As the name of this blog implies, I actually did come a farm. So, then it’s really no stretch that you would find me working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s been nearly a decade (what?!!) since I got to DC, but I owe so much of where I am right now to growing up surrounded by the cornfields in Iowa. But really, I came up through the Cooperative Extension Service.
Let me back up a bit. I work for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at USDA, and we partner with the nation’s land-grant universities to solve societal challenges through agricultural science. You may have heard about things like climate change, bioenergy, food security, food safety and childhood obesity. Yeah, we’re involved in all of that, and a whole lot more. Our partnership with these universities is intricate and complex, and I won’t bore you with the legislative details. However, it is a partnership that works in my opinion. We’ve got the money, they’ve got the capacity to use it for good things. But one third of this partnership is with the Cooperative Extension Service.
Each land-grant university in the nation has an Extension component. Extension is the university reaching – or extending – its resources and knowledge to the public. Think very informal education. Think education through real, trusted personal connections. Think experts helping a farmer figure out how to treat a disease on his/her crops. Think an Extension agent teaching families how to make smart food and nutrition choices. Think boots on the ground helping people after a disaster has struck (ummm, hello Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina). Think 4-H. And guess what? As of tomorrow, it’s been around for 100 years!
Let me back up even further. Without really knowing or acknowledging it, most of my life has had a direct tie to Cooperative Extension. When I first moved to the farm in the fifth grade, I joined a little ol’ program called 4-H. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It is one of the largest youth development programs in the nation. Most people tend to think it’s an organization for farm kids, and I used to agree with those people. And if I’m honest, the majority of my 4-H experience represents that thought. I showed hogs at the county fair and did sewing, baking and photography projects. So, yeah, there was that.
My junior year of high school tipped the balance in my views on 4-H though. That year, I decided to pursue some other activities that would broaden my current experiences – something just a little bigger than Stanton Community High School. I applied to join the Iowa 4-H Technology Team, which is about the nerdiest thing I’ve ever done. Considering I am going to the Harry Potter theme park this year, the previous statement says a lot. However, nerdy as it may have been, joining this team led me to make new friends that have lasted to this day, it gave me my first glimpse into applied science, and essentially it got me my current job.
I was a part of the team my junior and senior years of high school and then volunteered with the group throughout college. While giving a presentation at a state 4-H staff meeting my junior year at Iowa State University, I was asked what my summer plans were. Honestly, I had none, which was problematic because I needed an internship to graduate the next year. Sitting in the meeting was a communications specialist for ISU Extension, and she was able to hook me up with a pretty great internship with Extension communications. I worked there for the next year, and it was a great internship experience. I was able to edit a lot of material (I believe this is when my obsession with the red pen began), got to not only write their news releases, but submit articles to outside magazines for publication. I even had an op-ed published in newspapers across the state. All in all, it was a great experience . . . which eventually landed me my current job.
At the time, I had no idea Extension was even affiliated with the USDA. Shows how clueless I really was back then. But, I guess all that experience in agriculture and Extension stuck out on my resume, and I soon found myself working in DC. As they say, the rest is history.
Fast forward back to 2014. USDA and NIFA are celebrating 100 years of Extension. Earlier I said Extension was all about personal connections between a farmer, family, consumer and an Extension agent. These interactions mean something to people. So, to celebrate, I proposed that my office run a social media campaign to get people talking about these stories. What better way to show the impact of this incredible program than to have people share what it has meant to them. So, we’re asking people to tell their story through whatever medium they want – blog, Twitter, instagram, Facebook, etc., and then Tweet it to NIFA at @usda_nifa using the hashtag #Ext100Years. So, yeah, if you’re reading this and have a story to tell. Share it!
In a nutshell, my Extension story is one that broadened my horizons, led me to new experiences and eventually to a meaningful career doing what I love. Really. I get to communicate everyday about how NIFA – and Extension is one part of NIFA – are truly making a difference not only on the individual level, but on some of the greatest challenges this planet will have to face. And because of that, I wouldn’t change my story for anything!