Presidential Award of Excellence
Extension Professor/Specialist, Entomology
“Extension is here to provide a direct link between research and the people who can use it.”
For naturalist Alan Eaton, time in New Hampshire begins around 10,000 years ago, when the ice melted and what we now term “native” species—deer, chickadees, trout, Luna moths, and other creatures—migrated north.
A slender, restless man, Eaton has a thick cap of salt and pepper gray hair and a face punctuated by a long aquiline nose. His clothes, as he notes himself, would not make Blackwell’s best-dressed list. The shirts tend to be long-sleeved. The pants are often tucked into his socks to keep out ticks. And outside, he almost always wears a hat.
But there’s a good reason for this. At a moment’s notice, Eaton, an entomology specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) coordinator, must be ready to bolt into the woods.
Eaton has run the IPM program for 25 years and is directly responsible for reducing pesticide applications and saving New Hampshire growers thousands of dollars while improving crop quality.
Brenda Dyment, of D. McLeod Florist in Concord, N.H., has attended Eaton’s IPM workshops for years. McLeod greenhouses have gradually adopted a seasonal IPM approach. “We went from ‘spray and pray’ to using ‘beneficials’—insects that fight pest insects,” recalls Dyment. “I know I’m going to have aphids on my lilies, thrips all the time, and white fly on poinsettias at Christmas, so I just keep predator mites in stock during those times.”
Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm dashed off a quick e-mail, explaining, “Sorry for the delay, it is strawberry season. . . . [Alan] is one of the reasons we keep doing this. He makes it fun and interesting. I always learn from visiting with him.” On the farm’s Web site, Chuck and Diane Souther mention their IPM program—insect traps and careful monitoring—and their commitment to more innovative and organic practices.
Eaton grew up in Lexington, Mass., in the 1950s, just around the corner from world-renowned Harvard entomologist, Carroll Williams and his wife, Muriel. They befriended Eaton, and Muriel in particular encouraged Eaton’s interest in moths and butterflies. His love of entomology evolved into his college major at the University of Massachusetts, and then his doctoral research at North Carolina State. Upon graduating, Eaton took a job at UNH.
Throughout his career, his early neighborly education has stayed with him—a sense that the best education is a conversation. As Eaton puts it: “Extension is here to provide a direct link between research and the people who can use it.”
Now, more than ever, we need Eaton’s expertise. The incidence of Lyme’s disease has increased 228 percent statewide. Eaton shares his knowledge by teaching entomology, a newsletter, a well-respected Tree Fruit Pest Phone Hotline, extensive research, and public education.
Recently, Eaton completed a biodiversity inventory in Lee, N.H. “Just think,” muses Eaton. “Two-hundred years from now someone will look at that 50-page inventory and be amazed at everything that was on that land. And they’ll wonder ‘who was that old coot’?”
- Carrie Sherman