New extension agents want to see things grow
LOVINGTON — James Vinyard and Chelsey Wilson got their first ever experience of a county fair in Lea County.
Wilson, 4-H agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service since April 3, is originally from Lovington.
And, she grew up at the Lea County Fair.
As a member of 4-H for 11 years, she was involved in static projects and judging as well as showing hogs, goats, sheep, poultry and rabbits at the fair.
Vinyard, on the other hand, grew up in suburban Indianapolis, and he wasn’t involved in 4-H.
So he got a true baptism by fire just days after he started as the new Extension Agriculture Agent for the county at the Lea County Fair.
In fact, he’d never been to a county fair anywhere when he started in Lea County on July 17, he said.
“For me it was a big learning curve,” Vinyard said. “It was definitely a big learning experience but it was a lot of fun.”
Neither worked for the Cooperative Extension before they came to Lea County.
Wilson worked for the Oklahoma Military Department in Oklahoma City as National Guard Environmental Policy Act Manager.
A 2010 graduate of Lovington High School, she earned an associate’s degree in science from New Mexico Military Institute before earning her bachelor’s in plant and soil science from Oklahoma State University.
“It was a lot of paperwork,” she said. “If a property the National Guard owned wanted to get work done on a building, I approved it or gathered a lot more information.”
Vinyard came to Lea County from the University of Florida, where he was teaching while working on his doctoral degree in animal nutrition with a focus on dairy cattle.
He first got involved in agriculture as an undergraduate at Purdue University, where he earned his bachelor’s in animal science before earning his master’s in beef cattle nutrition at the University of Idaho.
Wilson and Vinyard now fill two of the three positions that were open at the Lea County Extension Service office. The agency still is actively seeking a Family and Consumer Science agent, they said.
They both were looking for a change when they accepted the jobs in Lea County, they said. Wilson wanted to get back to her 4-H roots and Vinyard had discovered he loved teaching.
“Growing up in 4-H, I had a passion for what 4-H does for youth,” Wilson said. “It teaches them to learn, to grow all kinds of life skills.”
Even before she left Oklahoma for her old stomping grounds, Wilson said she enjoyed her job with the state Military Department, but she’d been trying to find a job with the Extension Service there.
She missed being around 4-H and everything it offered.
In Vinyard’s case, he developed an interest in teaching that turned into a passion as he advanced through his own educational process, he said. He’d already spent the last 11 years at universities around the country.
“I was first exposed to ag education during my undergrad and it kind of became a theme throughout each of my degrees,” Vineyard said. “I realized that was kind of where I wanted my career to go.
“I really liked working for the university in grad school. I really liked those opportunities I got to teach high schoolers about cattle nutrition or talk to producers at different meetings about what’s going on or how things could be improved. That’s what drew me toward Extension work.”
Growing local 4-H programs is a top goal for Wilson. Just 177 youth involved in 4-H in Lea County “is a low number, as big as our county is,” she said.
“And I want to go to local schools, bring new programs … like rocketry or teaching them how to can a vegetable. In my mind those are skills that need to be learned.”
Wilson brings her passion for 4-H to the job. Vinyard said he brings a new eye having worked and studied in different parts of the country.
“I think the biggest thing I bring is kind of an outside perspective,” Vinyard said. “I’ve lived all over the place and people have a tendency to do things differently in different parts of the county. I come here not being really connected to anything and that sets me apart from other folks who grew up here or left and come back.”