Faculty Spotlight: John Porter

John Porter
John Porter

About John Porter

I just moved here from West Virginia in January to take this exciting job with the university.  While I had lived in several places throughout West Virginia, this is my first time living outside of the state.  Prior to taking this job, I worked for nine years as a county agriculture agent for West Virginia University in Charleston, the state capital.  I received my Master's in Horticulture from WVU and my Bachelor of Science in Biology/Botany from Marshall University.  I moved here with my husband (just married before the move), my mother-in-law, our blind (eyeless) beagle name Tip, and our cat Benny Franklin.

My extension program is focused on urban agriculture with emphasis on food production, including vegetables, fruits, edible specialty crops and small-scale livestock. Responsibilities include providing education and outreach to urban farm enterprises, community gardens and food access organizations. Joint appointment with the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture involves developing, coordinating and instructing urban agriculture degree and certificate programs available to learners in the Omaha area and online. Partnership with Omaha Home for Boys to advise the market garden project and provide incubator urban farm space. Also involved in food policy and local food issues in the Omaha metro area.


What is your position at the University of Nebraska?

I hold a joint appointment with Nebraska Extension and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture as the urban agriculture program coordinator.  As part of my work with NCTA, I will be developing a certificate and associate’s degree program in urban agriculture, based in Omaha.  As part of my extension work, I will be working with individuals and partners to help people grow more food in the area – whether it is in home gardens, community gardens or urban farms.


What drew you to the University of Nebraska?

The moment I read the position description for this job, I knew that it would be perfect for me.  I started looking for a new job when state and local funding for my extension job back in West Virginia was looking shaky.  This position came along just when I started looking for jobs.  My first ever visit to Nebraska was actually my job interview, and I really fell in love with the university, the city and the job.  Once I was offered the position, the decision was pretty easy to move here. 


What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

The thing that I love about extension is that I get to live in two worlds – the academic world where I can use my intellect to study, research, write, and be an educator, and the world of doing service where I get to work with a variety of people to obtain the common goal of increasing people’s ability to produce food.  I love gardening, and I love that I get to share my skill and knowledge with others.  I also greatly appreciate the freedom that comes with being able to do something different every day. 


What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Probably the greatest achievement I’ve had was developing and leading a new conference in West Virginia centered solely on urban agriculture.  I came up with the idea and worked with a group of diverse partners to bring it to fruition.  We had almost 250 people show up in the first year.  This year will be the fourth year of the conference.  I’m both a little sad but very happy to see the team continue the conference after my departure.  But its continuation is a testament to how important it is and how well the team worked together.  Also ranking high on the list is being asked to give a garden class in Thomas Jefferson’s vegetable garden at Monticello – that has definitely been a career highlight. 


What is something that most people don’t know about you?

Since I just moved, most people in my “new life” don’t know that I’m an avid singer.  Before I moved, I sang with (and was president of) the Charleston Gay Men’s Chorale and at church.  I haven’t had the opportunity to explore outlets for singing yet.  People might also be surprised to know that I made extra money in grad school by being a pastry chef at a small bakery.  I also sometimes do origami – the geometrical 3-D kind. 


What is your life like outside of work?

Since we just moved here and started new jobs, most of my life outside of work has revolved around getting settled in – fixing things around the new house, trying to find things to replace the stuff we didn’t bring, start a whole new garden.  Unfortunately, we haven’t developed much of a social life but that will hopefully develop with time.