FSA, NRCS opens doors to new facility
Director: Gives farmers more accessibility
By LARRY KERSHNER
FORT DODGE – They may not have been born in barns, but the staff of the Webster County Farm Services Agency and the Natural Conservation and Resource Service work in something that resembles one.
The two entities held an open house on July 26 for their new 4,860-square-foot service center that has a gambrel-roofed front entrance to identify with its rural clientele. The rear of the building is rounded, resembling a grain bin. The $800,000 structure was built by owner Norm Zimmerman of Monticello. It’s located at 1898 Kountry Ln, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 169 and Iowa Highway 7.
The facility is leased by USDA for 10 years, said contractor Norm Zimmerman, for $100,000 annually. His company, Zimmerman Buildings Inc., has been constructing U.S. Department of Agriculture facilities since 1996, he said. Zimmerman said his company is contracted to provide 100 percent full service to the building.
The office building is 56-by-94-feet. There is a second story in the center of the building. As one enters the front, FSA is on the left and NRCS on the right and easily identifiable.
Carolyn Leners, the new FSA county executive director since June 4, said the new structure provides farmers better access to both organizations.
According to Lisa Espe, who serves as acting CED in Leners absence, the building is more employee-friendly.
“It’s more open,” Espe said, “and it’s brighter. There’s a sit-down waiting area for farmers, which the old building didn’t have and a bigger counter space.”
The former building, Espe said, “was built more for typewriters.” She said the new building was designed to meet the federal government’s requirements for a computer-oriented service center.
Leners added that each of FSA’s six program techs have their essential files closer at hand, so they can process farm clients’ program paperwork more quickly.
In addition, the entire buildings is handicapped accessible. The former structure, Leners said, was grandfathered-in from the American Disabilities Act requirement due the the structure’s age.
Leners said she told Zimmerman that the space between the two second-story windows would be an ideal spot for a barn quilt. “We haven’t heard anything on that yet,” she said.
Leners, a 25-year FSA employee, said she feels fortunate to have a staff that boasts three 20-plus employees – Espe, Deb Friesth and Leanne Halligan; plus three 10-plus year employees – Bonnie Stok and Jennifer Halstead; and Mindy Ott with four years. Combined there are 103 years experience of FSA program experience in the office.
“Work wise,” Leners said, “this is a large county. And these gals are the best.
“If I ask them to do something, they knock it right out.”
Leners said the county committee – Brad Koester, of Duncombe; Randy Clough, of Clare and James Carlson, of Gowrie – assist her in keeping tabs in what is happening on farms in her service area. The center’s minority advisor is Colleen Eslick, of Dayton.
Leners started with FSA as a program tech in Sac County, a position she held for 20 years. After completing training as a county director, she served 17 months as CED for Dallas and Polk counties, in a shared management arrangement.
Her expertise is in conservation, she said shes well acquainted with all FSA programs and knows what the staff needs in a manager, “because I’ve walked in those shoes.”
She said the downside to the directorship is not being at the counter working directly with clients. “I miss the farmers.”
Leners said most farmers don’t realize that “after they sign things at the counter, we aren’t done.” Filing information on computers is time consuming, she said.
As an example, at the request of county livestock owners, it recently took 12 hours working the paperwork to seek approval for Webster County for emergency grazing of conservation reserve program acres. “So we are always working for farmers.”
On the other side of the building is Sam Adams and his staff in the NRCS office. He said the new facility also gives his office a higher profile than in the former site.
“In the other building,” he said, “we were a side door in the FSA office. Now we have a customer service entrance.”
He said the former site was one of the longest serving farm service centers in Iowa. USDA routinely reviews its service centers and determined it was time to upgrade Webster County’s.
“This open concept gives us better space to work with clients,” Adams said, “and to put conservation on the ground.”
Adams showed customers a small “people’s garden” in the back of the facility. It’s something USDA is encouraging all service centers to grow fresh vegetables for local food pantries called Feds Feed Families.
So far, this season, the garden has yielded 15 pounds of zucchini and yellow squash, seven large bags of lettuce and Swiss chard and three pounds of turnips. These have been donated to the Salvation Army in Fort Dodge, which has a food pantry on First Avenue North. Still coming in the garden are onions, bell peppers and tomatoes.