Colorado's First Female Commissioner Of Agriculture Discusses Career, Barriers For Young Farmers

Jan 24, 2019

Gov. Polis has selected the first-ever woman as Colorado's Commissioner of Agriculture. Kate Greenberg spent the last ten years working with farmers — and helping to shape agricultural policy while working for the National Young Farmers Coalition.

KUNC's Esther Honig spoke with Greenberg about her career and the challenges of the position.

 

Esther Honig: Tell us about your background. How did you come to agriculture?

Kate Greenberg: I came to agriculture later in life. I'm originally from Minnesota, grew up most of my life in the city in Minneapolis, but my early years were out in farm country in Mankato, southern Minnesota. That's where I fell in love with the land and it wasn't until I left Minnesota that I fell in love with agriculture ... I left, went to eastern Washington state and realized I had been the beneficiary of (the work) of farmers and ranchers ... my whole life without understanding what it took to get food on the table. Once I realized that, the gratitude and sense of service I developed toward agriculture and farmers and ranchers really came alive.

I started farming in college (and) out of college. As I was working on the land, I started to see my role as an advocate; as someone who can start building bridges across sectors, across communities. I believe firmly in listening, as I mentioned, and asking people what their experience is, what they're up against, rather than making assumptions.

Honig: How do you think you'll be received as the first female to hold this position and represent an industry that's largely dominated by men?

Greenberg: Well, I'm excited about it. There have always been women in agriculture and oftentimes women are not counted in the same way as men in terms of how we're counted on the census (and) the roles we've played traditionally.

But more and more, women are getting into agriculture. More and more women are running their own businesses (and) are taking on leadership on farms and ranches and are taking on leadership in other aspects of (agriculture) as well — not just on the farm but in elected office and hopefully fighting for agriculture in positions of advocacy and research and extension.

I think that there is so much opportunity for women in agriculture and I'm excited about what's possible. And I want to see more young women consider careers in agriculture as well.

Honig: You've worked with young people as a leader with the National Young Farmers Coalition. Can you talk about ways we could lower barriers that right now make farming for young people pretty difficult?

Greenberg: This is sort of the nexus of a lot of these challenges. For a lot of young people, whether you're coming at it from a multi-generational angle, or you're starting fresh, there are tons of challenges.

There are enough challenges with just the weather, with the hail storm that can wipe out your entire crop and water. But then you get the challenges of access and affordability, especially around land. The rising cost of land is prohibiting lots of young people from either entering the business or scaling up their businesses. Same is true with access to credit and capital. Financing a farm business is tough, especially when you're starting out on your own.

So in my mind we've got a ton of things to face but the way I see the world is that they are also opportunities. Agriculture has risen to those opportunities at every obstacle in the past and I'm excited to see how we do so again.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.