Meet Your Local Conservationist An Interview with Nancy Caywood

Me

Tell us a little about your family

I am the third generation in a five-generation farming family. My grandfather bought our farm at 11-Mile Corner in 1930. My father was raised on this farm and then served in WWII. He met and married my mother after the war and together they purchased a farm near Stanfield, which they farmed from 1947 to 1980. My grandparents gifted them the 11-Mile Corner Farm in the 1960s and was leased out until my son Travis Hartman began farming it in 2006. Travis has been growing cotton and alfalfa.

As I was growing up, my dad would share his love of farming with me and my sister Patty and brother Jim. He taught us to irrigate, let us help him work on tractors, drive tractors, spray weeds, etc. We learned to swim in the irrigation ditches, and we spent many hours in them cooling down in the summertime. I had such a passion for agriculture, but my parents did not encourage me to pursue it as a career. Funny how things come full circle.

I first became a teacher and taught first and second grades in Casa Grande. Understanding that kids absolutely do not know where their food comes, I incorporated agriculture in the classroom before there was a program for Ag in the Classroom! I arranged for my students to visit the University of Arizona Maricopa Ag Center (MAC) and before I knew it was offered a job by the West Pinal, Coolidge-Florence, and Eloy Natural Resource Conservation Districts (NRCDs) as their first Education Center Director in 1996. I was up for the challenge and left the classroom for a new career! And what a career it has been!!! The three NRCD’s were very supportive of ideas and concepts for a Natural Resource Education Center (NREC). At first, I worked out of my home, but was eventually given an office at the Casa Grande NRCS Field Office. I began networking with UofA MAC and was given the green light to begin children’s programs at MAC. The program was entitled FARM FILLED AG-VENTURES. As interest from schools began to grow and teachers were signing up for field trips, it became apparent that a second person was needed. 

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Mary Sue Beers was hired and together we wrote and developed curriculum and implemented it through school tours. We were off and running and educating several thousand kids a year!!! We also began a Winter Visitor Program and educated around 1,000 winter visitors each year at MAC. In 2002, NREC found a new home at Central Arizona College. The FARM FILLED AG-VENTURES Program is still running strong today under the leadership of Jennifer Salcido. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I started a program that is still sustainable 24 years later!

During the same time (1997-1999), I began working on my Master’s in Agriculture Education at the University of Arizona. I completed my degree in 2000. In 2001, I was offered the opportunity to begin an education program for the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center in El Centro, California. It is one of nine research farms in California and is a part of UC Davis and ANR (Agriculture and Natural Resources). I named the new program FARM SMART and the mission established by myself and my director, Dr. Paul Sebesta, was “to nurture an awareness about natural and renewable natural resources including agriculture so they can be conserved, managed and available for future generations”. Using some curriculum from FARM FILLED AG-VENTURES and developing new curriculum aligned to Imperial Valley Agriculture, the program was off and running and saw over 6,500 students and winter visitors attended a program in its first year. In 2014, the program reached the 100,000 mark. I retired from the University of California in 2013 so I could be closer to my family. FARM SMART is strong today and I am so proud to have given “birth” to it as well as FARM FILLED AG-VENTURES!

Having retired and time on my hands, I decided to begin an education program on our family farm at 11-Mile Corner. Starting once again from scratch has its challenges – developing, implementing, and marketing the program requires a lot of time but the gratification is amazing because I know how important it is to educate people about agriculture. Curriculum includes cotton, alfalfa, water education, and how we grow crops in the Arizona desert. I could not do these tours without the support of my family. My son Travis grows beautiful cotton for me, and my parents, sister, and grandkids will also help if I need them. We see over 1,000 people a year. It is fun to see visitors excited about being on a farm for the very first time. They are delighted when we go on a hayride and stop at the cotton field and pick cotton. They get to stand inside of a module builder for a picture. We even took the back gate off an old module builder, put bistro tables and pictures inside of it and serve refreshments – and our guests love it! We have many winter visitors, bus tours, college and university groups, agricultural groups, and pre-convention tours for Ag Conventions. Most recently a tour was arranged by the American Embassy for a group of visiting photojournalists from Ubekistan!

Family Picture

What is the history of your farm?

