ANDY BROSIG NEWS-SUN
LOVINGTON — Growing up in Tatum, Laci Kennedy enjoyed working with the 4-H agents and programs through the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service in Lea County.
A member of Tatum 4-H and Tatum Schools FFA, she showed rabbits, heifers, goats and pigs annually at the Lea County Fair. When she wasn’t working with her animals, training them for the show ring, she was out with her dad, Ricky Kennedy, helping with the cattle on the family’s northern Lea County ranch.
“That’s kind of where my passion for agriculture came from — my dad, just going out and helping him tend cattle,” Kennedy told the News-Sun recently. “That’s what my summers were.”
Today, it’s that same passion for agriculture Kennedy has brought home to Lea County as the new agriculture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, based on the Lea County Fairgrounds in Lovington. She returned to Lea County on Oct. 1 last year to take the post after six years as agriculture agent for the Texas A&M Cooperative Extension Service in Irion County, southwest of San Angelo, Texas.
After high school, Kennedy earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture and a master of arts degree in agriculture education, both from NMSU. She knew she wanted to make a career promoting and advancing agriculture, she said, so she took a job as an ag teacher.
“This is the avenue I chose,” Kennedy said. “I tried to do ag teaching and that was not — I’m just not cut out to be a teacher. The Extension Service is more my speed.”
Working with the cooperative extension service is something that’s sparked an interest in Kennedy for a long time, she said. While there’s still some teaching involved, it’s just not the same as in a school setting.”
“I didn’t like the classroom environment,” she said. “And, if you’re an ag teachers, 90 percent of the time they expect you to weld. I’m not too good on a welder.”
Most of the educational side of her job today is working with adults, something Kennedy said she didn’t think she’d enjoy at first. And, in all actuality, she didn’t.
“I just wanted to work with kids,” Kennedy said. “But, in my position now, I mainly focus on adults, about 80 percent adult programs. I enjoy working with adults now.”
Lea County has one of the largest county extension services office in New Mexico. In addition to Kennedy’s position as agriculture agent, Lea County has its own 4-H agent and a family consumer science agent, in addition to a program assistant, Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition (ICAN) program specialist and a secretary. That many staff in one location is a rarity, she said.
In her previous post in Irion County, for example, Kennedy was the only agent for all the programming, with the help of a part time secretary. It definitely kept her busy, she said, not giving her enough time to focus on any one aspect of the job.
“I like it a lot because now I can focus on my job,” Kennedy said. “It’s nice to just focus on my programs and focus on the things I want to do, versus the things I had to do. Every time the phone rang (in the Irion County office), it was me.”
Kennedy said she brings her experience back to Lea County, along with her knowledge of the area. The vast difference, and not just in distance, between the northern and southern ends of the county will be a challenge. But it’s a challenge she’s ready to face.
And she’s looking at the new job, at least in part, as a learning experience — relearning about her home. Her background in Lea County agriculture is definitely one of her strong suits, Kennedy said.
Agriculture is big business in Lea County, one of the top beef producing counties in the state. Lea County also ranks near the top for hay production and is fourth in New Mexico in terms of dairy production.
Kennedy has big plans for adult and youth agriculture programs in Lea County. She’s already started a Lunch and Learn program for land owners, with monthly gatherings scheduled to bring in Extension Service experts on a variety of non-farming related topics.
She’s working on a program to introduce school children to poultry production by bringing incubators into the classroom so they can watch chicken eggs hatch. Kennedy also hopes to establish a livestock judging competition on the Friday of fair week at this year’s fair.
“And I’m working on a calf scramble for the county fair,” Kennedy said. “This one will be geared toward (youth) already enrolled” in 4-H or FFA.
In the scramble, the young people will have to halter a steer or heifer and lead it across a line in the ring. If they can lead their critter home within the time limit established, they’ll receive a cash prize, which they can put toward the animal of their choice to show at the following year’s Lea County Fair.
“Hopefully it will help those kids who don’t have enough money to buy an animal,” Kennedy said. “And, for the kids already showing animals, maybe it will help increase the competition.”
But most of all, Kennedy said she wants to make more residents aware of the services offered by the Cooperative Extension office in Lea County. It’s not only a resource for 4-H’ers, farmers and ranchers.
It can be a resource for the entire community.
“Addressing topics for the public gets my foot in the door and gains a little bit of trust,” she said. “If I can get three new people a month who’ve never heard of the Extension Service I feel that’s successful.”
Kennedy said she and the other agents at the Lea County Extension Service office welcome any question from residents. And Kennedy said she’s received some pretty bizarre inquiries in the past, such as the elderly woman in Texas who thought that, as a taxpayer, the Extension Service agents should help her trap a squirrel on her property.
“If there’s not a specialist who can help — it’s like my supervisor says, we don’t have to just focus on New Mexico specialists,” she said. “There’s a specialist somewhere out there in the Extension Service for everything.
“I’ve received some phone calls that I think, ‘How am I going to answer this?’” Kennedy said. “But that’s the thing about my job — I don’t have to know everything. I just have to know who knows.”