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Donald Noel, VA ACES Enrollee

Before joining the ACES/Natural Resource Conservation Service Program, Don Noel participated in many interesting endeavors, and all of them lead up to making him an excellent ACES participant!  His passion for agriculture and operating equipment began when he was a young man working for a dairy farmer in Connecticut to earn extra money.  He found that working with livestock and growing crops made an ever-lasting impression on him.  In his words:

“This is where I learned about working with livestock and growing crops.  This is also where I first learned how to operate and maintain machinery.  I loved the outside work and never minded staying busy.  My first job made me realize that I wanted to purchase and operate my very own dairy farm.  However, I knew this would be a dream that would have to wait until I could save up enough money and build up my credit.  I worked on the dairy farm until I served in the US Army as an Artillery Crew Chief from 1971-1972 stationed in Vietnam.” 

Don’s philosophy is admirable, again in his words:

“This was not the best two years of my life, but it helped to shape me into the man I am today.  It made me appreciate the things I have in life and how well we have it living in America.”

His varied work experiences made a great impression on him, and in 1976 he established his own excavation business, while still working full time as a Clerk of the Works for a hospital expansion in Waterbury, CT from 1974-1979.In 1979 Don left the hospital project to work full time doing grading and excavation work for home builders, commercial builders, and projects on NE dairy farms.  In 1983 his dream came true and he was able purchase an established, but run-down, dairy farm in Vermont.  Through preservation and determination, he worked long, hard hours, and after three years of serious cleanup of the farm and dairy herd, he was able to “ace” a dairy quality inspection.  From that point on, the farm improved, and in 1990 his dairy received the highest quality milk award for the state of Vermont!  “Our dairy farm was even featured on the cover of a magazine and people joked that my dairy farm was My Estate.  I was truly living my dream job.”

Many changes were in store for Don in 1992, a tough year for his family with major health concerns to combat.  In 1994 he made one of the toughest decisions he had ever made, he decided that he must sell his dairy farm and go back to full time excavation work.   In 2002 Don moved to North Carolina, and continued doing excavation work and driving a tractor trailer, along with raising cattle (“I have never gotten rid of the farming itch”).  In 2014, Don moved to Christiansburg, VA, where he calls home today.

I started as an ACES employee out of the Christiansburg Service Center in February 2014 while still operating my excavation business part time on the side.  The ACES program has been a great fit for me because of my passion and knowledge for agriculture and operating equipment. “

When asked how he learned about the ACES Program, Don responded:

“I stopped by the Christiansburg Service Center to say hello to a now VA NRCS employee that used to work in Vermont.  She was not in the Christiansburg Service Center that day, but that is when I met the Area Soil Scientist: Jeannine Freyman.  The rest is history so they say.  I struck up a conversation with Jeannine about rotational grazing, rotational cropping and soil health.  Jeannine soon realized my past experience might be an excellent fit as an ACES employee.  She prompted me to come back by the service center the next day to meet the District Conservationist: Hunter Musser.  I did meet Hunter the next day and did obtain an ACES position out of the Christiansburg Service Center.  This coming January will make four years that I have worked as an ACES employee.” 

Don assists the NRCS team in Christiansburg to make sure that conservation practices are being installed correctly in the field.  He relieves the District Conservationist with a variety of administrative duties, and also spends a majority of his time doing field work.  He assists surveying, designing or inspection conservation practices such as livestock water systems, stream crossings, fencing and heavy use area protection for winter feeding situations.  His Monitor knows that his experience and knowledge is best utilized in the field, and that is what Don feels is important to the team.

His Monitor, Hunter Musser, has much to say about Don’s contributions to his team:

Don has been such a tremendous asset to our NRCS team here in the Christiansburg Service Center.  I don’t know what I would have done without him the past 4 years because he ensures that conservation practices are being installed correctly in the field.  I have such an administrative burden at times that Don has to follow up with the farmers and contractors that are under construction on projects.  Don is excellent at this because of the experience he brings to the table.  He is a veteran farmer and heavy equipment operator.  I could not ask for a better ACES employee to work with.”

Don’s thoughts on working with NRCS:

“There is a lot of talent and experience within NRCS, but what is unique about what I bring to the table is I have extensive past experience as a farmer and heavy equipment operator.  When I go out on farms I can look at it from the farmer’s and contractor’s perspective because I have extensive experience with both.  Hunter consults my opinion a lot in regards to installation of conservation practices such as livestock water troughs, pipeline, animal trail/walkways and concrete installation because he knows I have real world construction experience with installation of these practices.”

Don says what he enjoys most about the ACES Program is that it allows him to spend the majority of his time outside, while working with farmers and contractors to get conservation practices installed correctly.  “I get to work with folks that share my passion of agriculture and construction.  This job is the best of both worlds because I work with projects that involve construction on farms to protect natural resources and improve the farming operation.”

There are a few challenges in Don’s duties, as there seems to be in most jobs.  He feels the biggest challenge that anyone that works for NRCS, SWCD or ACES face, on a day-to-day basis, is how much variation there is in the type of agriculture operators they work with.  “In one morning we might complete a big topographic survey for a 300 cow dairy operator that is going to install a big winter feeding facility and then visit a 1 acre vegetable operation that afternoon to inspect a completed high tunnel.  We have to wear many hats and that is what makes the job so fun.  We get challenged constantly and are hardly ever working with the same type of operation day after day.  For instance the entire NRCS team in Christiansburg is now being challenged with assisting to design and layout a 10 acre drip irrigation system for a local USDA Certified Organic vegetable operation.  This has been a new and exciting challenge for the whole staff, but the landowners push us to constantly learn new things.  We do our best to provide them technical assistance for every request and a lot of times we have to learn together.

We asked Don to mention some of his favorite hobbies, interests, etc. not related to work, that he enjoys, his response was absolutely wonderful:

“I am a proud Father to three children: Tina, Carolyn and Daniel.  Proud to say that my kids are all responsible hard working contributing members to society with good career tracts. Proud Grandfather to five Grandchildren whom I love to wind up and send home to their parents!  There is nothing like being a Grandfather!  When I am not working at my ACES position, I mostly work!  I have always liked to stay busy and plan to continue to do so.  I still run my excavation business on the side.  I do have a goal to take more vacations in the future, but will probably never fully retire because I don’t know what I would do with myself!   My biggest hobby and relaxation time is to take my Trike Honda Goldwing out for rides.”

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