Deena Wheby, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs
Deena wasn't raised on a family farm but she did grow up in Princeton, West Virginia where she became interested in the environment through 4-H and family outdoor activities. She came to the University of Kentucky (UK) with the intentions of one day returning to her home state to reclaim strip mines, but her career path took a different direction.
Before her senior year at UK, Deena worked as a student trainee in Paducah with the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service - NRCS) and had the opportunity to put her desire to improve the environment into practice. After graduating from UK with a degree in Agronomy and a minor in Ag. Economics, she became a soil conservationist for Fayette, Jessamine, and Woodford Counties. That was just the beginning for Deena's career. She went on to serve as the Soil Conservationist for Boyle and Mercer Counties and then as the District Conservationist (DC) in Washington County, making her the second female DC in Kentucky.
Deena took an inter-governmental position as a Water Quality Specialist working out of the Ky. Division of Conservation office in Frankfort. This allowed her to get a statewide perspective on conservation efforts in Kentucky. Two years later, Deena came to the NRCS State Office in Lexington as a Resource Conservationist to provide statewide assistance on the Ecological Sciences staff. This position made Deena the first ever female conservationist in Kentucky to reach the GS-12 rank.
Deena's knowledge of Farm Bill programs and policy as well as her ability to lead others through complicated program guidance moved her career forward. Deena became the State Resource Conservationist providing leadership to the Kentucky NRCS staff on conservation planning, pasture management, water quality, wildlife and many other conservation issues. With this promotion, she became not only the first female GS-13 in Kentucky, but also the youngest person to reach the GS-13 level (at the time). Deena was later selected as the Assistant State Conservationist (ASTC) for Programs.
Working every day to ensure the NRCS in Kentucky provides good technical assistance to landowners, Deena continues to serve as the ASTC for Programs. The national NRCS office in Washington, DC has requested her assistance numerous times and Deena has served detail assignments as the Acting National Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Manager (on two occasions), Acting National Farm & Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) Manager, Conservation Title Policy Analyst for the 2008 Farm Bill, and Acting Chief of Staff in the Office of the Regional Conservationists. She has also served on many national teams for the agency.
Deena also served as the Acting State Conservationist for NRCS in Tennessee, but she has always returned to her position in Kentucky. She enjoys working with people of shared interests like the field staff, national staff, partnering agencies, and of course the farmers. She remembered when she was working as a DC and was having dinner in a local restaurant when a farmer approached her to thank her for her assistance. The farmer told her he could tell she wanted to help him with his conservation concerns, not because it was her job but because she cared. Deena added, "At the risk of sounding old, this was before the days of financial assistance. Sometimes I wish we could return to the days when we provided good technical assistance to the farmers because it is just what we do, regardless of the financial incentive."
Almost 33 years with the agency doesn't have Deena slowing down one bit. She continues to have a concern for improving the environment just like she did before college. She also enjoys traveling and reading and Deena has many talents that include working with glass, painting silk scarves, and baking (which the office staff benefits from often). She recently had the opportunity to volunteer for Sweet Blessings, a non-profit organization which creates happy birthdays and unforgettable cakes for 5-14 year olds living in poverty or with a life threatening illness. She put her baking and decorating skills to work there and hopes to be able to volunteer there again soon.