Kinsie Rayburn isn’t your typical woman in agriculture. While she grew up in Mississippi in a family of beekeepers, she didn’t have family farm experience that propelled her into the field. Instead, it was her interest in conservation and environmental sustainability of natural resources that brought her down the agriculture path. A graduate of Humboldt State University in California (B.S. in environmental science and law) and the University of Leeds in England (M.S. in sustainable development), Kinsie has all kinds of agricultural experience, including building closed-loop agricultural systems in Zambia, developing aquaponic systems with the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and creating hydroponic and local food systems in Louisiana along with GIS and disaster program expertise learned during her time with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Today, she is Trust In Food’s Conservation Knowledge Officer, where she concentrates her efforts on keeping working lands healthy through conservation and sustainability projects so farmers can keep farming.
Land Values sat down with Kinsie to learn about the changes and challenges she’s experienced over the twelve years she’s working in agriculture and her advice for anyone thinking about traveling down a similar path.
Land Values: In your current role as Conservation Knowledge Officer for Farm Journal’s Trust in Food, what’s your day-to-day like, and what types of projects are you working on right now?
Kinsie Rayburn: Basically, my job is to get to know farmers better and understand where their perspectives are regarding conservation and how to better engage with them, better approach them because everything they’re doing is very unique to them.
I work to understand more comprehensively what farmers are feeling and thinking about certain topics and then work to consolidate those and bring out insights based on everything else we know.
I do a lot of data analysis, social science research and behavior change research all focused on farmers and what they need to feel capable of making the changes that they already have as their goals. I also share resources that are salient to farmers and ranchers and perspectives that are salient to conservation communicators so everyone can communicate better.
LV: Obviously, you’ve witnessed a lot of change over the last few years. Does anything stand out as a major trend or shift that applies to this field specifically?
KR: What I’m learning now is that I don’t have to do as much awareness or education for farmers as I used to – they’re already aware of many of the conservation practices out there. They’ve heard about the benefits. They know somebody who has done it. So now, I can focus on the available resources and what’s best for that farm and how to test it out, how to make those decisions so that their farms can thrive or suggest new practices they could benefit from.
LV: Have you faced any challenges navigating the conservation industry or the agriculture industry?
KR: It’s a new challenge every time. Sometimes, the challenges come when I go out to the farm and they don’t really know what I can help them with. It’s all about building that report, building those relationships, so that they feel comfortable because farmers have to trust their advisers and people who are recommending new things to try. You wouldn’t go to any other small business owner and suggest something just because you think it’s a good idea. There has to be a logic behind it. But farmers don’t really have that many decision-making openings during the year. They can change once a year. So the biggest challenge is meeting with farmers before they make the decisions.
LV: Have you run into any obstacles being a woman in ag?
KR: Not really. Once you get the conversation going, it stops being an uphill battle. I enjoy talking to someone about changing something in the field. What I’m doing is service orientation as opposed to selling a product. I’m working with farmers on decision-making timelines, building relationships. When I present something to a farm, it’s kind of a logic model of, all right, here’s what you’re doing. Here’s what you could do. How does that scale?
LV: It sounds like you’ve found a career path that you’re passionate about and truly enjoy.
KR: Definitely. I get paid to do something that makes me feel like I have a purpose.
LV: Do you have any advice for someone interested in following a similar career path or was there something you wish you had known before going into the field?
KR: I wish I knew this field had existed when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. It wasn’t a discipline then. My advice would be to break the mold. Be innovative and apply your intelligence so it fits anywhere you know you can serve a purpose.