By Bradford Sherman
Pursue new opportunities. Do not be afraid to try something new and fail.
Not only is this the parting message that retiring Extension educator Brad Bergefurd wishes to share with new generations of Buckeyes, but it is also the philosophy that defined his outstanding 30-plus year career with The Ohio State University.
“If you aren’t doing anything, then you won’t make mistakes or fail, but then you will not accomplish anything either,” Bergefurd said.
Some of the new opportunities pursued by Bergefurd over the years have included the introduction of Ohio produce auctions, research and development of the plasticulture strawberry industry in Ohio and the Midwest, and the reintroduction and continued development of the Ohio hop-growing industry. There are many more examples of new crops, production methods, and markets that Bergefurd and his team have researched and proved to work in Ohio and have been adopted by farmers over the years.
“I am especially thankful to Brad for his willingness to take on new projects, new challenges, and always do it with a smile on his face,” said Ag and Natural Resources Assistant Director, and Bergefurd’s direct supervisor, Sam Custer. “Brad has a way of working with people from all walks of life, they tend to gather round to listen to what he has to say and share.”
Bergefurd has been affiliated with Ohio State since the age of 16. He started working at the OARDC Vegetable Research Station in Fremont as a teen, attended classes at the university as a Horticulture Science major beginning in 1985, then began his professional career as a Research Assistant in 1990. He became an Extension Educator in 1992, and the rest is history.
“It will be hard to imagine you being anywhere but Ohio State,” Extension Director Dr. Jackie Wilkins said in a pre-recorded message that was played at a farewell party for Bergefurd held at South Centers in May. “We cannot be upset that you are going, we have benefitted from your expertise and your friendship for three decades and must not be selfish and hold you back now.”
“You have been a resource, colleague, and friend to growers, marketers, researchers, and industry organizations, as well as all of us here in your Extension family,” Wilkins continued. “Whichever role you have been in over the years, your willingness to help, when and where you were needed; your trusted and approachable teaching style; and your ability to connect with and aid all clientele, most notably your success with Amish farmers, has been the linchpin of your legacy and an inspiration to us all.”
Bergefurd has now moved on to the next phase of his professional career as a Technical Agronomist with Brandt Agriculture. He will be conducting a research program focused on agronomic and specialty crops and teaching and consulting farmers in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan.
Bergefurd admits that the most difficult part of leaving The Ohio State University will be saying farewell to the “great people and network of folks at OSU, and especially the hard working and dedicated co-workers at South Centers.”
One of those is Thom Harker, who has worked side-by-side with Bergefurd for over half his life. The duo started working together 26 years ago at The Alternative Agriculture Enterprise Center in Hillsboro. It was eventually merged with the Piketon Research and Extension Center in Piketon to form the South Centers we know today.
“He took me under his wing and mentored me, teaching and guiding over the years. I have learned so much, from crop production to research, under Brad’s guidance,” said Harker, who was a fresh-faced college graduate when Bergefurd hired him. “I have been given numerous opportunities because of Brad and his support. I have been asked about Brad’s retirement and how it will affect me, my answer is simple – no worries, because everything Brad has done for me set me up for future success.”
Another longtime co-worker who feels that Bergefurd set her up for the success she is having now is Charissa Gardner. She served as Bergefurd’s Program Coordinator for eight of her total 11 years so far at South Centers. She believes his management style gave her the experience needed to advance her career, as she is now a Program Specialist with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
“When I came here (to South Centers), he was very good about letting me learn things, take the reins myself. He allowed me grow,” Gardner recalled. “He always trusted in me that I would get the job done, even if it was something I had never done before. I learned so much from him, and because of him. He was always supportive of my professional development by encouraging me to attend trainings and take classes.”
Bergefurd hopes this new career path will be less of a “farewell” and more of a “see you later.” He explained that he is hopeful his new role and responsibilities will allow him to stay in touch with the friends and colleagues he has made over the years.
“In my new role it is encouraged to work closely with universities and Extension, so I hope our paths will continue to cross in the future,” he stated.
And so, just like he did time and time again as a Buckeye, Bergefurd is at it again – taking a chance, not being afraid to fail, pursuing a new opportunity.