LEXINGTON, Ky. — Professor Mark Williams has accepted the position of chair of the University of Kentucky Department of Horticulture. He officially took over the role Oct. 1, after serving as interim chair for the past year.
“We are pleased to have Dr. Williams leading the Department of Horticulture,” said Nancy Cox, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “As a professor and innovator, his far-reaching vision has made our college a leader in sustainable agriculture. We welcome his continued leadership in a department that is vital to so many of Kentucky’s vegetable and fruit producers.”
Williams grew up in Lexington, the grandson of farmers and gardeners to whom he attributed his natural passion for farming. A neighbor, Wilbur Frye, who was a UK agriculture professor at the time, took the young Williams under his wing and taught him what it meant to be a plant scientist.
“I wanted to be in agriculture, and he gave my idea legitimacy. He made me see my only choice wasn’t just to farm, but I could be a scientist as well,” Williams remembered.
Williams received his Bachelor of Science degree in botany from UK and his doctorate in developmental and cell biology from the University of California, Irvine.
He returned to UK in 1999 as a post-doctoral scholar in the Department of Horticulture and joined the faculty in 2001.
Having experienced what he described as the “West Coast food scene” with its organic food and emphasis on local products, he felt he could contribute in that area in Kentucky. At the time of his return, the tobacco buyout was on the horizon, and he knew there would be big changes ahead for Kentucky’s farmers. He began his work in weed control and organic agriculture, but quickly expanded into all aspects of organic horticulture production.
Williams is responsible for leading the college’s highly successful creation of a showcase organic farm at UK’s Horticulture Research Farm. The Organic Farming Unit supports valuable research into organic methods of horticultural crop production and pest and disease control. It also provides a hub for educating students and farmers alike.
Under his guidance, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment has positioned itself to be a leader in sustainable agriculture in the United States. He is a proponent of finding ways to create highly efficient, profitable farming systems for Kentucky that also recognize responsibility to the environment. To that effect, he and others in the college created a multidisciplinary undergraduate degree program in sustainable agriculture more than a decade ago.
Williams co-led the development of a new five-year strategic plan for The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky, which resides in the horticulture department. He is also co-leading an effort to redesign and renovate the Dorotha Smith Oatts Visitor Center and build a much-needed grounds crew facility.
Faculty and staff in the Department of Horticulture cover the gamut from basic plant science to applied work with Kentucky’s horticulture industry. The work done by the department not only benefits Kentucky farmers, but produces basic science that reaches beyond the state’s borders.
Williams is looking forward to this next career leg, and he is excited about having the opportunity to support the next generation of researchers and extension specialists in the department.
“I’m really excited to have been part of this department for so long and to now be in the position where I can work with my colleagues to lead the department in the next phase of its evolution,” he said. “This is a great time to be in science, because there are technologies that weren’t there in the past that allow us to look at things in a much different way. The opportunities for us to help the horticulture industry in our state are excellent.”