ACES enrollees provide tremendous support to NRCS including training of new agency staff and assistance for programs that enhance all of our natural resources by being involved with the people that work with the soil, restore the soil and who are in the position to care for all of our natural resources. Without them and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, where would our world be? One of the people who demonstrates this perfectly is our ACES Enrollee in New York, Dale Gates!
To borrow a phrase from a recent article in the Country Folks newspaper entitled NYS Conservation Districts: Providing today, protecting tomorrow – American author and farmer Wendell Berry was quoted speaking about our greatest resource: “The soil is a great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, and earth into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
NOWCC staff believes that this is very true and that’s where our ACES Enrollees, like Dale, fit perfectly into the picture as “connectors of lives” to provide technical assistance to farmers, landowners, and to the general public. It’s not surprising that the same article also mentions Mr. Gates! Dale was presented with The Partnership Appreciation Award from the NY Conservation District Employees Association, which was bestowed on him as a “recently retired NRCS Resource Conservationist, partner and friend to many”. You can read the full article at: https://countryfolks.com/nys-conservation-districts-providing-today-protecting-tomorrow/.
Dale’s Monitor, Paula Bagley, sent us the article to show her pride towards Dale, who has worked many years to help with NRCS projects.
Before working for NRCS, Dale was part owner and operator of a dairy farm on which he grew up on in Otsego County New York. His farm background and college degree from the University of Vermont provided Dale with a strong conservation ethic. He felt a strong desire to share this ethic with others. He obtained a Masters Degree in Vocational Technical Education with the hope of teaching Vocational Agriculture after he ceased dairy farming. When an opportunity opened up with NRCS, he jumped and never looked back. He started with NRCS as a Soil Scientist in 1988, then took various positions as a District Conservationist, Watershed Resource Conservationist, and finally as the Agronomist and CNMP Specialist on the New York NRCS State Resource Conservationist Staff. Dale is a Certified Crop Advisor through the American Society of Agronomy. He had identified conservation agronomy as an interest as far back as 6th grade while attending a school conservation field day. He feels fortunate to have been able to follow this career path with NRCS and now feels the opportunity to continue conservation agronomy work through ACES is a real privilege!
When asked how Dale learned about the ACES Program he responded: “I have worked with other technical specialist on our staff that retired and then joined the ACES program. I have experienced firsthand the critical technology transfer these individuals have provided back to the agency and its younger employees. These folks had nothing but praise for the ACES program and the opportunity it has given them. I was not interested in a traditional “clean break” type of retirement having spent so much effort and time over my 31-year career to obtain my technical knowledge and abilities. ACES seemed to provide the phased retirement I was interested in. I value the technical aspect of NRCS and feel in order for an agency to maintain technical leadership, the agency must find a way to preserve the knowledge and abilities of older, more experienced employees. ACES provides this opportunity and seemed like a natural fit for me. I credit my monitor, Paula Bagley for matching the agency need with my abilities and desire to contribute back to NRCS.”
Being early in his retirement with the agency, much of Dale’s ACES time is spent coaching his former colleagues on various policies and procedures, and just providing a more gradual transfer of technology to remaining staff for ongoing conservation agronomy projects through email and on-line meetings. In addition, he has been writing technical documents centered on agronomy for the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG), maintaining technical tools and models such as the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE2), and partnering with Cornell University on Nutrient and Pest Management technical standards. Dale expects to resume some classroom type training in the near future for newer employees of NRCS, partner agencies, and private sector technical service providers in conservation planning procedures agronomic areas mentioned.
When we asked about Dale’s recently received award (a partner of the year award from the NY Conservation District Employees Association) he replied: “This was truly a huge honor to receive this award. It made me realize that all my efforts over the years of training and technical assistance in getting conservation on the ground through partnerships made a difference. One cannot be an effective conservationist without the use of conservation partnerships. And like any relationship, partnerships cannot be taken for granted, they need to be fostered over time, need to find common ground with open communication, share burdens and reach common goals. I have tried to do these throughout my career.”
Like many of our ACES Enrollees when asked about what keeps their interest in the work, Dale replied that he really likes the ability to focus on important technical work that makes a difference. Dale is actually doing the technical work that seemed he never had enough time to accomplish properly when employed by the agency due to administrative burdens and trying to cover so many responsibilities. This focus has kept his interest level very high. “Providing help to former colleagues that otherwise would not be possible without ACES furthers the conservation mission and is gratifying.”
As far as a challenge when it comes to his duties or position, he realized, as many of our ACES Enrollees do, that he needed to accept that as an ACES employee he was no longer in a leadership role but in more of an advisement role for the agency. He said, “This wasn’t hard but never-the-less your role as ACES is different, but in a good way.”
We love to ask about hobbies, pastimes, or outside interests that our ACES Enrollees have, and for Dale he feels he has too many hobbies. He produces Maple Syrup, manages 50 acres of timberland, gardens, takes tandem bicycle and XC ski trips with his wife Jean, and adds to that whitewater canoe trips with friends. Dale has two daughters and now recently a new granddaughter to enjoy! And the list keeps on growing!
We would like to thank Dale Gates for being an advocate to the “connector of life” – for all that he has accomplished over the years at NRCS – and for becoming a great example to others of how to share his knowledge and experience to help protect our natural resources for now and in the future with the ACES Program! Thank you, Dale!!!!