By Carol Mowdy Bond
Yukon’s Courtney Keck is the Horticulture Extension Educator for Canadian County’s Oklahoma State University Extension Center, located at 218 N. Country Club in El Reno.
She drives all over the place, and she wears a lot of hats that include facilitating the county’s Master Gardener Program, acting as a 4-H educator, helping county residents with various issues, and even making YouTube videos.
“I don’t think a lot of people really know we’re here,” Keck said. The OSU Extension is an extension of the university, the Cooperative Extension Service, where we work with people in the community to educate and empower them with research-based information. We have areas of agriculture, horticulture, family, and consumer sciences and 4-H youth programs. Each extension office, in all 77 counties of Oklahoma, is housed in the county seat. Ours is in El Reno.”
Keck said she loves her job, “A lot! My job is never dull. My specialty area is home lawns and gardens. I’m coming up on my 8th year here. I answer gardening questions, write a seasonal newsletter, film a gardening series on YouTube, teach gardening workshops, manage Master Gardener volunteers, manage a greenhouse, write soil test recommendations, make home visits, help coordinate the county fair, judge horticulture entries for other county fairs, and I used to write for ‘Oklahoma Gardener’ magazine before it went out of print.”
“I love going on home visits, where I get to travel around the county and try to diagnose plant problems in people’s landscapes. Since we are a public service, we offer a lot of our programs for free. Where else are you going to obtain that level of information and networking opportunity for free? In an age where we’re overwhelmed with information online and elsewhere, the Extension Service can deliver residents timely research-based information that they can trust.”
The Keck family’s front and back yards make up a certified and registered Monarch Waystation. Keck said all the plants are dormant now, except her large rosemary plant. She said it’s a shelter plant for monarch butterflies, where they hide from predators. And her yucca plant is still going strong despite the cold weather.
A registered Monarch Waystation provides milkweed, nectar sources, and shelter needed to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America. “It’s really easy to do a waystation,” Keck said.
“I love working with my Master Gardener volunteers any time they have a workshop, monthly meeting, or event because they encourage me and give me ideas,” Keck said.
“My job as a Master Gardener volunteer manager allows Canadian County residents to find a community of gardeners who they can learn from, and fulfill a need for community service together,” Keck said.
The 30s-something Keck considers herself a bit of a nomad. She was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and raised in Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas, where her stepdad was the superintendent. “So we literally lived in the state park in the woods,” said Keck.
“This field of expertise is second nature to me. I’m a very introspective person, and I remember spending a lot of time studying the outdoors and playing outside in the woods. So, it suits me well as a horticulturist, where I spend a lot of time researching answers to people’s questions. My older sister also went into horticulture, which influenced me, and I decided to join the nursery/landscape FFA judging team in high school. I found I had a knack for it, and well, here I am.”
A graduate of Prairie Grove High School in Arkansas, Keck earned her bachelor’s of horticulture from the University of Arkansas, and her master’s in horticulture from Oklahoma State University. She said that previously, “I have worked at a few local nurseries in northwest Arkansas during college and shortly after my bachelor’s degree. Right before my job at the Extension Service, my husband and I taught English for a year in Hangzhou, China. I actually interviewed for this job over Skype while we were living there.”
COVID-19 has impacted what Keck does. “We are having to limit our exposure to people, wear masks, sanitize, and keep our distance,” Keck said. “Some of us in the office have been hit harder than others. I have still conducted workshops and taught the 12-week Master Gardener training course last fall, but within the CDC guidelines. I also started a virtual gardening series on YouTube called ‘Virtual Gardening’ for those who can’t get out and come to any of our workshops. They’re just short five to 10 minute videos on various gardening topics. My technology skills have definitely expanded over the past year, so I’m sure many people can relate to that.”
The OSU Extension in all 77 Oklahoma counties, including Canadian County, has a lot to offer with a mission statement that promotes wellness, leadership, and economic development in Oklahoma. It truly is an amazing resource. The faculty conducts research related to agriculture, natural resources, rural economics, and social issues to address the needs of Oklahomans. There are a plethora of programs offered that impact home and family, personal finances, self-run businesses, the gardens and flowers in your yard or on your farm, agriculture, and everything in between, plus the county’s 4-H program. Staff members engage with the community through instruction in all kinds of ways, including conducting community forums, and speaking to groups on many topics. Someone will even come out and help you identify what’s eating your garden vegetables.
In 2019, the OSU Extension helped Oklahoma residents solve innumerable problems.
Volunteers gave over 600,000 hours to the state. And 128,600 youths participated in 4-H. As well, there were 1,358,000 face-to-face contacts.
To connect with the Canadian County OSU Extension Center, call (405) 262-0155 or go online to extension.okstate.edu/county/canadian.