Katie Matthews has had quite a career in her short 24 years.
She had a champion market lamb at the Sacramento County Fair as a member of the Galt Future Farmers of America.
She worked on a demographic study in the mountains northeast of Fresno for the Yosemite-Sequoia Resource Conservation District.
And she helped organize a White House environmental conference as an intern with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Now she's back in San Joaquin County, working for the Farm Bureau Federation, educating the community about the importance of agriculture.
Born in Stockton, Matthews grew up in Galt and graduated from Galt High School. Although she was involved in 4-H and FFA, she didn't take an agriculture class until her senior year.
"I was blown away in that class," she said.
Galt High ag teacher Cheryl Reece got Matthews excited about agriculture when she discussed how much California farmers produce compared to other states and countries.
"That's what turned me on to an ag career," she said.
Jim Aschwanden, who chaired the Galt High agriculture department and served on the Galt High school board before becoming executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers Association, also influenced Matthews, she said.
Aschwanden encouraged her to major in ag business so that she would have something to fall back on if a budding teaching career waned.
As education and program director at the Farm Bureau, Matthews is anxious to spread the word about what agriculture means to the county's economy.
Katie Matthews at a glance• Attended Galt High, San Joaquin Delta College and California State University, Fresno.
• Received bachelor's degree in agricultural business at Fresno State.
• Participated in two-year federal career intern program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture starting in 2004. Highlight was helping three groups develop their presentations before the White House Conference on Conservation.
• Began work this year at San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation.
- Source: News-Sentinel staff.
"People aren't aware of their surroundings any more," Matthews said.
Especially when those surroundings are farms. Many also don't know what it takes to get food from the fields to the kitchen table.
One way Matthews educated the community was through the recently completed "Ag in the Classroom" program, where 42 teachers on a four-day tour of local farms and production plants, including Brad Lange's vineyard in Acampo. The goal is to instruct teachers on how to teach agriculture concepts to their students.
State legislators and other state officials will get a similar one-day tour on Aug. 31, and Matthews is in charge of that as well. The tour will include topics like irrigation and pesticide regulations.
Many students in San Joaquin County don't think there's much of a fdure in agriculture careers, but Matthews proves there are many opportunities, said Bruce Blodgett, the county Farm Bureau's executive director.
"She's a very outgoing indivudual and brings a lot of energy to the many projects she's working on," Blodgett said. "She's going to have a bright future."
While Matthews concentrates her efforts on keeping the public informed about farm life and its issues, she has become a local expert on federal agencies and how to reach some of the right people in Washington, D.C.
During a two-year internship beginning in 2003, Matthews worked in the ecological sciences division at the USDA, which involved aquatic biology, national forestry, pest management and other topics.
Her biggest accomplishment in Washington was preparing parts of the White House Conference on Conservation, held in December 2004 in St. Louis. The conference featured several important people, including representatives from the U.S. Department of Defense, Interior and Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency in addition to USDA.
"Katie was always a very bright young lady - a lot of personality, a lot of enthusiasm for learning, a lot of talent," said Jim Aschwanden of Herald, executive director of the California Agriculture Teachers Association.
"The great thing for Katie, it's a genuine enthusiasm for learning," Aschwanden said. "It's a lesson for all of us that you never stop learning."
Matthews helped three organizations prepare their presentations at the White House conference. One involved restoring waterfronts and planting trees and lawn in the Detroit area, another involved creating a large-animal corridor in Florida and efforts to protect two endangered bird species on a cattle grazing ranch in Texas.
Matthews helped the three groups design their projects and worked with them on actually giving their presentations at the White House conference.
But after her USDA internship ended last year, Matthews decided it was time to return home.
"I wanted to be back near my family," she said. "I pretty much got homesick."
At the Farm Bureau, Matthews and Joe Valente, vineyard manager for John Kautz Farms in Lodi, are participating in the state Leadership Farm Bureau Program, where they will learn how to lobby state and federal officials. They also did some role playing, pretending to be interviewed by TV newscasters.
This month, she is helping organize an evening to educate the media about San Joaquin County agriculture, and she will be part of "Ag Day" at a Stockton Ports baseball game on July 27.
In September, Matthews will take a tour of water operations throughout the state, and in October, she will go to Mexico to learn about border inspection stations and at packing sheds in Mexico.
Matthews also wants to remain focused on public policy issues such as immigration and the death tax.
As for her long-term goals, Matthews said she would like to remain active at the grass-roots level locally, but she would enjoy working at the state level in Sacramento some day.
"I don't have any goal to be (U.S.) Secretary of Agriculture."
First published: Wednesday, July 19, 2006