Ogden lives the dream, promoting agriculture

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By Sarah Berkshire, Landmark News Service

 Promoting what she’s loved her entire life in the very region where she grew up is a dream job for Michelle Ogden.

She’s worked for the LaRue County Water and Soil Conservation District for a little more than a year. Officially, she’s the administrative secretary. But while she minds the phones and manages the workflow, she’s an outreach coordinator, an event planner and a teacher, too.

No matter what her task, she said, her goal is to be a champion for agriculture, specifically the protection of water and soil.

About nine miles from the district’s one-woman office inside the Kentucky Farm Bureau on North Lincoln Boulevard in Hodgenville, Ogden grew up on a family farm. They raised cattle, hay and tobacco.

“I was a farm kid — 4-H, FFA. I was really active,” the 28-year-old Hardin County native said.

She’s working to make the district more visible and accessible to not only farmers, but every one. She started with the modern standard, a Facebook page, and is looking into improving Web presence. Making face-to-face contact and providing an agricultural experience is part of the job, too. 

Schools can tap her for a hands-on lesson in agriculture, conservation, biology, energy, ecology and more. Working with students is her favorite part of the job, she said. The wall behind her desk displays notes and cards of thanks from teachers and children and a carefully colored drawing picture of a woodland scene that won the elementary school conservation poster contest earlier this year.

“It is so exciting for me to make learning interesting for kids so that they go home and say, ‘Hey, Mom, did you know less than 2 percent of the population are farmers and they feed all of us,’ or ‘We need to protect our drinking water,” she said.

“It breaks my heart how little kids know about not just conservation but agriculture in general,” she said.

But she works with the newest crop of farm kids, too, helping out on FFA projects.

Additionally, she works to make conservation relevant to more adults.

The district, for example, is working with a farmer with 50 head of cattle that use round bales during the winter. He’s installing a heavy-use area with gravel that will prevent the ground from eroding. Someone “in town” might not care, Ogden said, but they might be interested in an upcoming rain barrel project, building an garden for absorbing rain or joining a field day outing.

Ogden teamed up with her counterpart in Hardin County, Sarah Woods, with whom she happened to attend high school, to organize a field day in June. About 80 attended, loading onto buses to tour a farm with an irrigation system that is uncommon for in this area and LaRue County Environmental Education Center.

The tour also stopped at a co-op and a general store run by the Amish in Hart County, where among other things shoppers can get a three-gallon tub of marshmallow cream, Ogden said.

Working hands-on with all residents is key, said Mark Howell, treasurer of the seven-member conservation district board to which Ogden reports.

The board meets once a month, he noted, so Ogden must be their face in the community.

He thinks Ogden — upbeat, tech savvy and interested in agriculture’s role is less rural settings — is bring the district into the future. 

“Farming is changing so quickly and we realize we have to change to,” he said.

Ogden earned a degree in agriculture communications from University of Kentucky. As a college student, she worked for the University of Kentucky Research Farm’s beef unit for three years, helping researchers and even scrubbing in on surgeries.

When her path led back to Central Kentucky, she was excited to get to work.

“I was ecstatic to come home,” she said, noting how much she enjoys returning to her family’s farm and spending time with her mother, Shirley Ogden, a widow and also a “spitfire” still involved in organizations including 4-H.