Extension agent Snipes wins sustainable agriculture award – and a lot of hearts along the way
CHARLESTON – After 2015’s superstorm wiped out dozens of acres of his high-quality specialty crops, Urbie West was angry and demoralized. Enough was enough. The South Carolina farmer was ready to call it quits.
“Everything was lost. I was so down in the dumps and about to give it all up,” said West, owner of Rest Park Farm / Pinckney’s Produce in Beaufort County. “But a young Extension agent came to me and gave me a pep talk. He said, ‘Look here, man, we can get you something to keep you going.’ And he talked me into applying for financial assistance from Farm Aid’s Family Farm Disaster Fund. If he had not done that, I would have said, ‘To heck with it.’ But the agent turned us around.” West paused for a moment, then added, “If it hadn’t been for Zack Snipes, the state would have been short another farm.”
For this reason and a myriad of others, Clemson Cooperative Extension agent Zachary Snipes is the 2016 recipient of the S.C. Sustainable Agriculture Agent of the Year award. Snipes was nominated by fellow agents based in the state’s 46 counties. A panel of past winners of the award then chose Snipes over the other nominees based on his impact on farmers and surrounding communities.
“I’m fortunate to be able to work with a very diverse group down here in Charleston, Beaufort and the Lowcountry,” said Snipes, who became a full-time agent in 2013. “We grow a lot of different crops in a lot of different ways for a lot of different markets. The best part of my job is getting involved with our farmers, going and seeing them in person and getting firsthand knowledge of their operations. I help them improve their strengths and target their weaknesses. I take the holistic approach and try to see the forest instead of the trees.”
Extension director Thomas Dobbins said that Snipes embodies what an Extension agent should aspire to be.
“Zack is a servant leader with a passion to ‘take the university to the people’ of this great state of South Carolina,” Dobbins said. “He is always eager and ready to help his clientele, and he has developed an outstanding Extension educational vegetable program in the Lowcountry.”
In 2010, Snipes began an 18-month internship with veteran Extension agent Powell Smith, who supervises Clemson’s horticulture program and is the university’s acting vegetable entomologist. The pair worked together on numerous projects, attended a lot of meetings and intermingled with the public on an almost daily basis.
“Zack learned by observing, but also by doing fieldwork like scouting, identification of insects and diseases, and interacting with growers,” Smith said. “I stressed to him that a county Extension agent needs to be enthusiastic and upbeat. And those qualities come naturally to Zack. I’m really pleased that he hit the road running and has done so well so quickly. He’s received good training, he’s got the right personality and he sincerely enjoys his job.”
Snipes will be officially presented with the award at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual conference on Nov. 5 in Durham, North Carolina. The CFSA’s stated mission is to promote a vibrant, sustainable food system that is good for consumers, good for farmers and farmworkers, and good for the land.
“Zack attends a lot of our workshops and training events about sustainable agriculture, so he’s always trying to learn, and he’s very open and progressive in his thinking,” said Geoff Zehnder, professor of entomology and coordinator of Clemson’s integrated pest management and sustainable agriculture programs. “He’s also done a huge amount assisting with the flood damage and helping farmers receive compensation.”
The previous winners of this award are Shawn Jadrnicek (2008), York Glover (2009), Danny Howard (2010), Blake Lanford (2011), Greg Henderson (2012), Powell Smith (2013), Mark Nettles (S.C. State University; 2014) and Harry Crissy (2015). The award is sponsored by Clemson University’s Sustainable Agriculture Program. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Southern Region Share Program will provide support for a travel scholarship for Snipes to attend the CFSA conference.
“Zack sees the realities of what farmers are dealing with and takes research-based solutions and incorporates them in a practical manner,” said Amy Dabbs, area horticulture agent and Master Gardener coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. “He’s not above rolling up his sleeves and helping farmers in the fields – and for that he’s earned their respect. He’s always trying to look for a better way, a more sustainable way. He digs a little deeper.”
West, who almost gave up on farming just a year ago, is certainly in agreement.
“My great-great-grandfather started farming in 1884,” West said. “In 1984, my family stopped farming after 100 years and pursued other careers. But about seven years ago, we decided to start again – and things took off and went really well until 2015’s storm. After that, we almost quit a second time, which would have been a real shame. Then Zack Snipes came along … and, well, he kept our legacy alive.”