Extension educator upholds passion for soil
Since 2014, Caitlin Youngquist has worked for the University of Wyoming Extension in Washakie County as their agriculture and horticulture educator.
“I grew up mostly in Washington state and moved to Wyoming after finishing my graduate degree,” she says. “I really enjoy working with farmers and ranchers helping them solve problems.”
She notes Extension connects producers with resources and increases their problem solving capacity. As the agriculture and horticulture educator, she specializes in soil, compost and waste management. Caitlin didn’t realize she could study agriculture in her post-secondary education until she started taking pre-requisites to become a veterinarian.
“I didn’t grow up in agriculture,” she says. “We grew up in a rural area, but not in farming and I originally wanted to go to vet school because I was good at science – it seemed like a logical career field, but once I got to college, I realized I could focus on production agriculture.”
After taking a few soil classes, Caitlin found she had a passion for soil and decided to get her master’s and doctorate degrees in soil sciences from Washington State University.
“I really enjoy helping folks interested in reducing tillage, using cover crops, monitoring or understanding soil health and carbon,” she shares. “There are some challenges working in agriculture if you don’t come from an agriculture background, but there’re also some advantages with having a different perspective and being able to connect with both consumers and producers – to be a service and help folks with those problems can be a good thing.”
“I really love the connection between soil, water, plants, animals, food and helping consumers understand the food and farming connection,” she adds. “It has been really rewarding.”
As an Extension educator, Caitlin has been busy working on several projects in Washakie County and around the state. The Wyoming First-Grains Project is one Caitlin has been involved with.
“I’ve been working with growers around the state to grow some of these ancient grains and ancient wheat varieties and helping them develop markets,” she shares. “I’ve been working a lot with consumers and bakers to really learn how to use some of these grains.”
“We don’t grow as much food here as we could – we grow a lot of sugarbeets and malt barley and a lot of beef is sent out of the state for finishing, but there are a lot more opportunities here to grow more food crops,” she adds. “It’s been fun working with producers who are really excited about growing food crops and alternative grains.”
A few other projects Caitlin is working on include compost and butcher waste management around the state.
In addition to her work with soils and helping producers, she also serves as the northwest regional director for the Wyoming Hunger Initiative.
“It has been a wonderful opportunity to work with different agencies and organizations involved with food insecurity and helping families get resources they need,” she says.
Under the Wyoming Hunger Initiative, Caitlin works with local hunters, farmers and ranchers for extra protein sources and even gardeners under the Grow A Little Extra program to increase the amount of produce donated and grown for food pantries and social service agencies.
“Our intention with this program has been to promote and encourage folks to plan ahead and plant extra with the intention to grow for food pantries and those in need,” she mentions. “We can grow a lot of food in this state in community gardens and backyards. If anyone can grow a little bit and work through the Extension offices and the Cent$ible Nutrition programs around the state, we can really bring it all into one place and share it with those who don’t have enough.”
Serving the community
As an Extension educator, Caitlin works to serve the ag community and its producers.
“We host programs and work with producers to figure out what kind of information they need and how we can help them solve problems,” she says. “An Extension educator is only useful when producers can share their concerns and questions – I’m not able to help people if I’m unaware there is a need.”
Caitlin encourages producers to reach out to their local Extension agents, use them as a resource and ask questions.
Today, her focus is on serving her community and helping those in need, but she also has a hand in the Wyoming Collaborative for Healthy Soils. The program is a stakeholder engagement effort aimed at engaging the broad agricultural community to identify ways to support producers in a voluntary adoption of soil health practices on croplands and grazing lands.
“There’re a lot of folks interested in learning about soil heath and management – we have some unique challenges here in Wyoming, so there’s an opportunity there to really improve how we manage soil at a state level,” she says.
As a woman in ag, there’re unique challenges for women in a male-dominated field, but it can be very rewarding. Caitlin notes she works with a variety of incredible women throughout the field of agriculture.
“I’ve found myself in agriculture, and I’ve found it to be a really good fit for me and I really enjoy it and the challenges,” she says. “There’re a lot of opportunities to be of service, make an impact and help people solve problems.”
For more information on Caitlin’s newsletter, The Big Horn Basin Ag Dispatch, visit tinyletter.com/DrCaitlin/.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.