Mitchell received a BS Biology from Birmingham-Southern College, a MS in Soil Science from Auburn University and a Ph.D. from University of Florida.
Mitchell spent 36 years with Extension in South Carolina and Alabama. He started in 1980 as an Extension Lab Director while also serving as a lecturer in Agronomy and Soils at Clemson University. In 1984, he joined Extension in Alabama and remained with the system until his retirement in 2016, serving as Extension Agronomist-Soils. Mitchell notes that he always had admiration for his county extension agent and 4-H agent and in fact first tried to join Extension after obtaining his MS degree. His interest was solidified after receiving his Ph.D. -- Mitchell knew that he wanted to work with Extension using his knowledge and experience in a practical way with producers and county agents and that research and classroom teaching did not appeal in comparison. He took to heart some great advice he had received: “Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do. Try to have a positive impact on those things you can change. You have some great ideas; let others know about them and work to enact them.”
Mitchell cites Dr. Walter Sowell, Extension soil specialist for ACES in the 1970s, as an early mentor who took him to Chandler Mountain, to work with growers who had soil liming issues with tomatoes. Dr. Tom Cope was a helpful supervisor at Mitchell’s first job which was with the Auburn University Soil Testing Program. Dr. Don Ball, a colleague and Extension Forage Specialist, influenced Mitchell’s career-long approach to Extension work.
One of Mitchell’s career highlights was being able to work as project leader for the “Old Rotation” experiment (cc. 1896) and the “Cullars Rotation” experiments on the Auburn University campus, procuring a spot for each on the National Register of Historical Places. These experiments continue to teach us valuable lessons in soil management and plant nutrition and are terrific outreach opportunities.
Mitchell also values his long involvement with the Alabama Master Gardener Program. He notes,
“Teaching ‘Soils, Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers’ for over 30 years has enabled me to combine my passion, gardening, and
my profession, soil science, and share both with others. The Extension MG program is the epitome of what Extension is all about, extending science-based research to those who can use it. It also benefits Extension in that we have gained many friends and supporters who otherwise would not have known anything about Extension.”
Reflecting on career challenges, Mitchell is no fan of what he regards as excessive administration and bureaucracy. He is concerned that many great ideas and effective programs get lost in “the administrative maze”.
If Mitchell had his wish, the Teaching and Demonstration Gardens at Auburn University (and at all Research and Extension Centers) would be revived. He also feels that the Soil Testing Program should be administered and sponsored by Extension because of the agents’ special relationships with the public.
Mitchells is concerned that the loss of traditional clientele, i.e. farmers, is a threat to Extension. He notes “agriculture has been a mainstay of Extension since its founding in 1911. However, today, these clientele are very few and most of them get their technical information elsewhere. One reason the Master Gardener program has been so successful is that it reaches an underserved clientele. Our county agents and specialists cannot be everything to everyone.” He also notes that technological advances like computers and cell phones have proven to be double-edged swords. They enable agents to be more effective and reaching more people but they have also cut down on one-to-one client time.
Mitchell and his wife are very busy with travel around the world and across the U.S. At home, he serves as president of the Lee County Historical Society and devotes a lot of time to the local Civitan Club. Mitchell teaches classes at the Oshner Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn (and takes OLLI classes) and continues to teach Master Gardener classes whenever asked. He notes he wants to stay involved as long as his health permits.