For Farmers, By Farmers: USDA Employee Puts the Farmer First in Farmers.gov

Posted by Michelle Thomas, farmers.gov in Farming Conservation
Oct 16, 2018

“Randy Smith is a forward-thinking cattleman with a small herd in Georgia. He works closely with Natural Resources Conservation Service to put conservation practices on his land and experiment with new and innovative conservation approaches. While he does some of his business in person, Randy needs easy access to information and documents online, including contact information for his local field office.

Although the NRCS website has information on Farm Bill Programs, Randy cannot always easily find the information he needs… taking up time he could spend improving his soil health and making his pasture more productive.

Randy isn’t a real person. Randy is one of many persona developed by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to drive the development of Farmers.gov.”

-from The President’s Management Agenda

Chris Groskreutz, state public affairs specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Georgia, didn’t set out to make history or reinvent public service.

Metro Atlanta Urban Farm CEO Bobby Wilson talks with NRCS District Conservationist Shemekia Mosley, NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist Chris Groskreutz and FSA Beginning Farmer Regional Coordinator Rodney Brooks about future opportunities his farm.  USDA photo by Preston Keres.
Metro Atlanta Urban Farm CEO Bobby Wilson talks with NRCS District Conservationist Shemekia Mosley, NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist Chris Groskreutz and FSA Beginning Farmer Regional Coordinator Rodney Brooks about future opportunities his farm. USDA photo by Preston Keres.

But when Chris and his team created Randy Smith and several other website personas over a year ago, that’s exactly what happened.  Chris and several public affairs specialists from around the country talked to field employees and local customers.  And they created “personas” for customers who visit our websites – some personas were real farmers and ranchers, and others were characters meant to represent multiple farmers and ranchers. 

A collection of farmers.gov personas hang in the farmers.gov team room at USDA headquarters.  The personas were created by the following USDA employees:  Chris Groskreutz and Ron Morton, Georgia; Laura Crowell, Iowa; Emily Murray, Missouri; Tracy Robillard, Oregon; Beverly Moseley and Dee Ann Littlefield, Texas; Tivoli Gough, Wisconsin; Amy Overstreet, Vermont.
A collection of farmers.gov personas hang in the farmers.gov team room at USDA headquarters. The personas were created by the following USDA employees: Chris Groskreutz and Ron Morton, Georgia; Laura Crowell, Iowa; Emily Murray, Missouri; Tracy Robillard, Oregon; Beverly Moseley and Dee Ann Littlefield, Texas; Tivoli Gough, Wisconsin; Amy Overstreet, Vermont.

The personas provided the following “starting point” for farmers.gov – a new and innovative USDA website and authenticated portal being built around the needs of America’s farmers, ranchers, and other producers.    

  • Build a mobile-first website for smart phone and tablets
  • Use plain language and avoid acronyms
  • Develop clear Farm Bill program descriptions with step-by-step instructions
  • Help customers understand requirements and qualifications up-front, before they apply
  • Create mobile-friendly forms that customers can submit online and print easily
  • Build tools, features, and resources that add direct value like a mobile-friendly service center locator, an interactive calendar of events, and usable success stories about and by producers

As the USDA team delivers on these needs and more, one piece at a time, Chris supports the farmers.gov project through “farmer friendly” page content and regular farmers.gov blog stories about Georgia farmers. From soil health practices to risk management, the stories emphasize news producers can use.

Terrance Rudolph, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Georgia, and Chris Groskreutz. Chris says he is grateful for Terrance’s support of the farmers.gov project and enabling him to work on it. NRCS photo.
Terrance Rudolph, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Georgia, and Chris Groskreutz. Chris says he is grateful for Terrance’s support of the farmers.gov project and enabling him to work on it. NRCS photo.

Serving farmers is important to Chris, whose father grew up on a farm. “My dad grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota growing soybeans, wheat and the world’s best sweet corn,” he said.  “When he left the farm to become a U.S. Marine at 17 years old, I by default did too. I’ve always shared his longing to be back on the farm and love the opportunity this job gives me to do it, but in a slightly different way. “

That’s why the entire farmers.gov team is proud to launch its newest feature, a @FarmersGov YouTube channel, with a new video series featuring Georgia farmers.

Chris and his colleagues in Georgia worked with the Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Council and Motion Media House to develop the videos. In the series, you’ll meet farmers like Lindy Savelle, a former law enforcement officer turned citrus farmer who was recently featured in the farmers.gov blog story #FridaysOnTheFarm: If Life Gives You Land, Grow Citrus.

Check out the entire “Faces of Georgia Agriculture” playlist on @FarmersGov YouTube.  And follow us for more stories and videos about and by producers just like you.

Michelle Thomas is the product owner for the farmers.gov website and farm mom to a horse-crazy 4Her, a whole host of farm animals, and a burro named Ruby. Michelle can be reached at michelle.thomas@wdc.usda.gov.

Category/Topic: Farming Conservation