(11/28/23) BATON ROUGE, La. — Kathryn “Kiki” Fontenot, an LSU AgCenter horticulturist who has educated students and Louisiana vegetable growers for more than a decade, will become director of the AgCenter Southwest Region in January.
As director, Fontenot will lead the AgCenter agents who assist agricultural producers, families and 4-H clubs for 14 parishes in southwestern Louisiana.
In her new role, Fontenot looks forward to gaining hands-on experience with additional aspects of the AgCenter’s work in row crops, outreach and youth development.
“Outside of working with vegetable growers, I am going to get to learn about so many different aspects of agriculture having this role,” she said. “Engaging with 4-H, family and consumer sciences, row crop and livestock agents is giving me a feeling of renewed excitement.”
In Fontenot’s 14-year career with the AgCenter, she has authored dozens of vegetable guides, hosted field days for growers and taught a popular LSU class, “Plants and People.” She also has served as the state vegetable specialist, becoming a trusted resource for home gardeners and produce farmers.
“I really do love people and I have always loved the people-plant interactions,” she said. “I like seeing people learn how to grow vegetables and try it out.”
Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Fontenot first came to LSU as an undergraduate majoring in psychology. She gravitated toward horticulture classes and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in horticulture, joining the AgCenter in 2009.
When Fontenot assumes the role of Southwest Region director, she will take over from Toby Lepley, the associate vice president and state youth development program leader who served as the interim director.
“Dr. Fontenot is poised to bring a new perspective and ideas into an already-thriving and successful region in our state,” said Tara Smith, AgCenter executive associate vice president and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. “Her experience in extension and research will serve her well as she embraces this important administrative role. I look forward to continued excellence across our research and extension missions in the Southwest Region under Dr. Fontenot’s leadership.”
Fontenot expects to use the grant-writing experience she has gained as a researcher to help AgCenter agents in her region.
“I hope to help agents develop their programs by working with them to write grants and find private funds to enhance current programs and fund new extension projects,” she said.
She plans to continue one area of research. Recently, she has studied growing flowers for the floral industry and will maintain variety trials to determine which flowers grow well in Louisiana.
“Cut flowers is a niche area the LSU AgCenter can support by conducting small, applied extension demonstrations and evaluating consumer preferences and price points,” she said. “Vegetable growers and fruit growers can grow cut flowers in rows using similar production techniques. It would not be a stretch to see our small produce industry expand their businesses into cut flowers for the local farmers markets.”
Her flower trials correspond with another project Fontenot hopes to pursue in the Southwest Region: a pilot program for a master floral designer course similar to the Louisiana Master Gardener Program. The course would teach floral design for people who wish to become florists or those who enjoy arranging flowers as a hobby.
“Flowers are a universal gift that we give each other for comfort or sorrow or love,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter what the emotion is. We use flowers to communicate with one another.”
Fontenot said she looks forward to collaborating with agents and researchers in the Southwest Region to develop additional programs for the people of southwest Louisiana.
“I’m hoping to spend more time with agents working on their projects and developing programs for our clients,” she said. “Whatever the agents’ ideas are, I see my role as helping it actually come to fruition.”
Fontenot will work from the AgCenter H. Rouse Caffey Rice Research Station in Crowley and the Sugar Research Station in St. Gabriel. She also will cease acting as the state vegetable specialist and will no longer teach courses at LSU.
Kathryn “Kiki” Fontenot will assume the role of director of the LSU AgCenter Southwest Region in January. Among other new programs, she plans to test a pilot program for a floral designer course. Photo by Kyle Peveto/LSU AgCenter