Alabama Turfgrass Association – Member Spotlight: John Nabors Embraces the “Green Industry” and Its People
Members who attend the ATA Road Shows, the Deep South Turf Expo, Auburn Research Field Days, or any other event the Alabama Turfgrass Association is involved in, know John Nabors. He is a stalwart at these and other green industry meetings, enthusiastically advocating for and educating those that are a part of it.
John works as a member of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and is also the Executive Director of the Alabama Green Industry Training Center. John completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture at Auburn University in 1998. Following that, in 2022 he completed a Master’s in Adult Education at Auburn. His areas of expertise include horticulture, safety & business, and workforce training.
Enjoyment of the outdoors and exposure to mechanical equipment initially sparked John’s interest in the field of turfgrass. He says, “Being able to spend some time on the farm as a kid can lead to trouble! I quickly learned that climbing over into the combine hopper or on top of the grain bin would earn my cousins and me an afternoon on the couch watching a soap opera…talk about some punishment! Over the years, I spent time growing up in several rural communities of Alabama, and in looking back, I realize how much I enjoy the country way of life. Many people in my family had gardening expertise and success with growing vegetables and flowers. In high school, I became interested in the landscape side to have some money in my pocket!”
Many people, including family, friends, colleagues, and professors encouraged John along his career path, and he is grateful for this support. “I started out at Auburn University in Landscape Architecture, but once the professor asked for a rendering of myself as a class assignment, I knew I was in the wrong field! My artistic abilities plateaued at the stick-figure level! The good Lord led me right on over to a chair in Dr. Harry Ponder’s office in the Auburn Horticulture Department. If you know Dr. Ponder, you know the rest of the story! With that being said, I avoided Dr. Ponder an entire quarter close to graduation, because I knew he wanted me to interview with companies in Atlanta…except, I did not want to live in Atlanta! My avoidance did not work when he rounded a corner one day in the Funchess Hall stairwell and said, ‘Ahhhh, John! Where have you been? Go get ready for the interview, they are here today! You must meet with them!’”
Fortunately, another long-term mentor, horticulturist and educator with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Center, Dave Bradford, interviewed and hired John for a post-college job at Landscape Services in Birmingham, AL. Dave had by then retired from his extension career as district agent and was later hired to work as Landscape’s in-house county agent, plant doctor, and customer care official. Dave was a good source of guidance for John over the years, steering him towards an extension-based career and helping people in the industry.
The old leaders of Landscape Services taught John a lot. “Being the long-term establishment they are, you usually can find someone who has worked for them ‘back in the day’. Mr. Beaty Hanna, Bob Newton, and Tut Touchstone had an interesting way of working together and providing access to projects, events, and people that were unique to their time. Each of them provided plenty of advice when needed, but the way they allowed you to work, make mistakes on their dime, and grow as an individual, emphasized how they believed in helping people succeed with their projects.”
John has found a blessing in his current role, working for Alabama Extension. “I like being able to connect people in our industry with the information they need to succeed. It helps that I have experienced first-hand similar challenges and difficulties. I can relate to my clientele, understand their frustration, and help them focus on what needs to be done to solve their problem. Regulations are all around us, and I try to minimize the disruption by helping them see the easiest path to obtaining their license or certifications. From there, it is basically a wash, rinse, & repeat process for the next person. I also like being able to represent our industry to young people by talking with them at the Worlds of Work events and related technical career programs. The hard part of those days is wondering if our efforts are successful in reaching them and encouraging students to consider our industry as a viable option in their career path. I usually console myself that it is better to be there than not be there.”
In his extension career, John considers the greatest challenge to be “meeting the need to keep moving forward… just keep ‘rowing the boat’ and trusting it will work out. There are plenty of distractions and projects to work on within the time constraints. This is not unique to me, and we are probably all struggling with this at some level!”
John is married to Sara, a former dental hygienist. After many years in the dental industry, Sara decided to build on her college summertime employment experience in floriculture. In 2015, she opened a gardening company working for commercial and residential clients, completing boxwood pruning, flowers, and detail work for her clients. They have a daughter, Mallory, who is finishing up her first year at Auburn University studying Agricultural Business and Economics. John says, “I am so proud of her as a person, proud of her hard work and determination, and proud of her success!”
A few years ago, John and his family were able to leave the suburbs and move to a place out in the countryside. Content with his home, John says, “It’s nice to be able to mow some grass on flat land with no need to weed eat. I enjoy working in the garden, and convincing ol’Blue (a 1973 Ford tractor) to work as a bush hog occasionally. There are often lingering projects in the house to be completed. I like to spend time with my wife, check in on my daughter in Auburn, and see what the two farm cats, Charlie & Sylvia are getting into, while Molly, the Chihuahua, sleeps on the couch. What a life!”
John is a member of the Alabama Turfgrass Association, Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association, Southern Nurserymen’s Association, Alabama Association of County Agricultural Agents and Specialists, American Association of Pesticide Safety Educators, National Association of Landscape Professionals, and Epsilon Sigma Phi. He is the recipient of numerous awards including:
2022 — Epsilon Sigma Phi Alpha Pi Chapter
Administrative Leadership Award
2012 — Commercial Landscape Maintenance Award for Birmingham Southern College presented by Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association
2004 — Horizon Award presented by Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association – This award is presented to progressive and innovative individuals who exhibit outstanding service in the Green Industry field
1999 — Commercial Landscape Maintenance Award for Carraway Hospital, Birmingham, AL presented by the Alabama Nurserymen’s Association
The ATA is extremely lucky to have John as a member. He is always willing to lend a hand, whether it is helping out at the registration table, or teaching Melanie and Tricia how to set up a virtual Road Show in 2020! John says, “There are many good things about our industry – the Green Industry! I think one of the best traits is our people. Over the past thirty years of industry experience, the people I encounter in our work treat others like family. I can think of so many in our industry that we may only see occasionally, but for the most part, when your paths cross each time, whether it is days, weeks, or months later, you can pick up, visit, and swap stories! Each of us should strive to keep this alive!”READ THE ISSUE