from the government of The Netherlands, Monterrey Tech, the American Biotechnology Council and other organizations during my academic career. I also attended short courses abroad in The Netherlands, France, England, the United States and Honduras to expand my cultural and technical horizons.

My teaching experience includes mushroom production, plant anatomy and physiology, plant pathology, nematology, bacteriology, soil microbiology and related courses at undergraduate and graduate levels for more than 15 years. I have participated as lecturer and instructor in numerous seminars, workshops, courses for certification, and update-short courses. I have been a guest speaker at scientific symposia and conferences. As an associate professor first and then as a full professor at Monterrey Tech, I advised 15 undergraduate and 15 graduate students. I also served on 13 other graduate committees. I have published numerous popular, scientific and peer-reviewed publications.

Since joining the UC system, I have shown a vested interest and extensive knowledge in expanding continuing educational opportunities for the Hispanic agricultural workforce since I have formal teaching education and adult education knowledge and experience. I have collaborated with the Northern California Turf and Landscape Council (NCTLC), the University of California Nursery and Floriculture Alliance (UCNFA, formerly known as CORF or the California Ornamental Research Federation) and UCCE advisors in 10 counties to provide Spanish-language workshops on agricultural topics. I have also provided and developed the conceptual frameworks for two different original curricula, the “A-B-Cs of Plant Pathology” and “A-B-Cs of Disease Diagnostics,” for delivery as educational workshops to English and Spanish-speaking clientele/audiences.

I have been the principal investigator in projects supported by grants from the Cooperative Research Extension and Education Service (CREES) Specialty Crops, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA),  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE), UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP),  Elvenia Slosson Endowment, Rockwell Collins Green Communities program and many  local grant institutions.

To welcome me to my new community, Hollister’s newspaper, the Pinnacle, printed an article which can be found at this link:  http://pinnaclenews.com/news/contentview.asp?c=260390

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