By: Mike Reed
County Ag. Agent
A Bittersweet Column
I have been contemplating on how I would pen this article for quite some time. As most of you already know, I have made the decision to retire effective July 7, 2015. I have served as your County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources since May 26, 1981 and it has been an incredible journey for the past 34 years.
I came to Powell County in early April 1981 to “look around”. I was told there were two counties in the state of Kentucky which had vacancies for an Ag agent. I had promised my family back in Lincoln County and myself not to move too far from home, hoping to work somewhere within a two-hour drive of Greasy Ridge Road.
The day I came in Powell County, way before the days of Map-quest and the Internet, it was pouring down the rain and was cold. According to the road map, the quickest way to get here was to Richmond, then Irvine, then Ravenna, then over the mountain into Stanton. Logging was booming at that time and I think I met every log truck and gravel truck in Powell County on that day. You know the roads were slick, wet and winding, and I almost heaved before I got into Stanton. I thought, surely there is a better place than this. I met with the Fiscal Court, headed by Judge Billy Joe Martin. Some of the Court members were Charlie Manning, Woody Ware, George Otis Rogers and Windy Gaylord, all of whom are deceased. I remember Woody asking me if I knew anything. I was 21 and certainly did not have a clue about most things. I was raised on a dairy farm. We grew tobacco, alfalfa and cows. My boss, J.W Kidwell told me these were good people, and I would do well here. He encouraged me to give it a try. With much prayer, I decided to move to Powell County.
I remember my first Landlord. That was George Elkins. By conversations with him over the phone, he told me he would have a nice one bedroom apartment in Clay City ready by the middle of May. I loved George, but soon learned that he had a lot of irons in the fire. He was not always punctual, and he told you what you wanted to hear. His price was right, so I told him I would take the place sight unseen. I needed a place to stay. I was desperate.
When I arrived in Clay City the last week in May, it was hot. What George did not tell me was that my apartment was upstairs, just over the Clay City Times Office. It had 14 windows and no air conditioner. When I got there for the first night, there was no running water, but the electric was on. I purchased a cheap window air conditioner and put that in and spent the first week in style, just next to the old sewer plant in Clay City. In a few days, my water was turned on and my life started to get organized. It was while there that I met Mr. Edmond Burger, retired editor of the Clay City Times, who became a dear friend. I also met Mrs. Jerlene Rose who was current editor of the Clay City Times. I would walk down my steps on Tuesday night and talk to she and Kathy as they were putting the paper together. I talked to Jerlene about having an article for the CCT. She agreed to put my information in each week.
My first article was on corn borers in field corn and sweet corn. It was a “canned article” from the University of Kentucky. I thought I was doing what my employer, the University wanted. Jerlene put the article in the paper reluctantly, then she called me. She then gave me the best advice that I had received about being an Ag agent. She said : “I ran your article this week, but will not do it again. You gave me a canned article from UK, I get that already. If you want to be successful writing for my paper, you need to take the research based information given from UK, then write your article around that. I want you to use the names of local people. I want you to take pictures of their cows, their corn crops, their gardens. I want you to have your article with a local twist. If you do that, I will print every article you write. If you don’t it may just get thrown in the basket with all the other trash I get”!
I thought her words were a little harsh at the time, but that advice has resounded in my ear more than once over the years. I have strived to make my article fact filled, but fun. I will go down in time as the County Agent with the “Red Lobster” chickens. I have taken pictures of your cows, your gardens, your flowers and your children over the past 34 years.
Before the days of Facebook the Clay City Times was the primary way that we gave out information to our local people. You read my column, and in some ways, made me a local celebrity-a title I certainly did not deserve. “Oh you are the guy in the newspaper” they would say…”Let me ask you something”. Then they would continue to ask about their bugs, their crawdads or their peaches that were rotting on the limb. In many cases, I did not have the answer. Sometimes, there was simply no answer. But I tried to listen and treat each question as the most important one of the day.
In the meantime, I fell in love with and married a sweet lady who worked in John Cox’s and Richard Fain’s office two doors down from my office. That 32 year marriage resulted in two beautiful, and intelligent daughters who I am so proud of. They are my greatest accomplishment.
Through the years, I have taken your kids to camp, I have taught them how to look down the side of a cow to see how straight she was. I took them to their first tobacco warehouse. I took them to Lexington for the first time in their lives. I placed ribbons on their pumpkins at the County Fair. I chased the greasy pig, before it entered the Fairgrounds. I turned hams over a fire pit at 4:00 in the morning when all the others went home. My job has taken me to the countries of Georgia and Serbia, teaching their Extension people how Ag Advisory programs are used in Extension Services in Kentucky. I have had little kids hug me because they received a pumpkin at a Head Start school program. I have fed thousands at Field Days, customer appreciation days, banquets and winter meetings. I have traveled thousands of miles. But hopefully, through all this, I have made a difference in someone’s life.
In looking back over the past 34 years, I know that few people are as blessed as I have been to have had a job that did not seem like work. To get up in the morning and work and each day be a little different than the day before. To have had good co-workers to work with who kept your back and good friends who were there to work along -side you. They were always there to help you succeed.
I could name many names over the years who have given me great love and support, but I know I would forget many, at best, so I won’t mention names. To those who helped me over the years, “Thank You”. It has been a wonderful journey. It has been a wonderful career, but now I feel the time has come to pass the torch to someone else, someone with much more energy than I have now. God has certainly blessed me beyond measure, with great family, friends and a beautiful place to work and live. He knew what He was doing by placing me in this place, and for that I will always be grateful! And with that I will leave you with one of my favorite Bible verses that pretty much sums up how I feel. It comes from Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord., plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future”. God bless you all! Mike