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 Kristina Fast, a civil servant with USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Minnesota.
To learn more and connect with other women leaders in agriculture across the country, we encourage you to visit https://newfarmers.usda.gov/women-in-ag. If there is a leading woman in agriculture you’d like to see on the blog, please send us your suggestions at AgWomenLead@usda.gov.
1. Tell us about your background and how you became interested in agriculture. How did you end up at USDA?
I grew up on a farm near Odin, Minnesota where my parents produced corn and soybeans as well as raised feeder pigs. I always enjoyed growing up on a farm, helping in the field and learning to work with tools and helping out as needed. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Finance at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse. I met and married my husband Brandon, who also farms and I had been working in accounting in the manufacturing industry and heard about an opening as a Program Technician at the USDA Farm Service Agency. I began as a Program Technician in the Watonwan County Minnesota FSA Office in 2006 and a Key Program Technician in 2015. I have found FSA to be a place to combine my drive for business with my background and love of life in agriculture. I enjoy working face to face with the men and women providing the food and fiber for this great nation.
2. What is the story of Farm Service Agency’s Bridges to Opportunity? How does it serve Ag produces and partner organizations?
Bridges to Opportunity began in 2014 as a way to bridge the gap between our Ag producers with broader USDA programs and non-USDA partner organizations. It allows us at the county level to expand our reach to our customers and provide information about experts, services and programs beyond USDA. Our county office has had the opportunity to provide input and development into Bridges from the start.
Working with Bridges to Opportunity – BTO – in the county office has made me a better employee. It has equipped me with the tools to tailor our program offerings to serve each customer and look at each visit with a customer as a way to expand their knowledge of agriculture, or provide additional tools to assist them in overcoming the latest hurdle they are facing in agriculture. Our office started BTO Wednesdays when we wear a Bridges shirt and try to do something extra each week to bring a focus to Bridges by meeting with a partner or spreading the word about Bridges to each and every customer that walks in the door. Through Bridges, our relationships with our external partners have flourished and we have increased our collaboration by conducting joint informational meetings and sharing of program availability to our customers.
3. How can Bridges to Opportunity help recognize and elevate the integral roles women play in agriculture throughout the country?
Bridges to Opportunity is an ideal way to recognize and elevate the integral roles of women in agriculture. Through Bridges, county offices across the country can provide women in Ag information on upcoming events about leadership and learning opportunities. Bridges can connect women to partners that are experts areas they have interest in to help expand their business, or assist women in the awareness of national, state, and local programs or benefits that are available to jumpstart their venture.
For example, in Watonwan County, our CED and County Office Outreach Coordinator recently organized a local venue for a 6-week women in ag educational series which typically is located an hour or so away. The partner relationship building from Bridges assisted in bringing this exciting opportunity to our local women in Ag!
4. As a women in Ag, what does a typical day look like to you?
The appearance of women in agriculture has changed dramatically over the years and Ag women wear lots of hats! A typical day for me depends on the season and the days are usually anything but typical, you need to be ready for anything both in the farming operation and at FSA! My husband and I farm along with his dad, uncle, brother and families raising corn and soybeans and providing custom farm work. My husband also operates a retail corn and soybean seed and chemical business. During the spring and fall when work in the field is busy, I will be preparing food to deliver to the field after work. I am always “on call” to assist in moving machinery from field to field, go for a parts run due to a breakdown, and I have been known to meet a customer after work at our business and jump on the forklift in my work clothes to load a pallet of seed or chemical. I do the bookwork for our farming operation and assist with the retail business books year round. At the FSA office, I can most often be found assisting producers with their enrollment into the Conservation Reserve Program, completing payment eligibility documentation, working on a livestock disaster program, developing training material for Minnesota, or working with Bridges to Opportunity development at the county, state, and national levels.
5. Who are your role models and/or what inspires you?
I have always had such a respect for people in my life that work hard and respect others and this started with my parents. They taught me to work hard, treat others with respect, to be honest, and to be grateful. These things seem so simple, but as you move through life you realize that unfortunately, not all people learned these same values. Hard work, respect, honesty, and gratefulness are qualities that will ensure success in life whether big or small, while you are young or as you mature in life.
My inspirations in life are music and staying active. I am active in my church with our choir, blended worship singing team, and leading our youth Sunday School music program. In my spare time I enjoy listening to music, playing piano, playing volleyball year round, being outdoors, and attempting to learn the guitar.
6. Do you have any advice for your fellow women in agriculture?
My advice would be to continue to challenge yourself and encourage others. As we continue to push those “internal barriers” we have set in our minds that we think we are capable of, we continue to grow and conquer. Following that, we need to encourage others to push their internal barriers, so they can experience that same joy and satisfaction. I know some of my most memorable accomplishments have happened because I was encouraged to push forward. I want to be that encouraging person to others.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I am so proud to be a woman in Ag. I have loved being able to help farmers in their endeavors as an employee of the USDA Farm Service Agency, and enjoy living the life of a woman in Ag through our farming operation. It is truly a family affair filled with plenty of ups and downs, challenging times, rewarding times, but ultimately I wouldn’t have it any other way!