Eleven years ago, right to the pay period, I walked into the Oregon FSA State Office in Tualatin as a brand new County Operations Trainee (COT). I was 24, pretty confident in myself, and had a fair idea of what I was getting myself into.
Turns out one of the things above was true. I was 24, and probably more cocky than confident.
Within 6 months, I would have trained in Wasco, Lane, Baker and Harney counties. I was shaped by three County Executive Directors (CED), who as I look back now having my own COT's to train, probably didn't have a lot of time in their day to add one more task of training the new kid, but never made me feel that way. Thank you Kevin, Jean and Trent.
I'd originally been told the training program would take 12 months, and wasn't quite sure Jean knew what she was talking about when she told Roger (our AO) that I was ready to go. Little did I know how much that phrase would come back to help me in my first two years in Morrow County.
Heppner was great to me.....but I learned a lot, and in quick order. Josh helped me keep on track, and provided me a foundation that would stay with me for the next ten years. I distinctly remember the phone calls where he would remind me "Just fix one problem today. You can tackle a new one tomorrow." Lorrie & Adam gave me the space and ability to come into my own as a manager, and supported me in a way that I have always been thankful for. I know it's hard for an office with a decade or more a tenure in each employee to be the receiving end of a brand spanking new manager - but they never made me feel that way.
We did a lot of work in Heppner in two years. We cleaned up files, paid a lot of money in SURE crop disaster, handled CRP grazing and the stops in the program that came with it, learned DCP/ACRE and kept the PL wheels rolling. Those years were a lesson in managing complexity, and making sure producers were informed.
A dream to own our own ranch took us to Nebraska for a year. The ranch part didn't work out - but I am grateful that the Buffalo/Sherman COC let me come be their CED for a time, even when they knew it probably wouldn't be long term. The ranch we tried to buy was 4 hours from the office, with a host of FSA offices in between. Kearney was the first one that came open; and it was there that I cut my teeth on handling volume. Sharon Blue was the first Chief PT I had, and I just can't say enough about her as a person and an FSA employee. Mike Eller was a DD who in his short time showed me what successful communication, hands off management and leadership could really look like. All of the girls in the office continued to instill in me the service component that I would learn almost all FSA employees have. Jean Burns, our "Energizer Bunny" and a friend still today, Mona, who always had a kind word for every one, and the rest of the crew gave me such a positive experience as an outsider to Nebraska FSA who quickly learned that they weren't soybeans, but just plain "beans".
When it was clear that the ranch deal wasn't going to go thru as we'd originally anticipated, Clint and I started to think about where we really wanted to end up long term. Hermiston always came to the forefront; an agriculturally based community that was progressive along with a tremendous network of friends created a strong draw for us. Timing would have it that the CED job in Pendleton was open; and after a few conversations and a telephone interview with the COC, we found ourselves moving back in April 2011.
Umatilla County FSA is a machine; the largest office in Oregon and a contender for the largest CRP office in the nation; I was quick to be thankful for the complexity lesson I'd received in Morrow County and the volume lesson I'd received in Buffalo/Sherman County.
We've been through CRP sign ups, ARC/PLC elections, outreach meetings, and acreage reporting deadlines. There were highs (2014 & 2015 ARC-CO payments) and lows (2016 CRP sign up) but through it all, I have been blessed to work with a tremendous staff and some of the best farmers & ranchers you'll find.
If there is anything I'm remembered for at FSA, I hope it is that we tried to serve the farmers & ranchers first.
I have always liked to say that service is our middle name.
And if you don't communicate it, they don't hear you.
So today, as I wrap up my last day in the office at FSA - I'd like to say thank you to the FSA employees who have helped me become who I am today.
And to the farmers & ranchers - it has been my honor to work on your behalf.
Monday, I start a new chapter right across the street at NW Farm Credit Services. I'll still be working with the same farmers & ranchers, just in a new capacity. I'm excited about the challenge to learn credit and continue serving folks in agriculture.