My grandfather, Lewis Storey, purchased the land in 1930. His brother, J.R. Storey, also purchased land a few miles away and they farmed together and were known as Storey Brothers Farms. There is a road to the North of our farm named after them. My granddad grew mostly cotton, alfalfa, wheat, and barley. My dad grew up on this farm and that is where his passion for farming began. After graduation from Casa Grande Union High School, he attended the University of Arizona to begin a degree program in Agronomy. He lived in the Aggie House with others from Casa Grande. World War II broke out upon completion of his second year at the UofA, so he left his studies behind and joined the Navy serving on the U.S.S. Cimarron. Upon returning from the war, he worked for his dad and began to acquire land. After marrying my mother, they bought the farm near Stanfield and farmed it until 1980. My grandfather farmed the 11-Mile Corner farm until the mid-sixties and then gifted it to my parents. The land is in the San Carlos Irrigation District and is completely dependent on water from Coolidge Dam for water. My grandparents and my parents have seen the farm in good years and years of drought. Unfortunately, we are currently suffering from drought, which is still active in eastern Arizona. Coolidge Dam is slightly over 10% capacity which means we are limited to the number of acres that can be farmed.

New ditch at the 11-Mile Corner Farm

What crops do you grow on your farm?

Cotton and alfalfa

What kind of conservation work have you done on your operation?

Land leveling and concrete-lined ditches with ports.

Ditching-11-Mile Corner Farm
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What, in terms of conservation work, is next for your operation?

Our water is very limited during droughts and Travis is considering more drought tolerant crops.

We’re also working with the San Carlos Irrigation District to have canals lined with concrete for more efficient water conservation and water delivery.

What sort of technologies have you implemented on your farm and how have they changed over the years?

Laser leveling, GPS which makes tractors more efficient because there is no overlapping, and GPS for better water efficiency. I’ve also utilized infrared technology in the past. During the 1980s, I worked for a company called Growers Pest Management. This company was working very closely with Don Garrett, who was then a Water Specialist with the University of Arizona. My job was to use an Infrared Gun and give irrigation recommendations based on figures provided by the UofA. This technology was in its infancy, so there was a huge learning curve taking place, but farmers using this service were reporting better water conservation practices. Even though the original Infrared Thermometers are pretty much history, it paved the way for this technology to be used in drones. We have used some drone technology but are not currently doing so.

How long have you been involved with NRCDs?

In 1996, I was hired by West Pinal NRCD, Florence-Coolidge NRCD, and Eloy NRCD to begin the important journey of forming an Education Program. After leaving the Natural Resource Education Center and moving to El Centro, I kept up with the Natural Resource Education Center and West Pinal NRCD through my dad and Mary Sue Beers. Upon my return from El Centro, my dad invited me to attend West Pinal NRCD Board Meetings and upon his retirement I began serving on the Board. I can never replace him because he is an encyclopedia of information based on years upon years of experience. I can only hope to put my best foot forward and serve in the most informed capacity that I can. I rely on him for advice.

Why did you get involved with NRCDs?

My father began serving on the West Pinal NRCD Board in 1962. Shortly after becoming a Board member, he became the Secretary/Treasurer. He held that position until 2018. As I was growing up, he would explain how important the West Pinal NRCD was to him and how their support with conservation practices helped him utilize water more efficiently.

 

In 1993, I gained the support of the West Pinal NRCD when I began teaching agriculture in my classroom. The West Pinal NRCD formally recognized my efforts and then nominated me for the AACD Conservation Teacher Award, which I received in 1993. The AACD nominated me for the Southwest Regional Award and in September 1993, West Pinal sent me to Grand Junction, Colorado to receive the Southwestern Region First Place Elementary Teacher Conservation Award sponsored by the National Association of Conservation Districts!

What changes have you seen in the West Pinal NRCD since you joined?

I’ve seen the formation and growth of the Irrigation Management Service (IMS), offering evaluation and education for water conservation efforts on farms. I’ve also witnessed Board Members placing incredible value on educating our youth about agriculture which resulted in the formation of the Natural Resource Education Center. Our youth are five and six generations removed from farming and need to be educated about where their food and fiber originates, as well as told about careers related to agriculture. We need to remember they are future voters.

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What is your favorite thing about being involved with NRCDs?

I enjoy serving on the West Pinal NRCD Board so that I can stay current on issues that affect farms. I want to support agriculture and be a voice for farmers as they face so many new rules and regulations. The local level is where policy begins and by choosing to be a part of the West Pinal NRCD, I hope to be an effective Board member who can help make a positive difference for our farmers.

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Thank you, Nancy Caywood!