Sue Glende is a District Conservationist, or DC for short, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) serving Winona County in southeast Minnesota. Renewing the Countryside had the opportunity to work with Sue during a Women Caring for the Land workshop in the fall of 2015.
As a DC Sue’s work includes a wide range of activities ranging from providing information, design resources and technical know-how on conservation programs, providing financial assistance to implement these actions, helping landowners establish wildlife cover, and working on projects that help landowners conserve energy and improve air quality. Being the person leading the office there are management duties as well. The NRCS staff at Sue’s office works hard to provide these conservation planning and implementation resources to those who need it. They routinely have 20 – 30 new contracts annually for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). To do this work well requires a lot of one-on-one time with landowners and producers to help get funding applications processed and practices installed. The variety of the work keeps her coming back as she notes that “No day is the same. Each farm and landowner is different with its own opportunities and challenges.”
Graduating from NDSU College in the 1988 with a degree in Agricultural Economics and a minor in Soil Science her original plan was to be a loan officer but with the farm crisis in full swing that wasn’t the best time to be getting into Ag banking and after an internship with NRCS she decided to make it a career. Being a member of the community she works in is important to Sue. She notes that “I live in this community, drink the same water, and want to see the resources protected.” Sue has worked for the NRCS for 28 years, of those 7 years in Winona County. She and her husband also farm in Winona County where Sue leads by example putting conservation practices in place where needed on their own farming operation.
As a DC she and others in that role have been able to influence some programs offered by NRCS such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The program has seen some improvements and hopefully there will be more to come. Being a female in this position brings its own challenges such as some male clients not wanting to work with her. On the positive side it is often easier for female producers to feel comfortable working with Sue and other female staff. That number of other female staff continues to grow. Sue notes that “When I started with the NRCS agency there were 1 or 2 other women in this position in the entire state, over the years the makeup of NRCS staff has seen increases in female District Conservationists. I feel like I was a part of paving the way for future females seeking a career because I have had a hand in recruitment and hiring of several of the females over the years.”
When asked about opportunities for women to play a leadership role Sue is quick to point out the need for women at all levels of government such as Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisors, Township Supervisors, and County Commissioners. With lots of changes happening in Minnesota with water planning and management this is an important time for leaders to be engaged and make a difference. Participating in the NRCS Local Work Group (one for each county) is another great way to make your voice heard with regard to conservation priorities. The Local Work Group is a short term commitment in that it only meets once a year to set priorities for areas for conservation program funds. Sue is proud of the diversity and number of people who participate in the Winona Local Work Group each year but welcomes more voices and perspectives to join. There is also a need for education of leaders at a variety of levels about the issues farmers face which is something we can all assist in doing.
Some parting words of advice from Sue for those working on conservation included “Remember that ultimately the decision to do or not do conservation rests with the landowner. You can lead by example, educate, and listen to their needs. In southeast Minnesota we have a variety of landscapes and types of farming and all those various types of farming have things they can do with regard to conservation. It’s important that all types of farming have a voice.”
Thank you Sue for your dedication to protecting and improving the natural resources of southeast Minnesota!