The singing gardener? Yes, and much more. As an agricultural and natural resource educator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Tori Jackson is more than anything the local answer-woman for aggies bearing questions. And when she's not dishing advice and singing the praises of the Extension? Read on.
Name: Tori Lee Jackson
What do you like most about your job? I love that every day is different! I primarily work with farmers, gardeners and folks with natural resource-based businesses. I never know who will call or walk through the door with an interesting insect or an idea for a business that I may be able to help them get started. People call Extension with all kinds of questions. I guess it's the variety that keeps it interesting.
Describe a really good day. Well, I am lucky to have a job where I have a lot of really good days. I work in an office where my colleagues are fun and friendly, so just walking through the door is a great start to my day. I am in the education business, which means I get to help people for a living. There is nothing more satisfying than helping someone achieve something that is important to them, whether it's a volunteer project with my Master Gardener volunteers or simply putting a client in touch with a resource that they may not have otherwise found. It's the personal interactions with volunteers and clients that I value the most in my work.
What's the garden pest you'd least like to meet up with in a dark alley, and why? Ha! I happen to really like bugs, so I am generally pretty happy to come face to face with most garden pests. I have to say that in a dark alley, a big ol' tomato hornworm would probably be the worst. They have powerful mandibles and there are always so many more just around the corner.
What's this Master Gardener Volunteer Program I keep hearing about? The program includes a 40-hour in class training, followed by 40 hours of volunteering in the community within one year to become certified. There is an MGV program in every county in Maine, and throughout the country as well. Master Gardener Volunteers are responsible for an astonishing number of great projects, doing everything from raising food for the hungry to starting school gardens. We are very proud of our MGV program and the work our volunteers do on behalf of UMaine Extension. We run a class each year, so anyone interested in receiving an application should contact our office at 353-5550 to be put on the list. Our next class will begin in late March 2012.
Word on the street is that the only thing you like more than your job is singing. Would that be your dream job? I do really enjoy music. My sisters and brother and I were always musical growing up — lots of musical theater and stuff. My brother, Tyler, has actually recorded a few albums and plays regularly at clubs in the Portland area. I don't know if it would be my dream job — once it becomes work, it might not be as much fun, right?
Ever thought about trying American Idol? No way. Too much pressure!
Favorite singer? I have a lot of favorites, but I can narrow down my favorites this week to Sara Barielles, Adele, The Avett Brothers and Guster.
Fill in the blanks: "My band _______ is _____ because we're all _____." My band, Every Other Sunday, is pretty unique because we're all singers. My husband, Mike French, and I do most of the singing, but there are six of us all together. We play a wide variety of classic and contemporary music and will learn any song a client asks for. We play weddings and other events around Maine. You can listen to a few demos and contact us by going to www.michaelfrenchdesigns.com/music.html. We're also on facebook."
You worked about 15 years at Highmoor Farm in Monmouth before this current Extension gig. At this point you either hate apples or love them. Which? What's your favorite? I did work at Highmoor Farm for about 15 years, first as a student and later in a few other capacities: pruning apple trees and helping with the vegetable trials, and then later as a grad student. I primarily worked with the small fruit and vegetables, so my love for apples remains firmly intact! My favorite are Cortlands — picked about 10 days before they are technically ripe. Crispy and sour! Every fall I would actually pick a few boxes of unripe Cortlands to keep in storage, so I could enjoy them all winter long.
Given you have no garden at home and allege that it is because you're "surrounded by trees," how do you maintain your cred with other Extension staff and the public? Actually from working at Highmoor for so many years. I do have a research project going on there now, too. I also keep my hands in lots of different gardens through my work with Master Gardener Volunteers, so no one gives me too hard a time. I grew up in a gardening family, so I credit my father and grandfather for getting me started early.
You're taking a nice, long vacation in September. What is it about September that makes you want to take all of your vacation time now? September is my favorite month. We have gorgeous, crisp and sunny days and cool nights. We like to take day trips around Maine when most people are back in school or otherwise getting back into their regular routine. No lines at the beach or anywhere else!
Final question: Being the business manager for Jack Traps, those high-end ice fishing traps made right here in Maine by a man you love and admire (your father), what's your prediction for ice fishing this coming winter, which is just around the corner? Well, we're expecting a stellar year! We are due for a nice cold winter with lots of ice. We have a brand new product, a newly designed retail store in Monmouth AND a new website, that we'll be launching in a few months, so we're very optimistic about the upcoming season.