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Employee Spotlight: Lisa Barnes, Soil Conservationist

Employee Spotlight: Lisa Barnes

Putting our customers first in Franklin County

Lisa Barnes in the office.The landowner was nervous about clear cutting a swath of her forestland as part of a conservation project. The cutting would establish early successional habitat for species of greatest conservation need in young forests and shrublands, such as whippoorwill.

Even though her land had been devastated by a tornado in 2006 and needed to be restored, it was still a big step. So, to calm her concerns, Lisa Barnes, Soil Conservationist in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service field office in Greenfield, Massachusetts, who was assisting the customer, put herself in the landowner’s shoes.

“I thought ‘If that was my property, how would I feel about it?’,” Barnes said. “We spent a good deal of time just talking about it. I showed her pictures of other projects in various stages. I told her it might not look pretty at first but over time it's going to be nice and she would see the wildlife return, and that it's going to be great.”

Last spring, more than 10 years later, Barnes received an e-mail from the landowner saying how happy she was with the results. “That just made me melt,” said Barnes.

“When I’m out there working with somebody and I can feel their excitement about their plans, that’s success for me because I feel like I did my job…because I listened.”

Barnes’ upbringing helps her relate to her customers. Raised in the small, rural town of Colrain in Franklin County, the western Massachusetts county where she now works, Barnes worked on several local farms as a girl.

“I worked doing chores for two dairy operations that also did maple sugaring, I worked in orchards and I worked in a local apple orchard’s store and restaurant,” said Barnes, adding that her family raised beef cattle and chickens for their own consumption.

She attended a local community college for her first two years of school, and then transferred to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Natural Resources Studies program where she focused on plant and soil science.

Today, as a single mom with two boys, Barnes raises her own laying hens, as well as tomatoes and greens in a high tunnel. She loves outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and snowshoeing.

That love of the outdoors makes her job even more enjoyable. “I just love being outside. I love walking with people, looking at resource concerns,” Barnes said of her visits with customers who manage dairy farms, orchards, vegetable and greenhouse operations, organic farms, maple sugar operations and private forest land. “It's like having one of my hobbies as part of my job.”

It’s no wonder that when she’s at work, she feels the greatest sense of accomplishment when she’s busiest: serving customers, helping coworkers, learning new technology, and managing a growing number of contracts.

“This has been a busy but very productive year,” said Barnes. “When I saw it all on paper, I got a ton of acres planned, served as a mentor and helped new staff. I feel very accomplished this year.”

Barnes credits her productivity, and that of her field office, to good teamwork.

“I've been very fortunate because we have always been one team here,” said Barnes, referring to NRCS, the USDA Farm Service Agency and partner agencies. “We all work together. We talk to each other. We get the job done.”

“Hopefully that happens all around the country, even more so now that we're joining together as one USDA.”