Careers in Conservation and Soil Science: Melissa Hunt

Interview with Melissa Hunt by Danielle Whitcomb

On July 1, I was given the opportunity to interview Melissa Hunt of the CT RC&D team. Melissa is a nutrient management planner and soil conservationist in the state of Connecticut. She is also part of the Job Jumpstart Program, a program aimed at helping young graduates step foot into the world of agricultural careers. It was a very pleasant experience corresponding with Melissa, as she provided much applicable advice that will help not only me, but other young people interested in this career path.

My first question for Melissa was: What has inspired you to pursue agriculture and the soil conservation/nutrient management field? Melissa grew up in the agricultural field on a family beef and hay operation. This laid down the foundation for her love of working outside on a farm and led her to achieve a degree in Natural Resources. One thing that inspired me was that she didn’t start her college career until her mid-twenties. I am about to be 24 years old, and am still working on my Bachelor’s degree, so it’s refreshing to see that there is not a strict timeline for when and how a person should reach certain milestones; it only matters that you are pursuing something that you love. Melissa clearly loves her work; when she answered my question: How has the Job Jumpstart Program inspired you? She stated that having the opportunity to connect with a breadth of people from all facets of the field has been amazing. She also likes how she can pass on the message of soil conservation to others.

The next question I asked her was: What advice would you give young people who would like to enter the field of conservation and soils? I specifically wanted to touch on whether graduate school was important, or if other experience-based opportunities like internships and personal skills could boost your career even better. She confirmed that hands-on experience is always an ideal way to learn the natural sciences. Although a degree is handy, you become more credible if you can enter a farm and demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. She had a leg-up by growing up on a farm, but an internship, such as the CT  RC&D Youth Conservation and Leadership internship, is also a good place to start. Connecting with customers (farmers) is a great skill to have, as it makes you more approachable. A career in soil science/conservation can be incredibly rewarding. She touched on how her most memorable moment thus far was walking through a client’s new barn that had been built using her comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) through EQIP funding. The client was ecstatic he could send his cows to their new home, Melissa felt just as happy seeing her hard work come to fruition to benefit another person.

To round out the interview, I wanted to know why she thinks soil conservation is important; everyone seems to have a slightly different answer. She stated, “You can’t grow soil. Once it’s gone, it’s gone”. Soil is vital to the ecosystem. Microscopic organisms and fungi call it home, and it provides the foundation to plant growth. Once soil is depleted, plants cannot grow properly, which affects our food system. Through her work with the CT RC&D and Job Jumpstart, Melissa can spread the message of soil conservation and work towards a more sustainable future for everyone. This interview taught me that you should never be afraid to approach professionals in a field you are interested in. Most people love talking about their careers and will do anything to help. My advice is to go for it!