One of the first memories I have is on the farm on which my family lived until I was five years old, on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. We had a small sheep herd on approximately 20 acres. One day when I was around four years old I was outside playing and I remember my father being just inside our family’s home, watching me play from a window. While his back was turned, I made my way over to our old John Deere tractor and climbed up onto the seat. Without any knowledge of how to drive any kind of equipment, I somehow managed to turn the key and start the engine (you don’t have to push the clutch to start this old tractor). The engine roared to life, and it scared me stiff! I was afraid to move, thinking that the tractor was going to put itself in gear and take off at high speed. I started crying uncontrollably, but luckily Dad heard the engine start and rushed out of the house to save me from certain doom. I remember being worried that he was going to be mad that I was playing on the tractor, but he comforted me, told me it was OK, and that he was glad I was safe. He calmly turned the tractor off and carried me inside. Looking back, I think he was happy that I wanted to participate in the farming activities.
We moved to Virginia soon after that day, to the farm on which my father grew up. Dad began managing the cow/calf herd in Swoope, Virginia at that time. My most fond memories of my childhood occurred on that farm. Feeding cattle with my dad in the winter, chopping thistles with my brother, and splitting wood with an elderly neighbor are times that I reflect back on a lot. All of the memories that I have growing up on a farm shaped my love for agriculture and the outdoors.
After high school, I attended Virginia Tech and immediately picked my major in Agriculture and Applied Economics. I did not know exactly what I wanted to do for a career, but I knew I wanted to be in the agriculture field. During my time at college, we participated in USDA conservation programs to fence the cattle from the streams and to install livestock watering troughs. This ignited my passion for improving environmental concerns on farmland, and because of this newfound interest, I began enrolling in environmental and conservation-related courses at Virginia Tech.
The experiences and education that I received from Virginia Tech served me very well. Upon graduation, I began working for the Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District. The Headwaters SWCD administers state-funded conservation programs in the county in which I grew up. I have been working with local producers to improve the conservation value of their farm since my work with Headwaters. After three years with that agency, I began working for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service located in the same office building. I have been employed with NRCS for ten years. In this position, I am able to help farmers install and implement conservation practices and administer federally-funded conservation programs. In some capacity, I have worked directly with most of the farmers in Augusta County.
I recently got married, and my wife and I live back on my family’s farm in Swoope, where my father and I manage the cow/calf herd. I spend my evenings and weekends tending to the cattle and forages, working in the yard, and gardening. I occasionally go deer hunting or maybe a weekend trip to the ski slopes. I’m excited to participate in VALOR, look forward to the experiences we will have in Virginia and abroad, and anticipate the future when I can apply the knowledge and skills to help the agriculture community grow, evolve, and succeed.