Sarah Carlson and her parents went to high school in the same building, but when she graduated in the late 1990s, it was called Indian Creek High School, whereas it was Shabbona High School when her parents got their diplomas.
The school districts’ consolidation is sort of the root of Carlson’s mission in the agriculture world.
Carlson, strategic initiatives director with Practical Farmers of Iowa, was one of four people honored March 6 with an Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Leader award. About 20 years ago, she was wondering why school districts would consolidate, a process that came to fruition her freshman year.
“I can’t believe how much of an impact that had – going through that consolidation, and wondering why we had to do it,” she said.
Years later, she realized job opportunities were waning in rural communities, leading to declining school enrollment.
“I learned agriculture has a lot of impact on rural towns,” she said.
Her recognition stems from her preaching the gospel of small grains and cover crops, which protect and enrich the soil, a best practice that’s caught on in many farming regions.
Carlson, who lives with her husband and four children in Des Moines, Iowa, remarked about how little the practice had been adopted by local farmers.
“It’s funny, though,” she said. “If you drive around DeKalb County, you’ll still think it’s not a thing.”
Carlson is building partnerships between PFI and entities in the food and beverage supply chain as part of strategic efforts to grow marks and support more research into cover crops and small grains. She also has helped create a cover crop discount through a crop insurance program, according to a news release from PFI.
Carlson said PFI has helped farmers optimize black, hard soils using cover crops – conditions not unlike portions of DeKalb County, where cover crops aren’t used. She said cover crops not only help with soil and water quality, but they reduce the need for herbicides and other … less-savory practices.
Carlson said her ultimate goal, however, is to cultivate relationships between farmers and vitalize rural America by getting farmers to share best practices, especially when it comes to cover crops, she said.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to get farmers to talk to each other again,” she said.
It isn’t lost on her the significance of being a woman and receiving the award.
“I’m a woman agronomist,” Carlson said. “I’m fairly young for an agronomist, and there’s an increase in woman agronomists in this field. To me, that’s the biggest deal.”