Firmly Planted in His Work
If you ever have a problem with your vegetable garden or wonder what to do if a disease is killing your tomato plants, Grant McCarty is your guy.
McCarty is a local food and small farms educator for the University of Illinois Extension. He works with vegetable and fruit growers, community gardens, pumpkin patches, apple orchards, farmers and the general public, providing consultation and education when it comes to managing their products.
“One day I might spend 30 minutes talking with a homeowner about pruning trees or taking a call about what blood test is right for pregnant cattle,” says McCarty. “No two days are the same.”
McCarty grew up in Sevierville, Tenn., a small town that sits north of the Great Smoky Mountains. He majored in sociology in college but rethought his future following a summer internship on a vegetable farm.
“I came back from the experience still pursuing sociology but wondering how I could combine my work with people and the farm,” says McCarty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Maryville College and a Master of Science in Plant Sciences from the University of Tennessee.
In 2013, McCarty landed his first job when he joined the University of Illinois Extension. McCarty had never been to Rockford prior to his interview, but in the past decade he’s come to appreciate Midwest living and the counties he serves: Winnebago, Stephenson and Jo Daviess.
“There’s a lot of geographical diversity in these three counties that makes things interesting,” he says.
McCarty is busy organizing conferences and lectures, as well as Zoom and YouTube presentations. He provides research-based information to help clients overcome any challenges they face, whether it’s soil health, insect and disease management, or cover crops. Most of the services he provides are free through the University of Illinois Extension.
For McCarty, the work is all about making connections with his clients.
“We might have developed a relationship eight years ago and over time their needs have changed,” he says. “Maybe it was a soil issue and now the problem is with their blueberries. I am a person a farmer knows and trusts as they weather the challenges they face.”
In his free time, McCarty spends a lot of time in the backyard growing his own fruits and vegetables. A voracious reader, he devours three or four fiction books a week to unwind.
McCarty also loves to travel. Past trips included visits to Spain and Scandinavia, and he’s planning a vacation to Vietnam with family this year.