Deborah M. Cox completed her Master Gardener training in 1996, Extension personnel literally took her by the hand and led her into her first volunteer activities, giving her confidence to do more. In 1998, Extension then asked her to lead the Cameron County Horticulture Extension Committee which led to further development of her knowledge of the needs of the community and her leadership skills. In 1999, she had the opportunity to serve Valley-wide as the President of both the Cameron County and Hidalgo County (Rio Grande Valley MG Association) as their President. The experience of working, communicating and motivating individuals led to her accepting the position of Chairman for the Brownsville Beautification Committee for the next two years.
Beginning in 1996, Debbie began working on the Rio Grande Valley Master Gardener Association Newsletter and served as a Vice President of the regional MG chapter while still an intern. Debbie managed the Brownsville and contributed to the Harlingen Water Smart Demonstration Gardens in the spring of 1999. In 2002, Debbie co-led the development of the Sabal Palms Audubon Sanctuary Demonstration Nature Garden. From 2000 to 2002, Debbie served as co-coordinator for the Family Nature Festival held during the local Birding Festival. Debbie also served as co-chair for the local Herb Extravaganza events (in 2000, 2002, and 2003). In 2003, Debbie developed an empty lot into an official Backyard Wildlife Habitat; one of only three on South Padre Island at that time.
Transitioning to an empowerment mode, Debbie has mentored local volunteers and other Master Gardeners to organize local events and disseminate horticultural education. Serving as Chair for the Cameron County Horticulture Education Committee, Debbie worked with a committee to develop over 52 local gardening articles in 1999, reaching 96,000 readers weekly in the Brownsville Herald and the Valley Morning Star newspapers. In 2003, Debbie helped organize the Master Gardener and Master Naturalist involvement in the International Tree Conference, the Texas State Arbor Day Celebration held in Brownsville, Texas, and the Family Nature Day Festival. Debbie also worked with other local volunteers to create a butterfly and hummingbird garden in an impoverished neighborhood during the 2003 United Way Day of Caring. Debbie has also been instrumental in bringing various speakers to Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary and the Palm Gardens Nursery “Let’s Talk” Garden Series to further continuing education and general public knowledge of local horticultural information.
Debbie served on the Lower Rio Grande Development Council Solid Waste Advisory Committee. This experience allowed her to coordinate with the county and the MG’s to secure a $30,000 grant for a compost demonstration program that provided a covered outdoor classroom, signage, compost bins, tools, tool shed, rainwater capture system and demonstration gardens along with handicapped sidewalks to promote composting and recycling programs in the community. Working with a committee and Master Gardeners to implement the grant in 2008/2009; Debbie took care of submitting and following up the required grant reporting in fulfilling the grant.
Working with the City of Brownsville, Debbie obtained a Texas Forest Service CommuniTree grant and helped coordinate local volunteers to plant 100 trees throughout a low income residential area. Debbie expanded the Guide to Growing Trees in the RGV to include tips on planting to avoid power lines, planting trees to provide energy efficiency savings and encouraging plantings to attract wildlife. Her efforts earned the utility the Tree Line USA designation.
Debbie is a lifelong learner, nature/garden enthusiast, who loves turning children and adults on to the fragrance, flavors and fun of gardening through herbs, veggies and butterfly/hummingbird plants. Debbie’s gardening expertise in south Texas led her to be a speaker at the 2013 MG State Conference. Debbie’s outreach includes giving herbal programs on growing and using herbs at Family Consumer Science and 4H Extension Agent conferences in 2015, and acting as a regular speaker to local garden clubs, youth groups, scouts, at state parks, and to both the parents and teachers at local schools and neighborhood community garden groups.
Debbie is best known as the “Herb Lady” for sharing/talking gardening with everyone at the weekly Saturday farmers markets from 2008 until her retirement in 2017. At the markets, she sold her husband’s fragrant herb, vegetables and butterfly hummer attracting plants with a prominent sign encouraging everyone to “Please Touch the Herbs”. She often brought caterpillars one week and chrysalis’ the next for children to release once they emerged, introducing the importance of insects and host nectar plants.
Debbie used her marketing skills throughout the years to recruit members into the MG program, even sponsoring someone’s class fee so they could take the program. Debbie received the “Master Gardener of the Year” award for Community Service in 2003. In 2015, she received an award for 18 years of continuous service and was recognized at the Texas Master Gardener Annual Conference in Belton, Texas.
Debbie served as Regional Director and board member of the Texas Herb Growers and Marketers Association and is a current member of the Herb Society of America and a graduate of Leadership Texas and of Leadership Brownsville. Debbie is a consistent leader who has contributed to expanding the County Extension outreach efforts to disseminate horticultural education to the general public. She uses her network of resources, volunteers, and leaders throughout the community that she developed over many years in her volunteer work to promote horticulture education and environmental stewardship throughout the region.