Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Staci Emm, professor and Extension educator at the University of Nevada and member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe. Staci has spent the last ten years as an Extension educator in Mineral County, Nevada and is nationally recognized for agricultural and American Indian Extension programs. Staci holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and business management from the University of Nevada, Reno and a master’s of agriculture from Colorado State University.
1. Tell us about your background as a member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe and how you became interested in agriculture.
I became a member of the Yerington Paiute Tribe as an infant. My grandfather, Warren Emm, is Washoe and Paiute Indian and his mother lived in the Yerington, NV area. My grandfather moved to the Walker River reservation after he graduated from college in California. The Walker River reservation is allotted and individual Indians could purchase land, under trust status, to farm. My grandfather began purchasing the 20 acres allotments at this time and putting them together to create a farming land base. My father is the second oldest son of the family and began farming at an early age. He and my mother were high school sweet hearts and married young. I was four years old when my father built a farming and ranching business in Schurz, NV. It is not that I became interested in agriculture, I grew up in agriculture and it has always been a way of life. My dogs, cattle and horses are my therapy when I come home from a long day at work. My mother used to tell my sisters and I we could plan our whole life while sitting on a tractor. She was right.
I started my professional career as a newspaper reporter in the town of Yerington, NV in 1996 after graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno. I began working for the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension in July of 2000. I also went back to school during this time to get a Masters of Agriculture degree. After getting my masters, I got the job as the Extension Educator in Mineral County. I love being an Extension Educator in rural Nevada, there is no other job like it.
2. What does a typical day look like to you?
A typical day for me is to expect the unexpected. I get up and get ready, feed horses, sometime cows and of course give the dogs their bones. My office is located in Hawthorne, NV and I live on the family ranch in Schurz, NV, so it is about a 35 minute commute. There is limited cell service for the 35 miles so it is my down time. Once I walk into the office, it is something different every day. I am responsible for the administration of the Mineral County office and the local programs. I also am a project director for a large number of grant funded activities that include the statewide Nevada Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program and the Nevada Risk Management Project; and nationally I work with Indian tribes on land, water and agricultural projects.
I leave the office about 5:30 when it is dark outside. I will feed the animals and get to relax a little bit before bedtime.
3. How do agricultural Extension programs benefit communities?
I believe in every situation and community there is a place for Extension. Most people do not even know what Extension is or what it does. In Nevada, we do community need assessments and then we build programs based on community needs. Our program areas include Children, Youth and Families; Horticulture; Natural Resources; Agriculture; Health & Nutrition; and Community Development.
For example, Mineral County is a rural community that is geographically isolated. We created a program in 2009 called Veggies for Seniors after a needs assessment reported there was limited access for seniors to fruits and vegetables. This program provides 13 weeks of fresh produce with seniors with disabilities and had 95 seniors in the program this year. The produce comes from our Veggies for Kids hoop houses behind the schools and we purchase local food from the Yerington and Fallon area from local farmers.
Extension is also tied to an 1862 land grant institution. It is the doorway into different parts of the university. It is bringing knowledge out to the communities. I think the biggest issue with Extension is that there is so much work or needs that go unfilled, and not enough time in the day.
4. What opportunities exist in Extension for women starting a career in agriculture?
Extension work is not for everyone. Extension is not an 8 to 5 job and it is not a job that is structured. It is also a job where you can have several different bosses. Some people thrive in this environment and some dislike the on call status.
For those that love it, there is not a better opportunity to work in agriculture or the other program areas. If you want something new different every day, Extension is your place. If you want to be so tired that you cannot hardly stand because you are putting on a 4-H show or a conference but enjoyed the different people you worked with, Extension is your place. Extension has treated me really well. I never did thrive in an environment where you punched a time clock or I was told what to do every day, or liked doing the same thing every day. I have my own mind and I like using it. I get to travel as much as I want doing programs, I am not stuck in the office all day, and I like interacting with different people with different backgrounds.
5. Who are your role models?
I have never really thought about it. I am a goal oriented person and never did put much into role models, but I also had good parents who had expectations of me to lead a good life that made me happy. So, if I want something, I work for it or towards it. I have been lucky in my professional career to have some really good bosses. Not everyone is as lucky as I have been. I think every boss that I have had in Extension has really helped me excel and made sure I was working in places where I could do the most good.
6. Any words of advice for your fellow women in agriculture?
There is always more than one right answer. If you really want something and it just doesn’t happen you may have to realize the man upstairs doesn’t have that plan for you, but he has something else. Usually, that something else is better than you could have ever expected.
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We've been trying to start a ranching business, on the Navajo Reservation on our family's customary area use grazing land. We have our land plan with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in Shiprock, NM. We wanted to fenced it, re-construct the wells and start some kind of grass growing sections to move cattle from one section to the next. Sell and produce marketing beef for our tribe from within. I'm sure how to go about farm/livestock loans. From the BIA, we were told there are moneys for projects like ours, but they never pointed us in the direction to move forward and its been years now. We don't only have cattle but sheep as well.