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University of Minnesota Extension

The guy who grows chili plants

Source: Emily Hansen, University of Minnesota Extension - Wright, McLeod and Meeker Counties, hans6005@umn.edu. 612-394-6302

Cobus Family standing by fair garden exhibit building

Twenty-two years ago, a bluegrass musician from Milwaukee, Wisconsin was inspired, at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, to become an Extension Master Gardener. Gary Cobus has now become a prominent figure in Wright County as a veteran gardener and Extension committee member. 

“I always credited my interest in gardening from my grandpa,” Cobus said.

Ever since he was 5 years old, Cobus’ passion for gardening has stayed true. As the oldest grandchild, Cobus would get asked by his grandpa to help him come to the garden to help. It gave him a sense of honor and pride that he was doing something none of his other siblings were doing. 

After graduating college in Platteville, Wisconsin, Cobus moved down to Austin, Texas for eleven years where he garnered his passion for green chili peppers. 

“I fell in love with green chilies when I was in Texas and would go visit my friend in New Mexico,” Cobus said. “It is the staple crop in New Mexico and I always said they won’t kill you but they will get your attention.” 

As green chilies are not a staple crop in Minnesota like they are in New Mexico, Cobus decided to take matters into his own hands. Cobus was granted the nickname ‘the guy who grows chili plants’ when he moved back to Minnesota and started growing his own. He uses them for salsa, eggs, potatoes, and any type of meat.

Moving up to Minnesota was a pivotal moment in Cobus' life. He joined the Extension Master Gardener program shortly after he attended a musical ‘jam session’ at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. After talking with the Hennepin County Extension Master Gardeners at the Arboretum, he was convinced that this was the path he wanted to take. 

The University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer program started in 1977 with its first class of 25 people. Since then it has grown to include more than 2,700 active master gardeners who share U of M horticultural expertise in almost every county of the state of Minnesota. The mission of the University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener volunteer program shares research-based horticultural knowledge and practices, cultivates diverse collaborations, supports project-based volunteer activities and inspires change to promote healthy people, healthy communities and a healthy planet.

“I think it's a great way to meet like-minded people interested in gardening,” Cobus said.

Over the course of Cobus’ 22-year journey with the Wright County Extension Master Gardener program, he has put in well over 1000 hours of volunteer service. He enjoys public speaking events where he gives advice around a wide array of subjects from backyard beekeeping to composting. Cobus has proven himself as a well-rounded Wright County Extension Master Gardener.

The key to becoming an Extension Master Gardener like Cobus is asking questions, learning, and sharing knowledge with others. 

“I think it’s just a great way to improve your own knowledge and share what you have,” said Cobus. “It’s been a rewarding experience for me. I’ve met a lot of great friends and a lot of great people.”

To those interested in joining the Extension Master Gardener program, please contact Emily Hansen, horticulture Extension Educator, at 612-394-6302 or email her at hans6005@umn.edu.

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