Extension director returns to roots in agriculture

Posted: September 26, 2014

Greg Gnatt - New Penn State Extension district director for Schuylkill and Berks counties.
Greg Gnatt - new district director for Schuylkill and Berks

Greg Gnatt - new district director for Schuylkill and Berks

It's exciting when one can come full circle in life, returning to an earlier passion, and in my case, to my agricultural and educational roots.

It's been a circuitous journey to my new position as district director for Schuylkill and Berks counties' Penn State Extension, and it's one I certainly never envisioned during those early college years when many of us dream about what we want to be when we grow up. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to introduce myself and share why I'm so excited about being a part of Extension and serving this community.

While majoring in horticulture at Penn State and holding leadership roles in several agriculture clubs and organizations on campus, I spent most of my semester breaks and summers learning and working on farms across Pennsylvania alongside my brothers in the agricultural fraternity Alpha Gamma Rho. Whether milking cows, growing mushrooms, planting orchards or driving a combine, these were fantastic experiences.

During a senior year summer internship, I worked at five agribusinesses in Washington and Idaho and realized something was missing from my mostly science-based curriculum: the business side of agriculture. So, a year after graduation, I returned to Penn State to get my MBA with an emphasis in management information systems. This led to a project in the College of Agriculture and Extension, helping roll out an emerging concept in communications called email and developing productivity enhancements with a new tool called the personal computer.

Another degree in hand, I had good intentions to apply my newfound expertise to support the agribusiness and educational sectors. That was until I was offered a position with IBM. Like many a college grad starting a family, I followed the money.

While my long tenure at IBM afforded me terrific opportunities to apply my strengths, the intensity of working in corporate America found me longing for a better work-life balance, with more time and opportunity to give back to my local community. Upon the suggestion of my godmother to follow her lead in training to become a Penn State Master Gardener, I quickly rediscovered my passion for working in education and agriculture. As a Master Gardener, I met with community organizations, presenting and teaching at workshops. Soon, I had accepted an appointment to the Cumberland County Extension board of directors, and I knew this was my new future. Then, in August, it was exhilarating to officially leave the corporate ranks after 30-plus years and come back to the land.

Most readers likely have heard of our county 4-H youth programs, and many may have sought the advice of Master Gardeners. But I suspect few know the century-long history of the Cooperative Extension Service. In May 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act, which established a partnership between federal, state and local governments, forming a public outreach mission with the land-grant universities such as Penn State. It brought unbiased science and research-based information out of the university setting and delivered education directly to our local families, communities and businesses. This education centered on our animal and plant food systems, community economic development, natural resources and family/youth development.

I could not be prouder of the quality and professionalism of the many programs and services Penn State Extension educators and support staff deliver to you all year long. I look forward to traveling around the county and meeting many of you working and volunteering in Pennsylvania agribusinesses, community organizations and government agencies, I welcome your input on how Penn State's Extension can continue to serve you.

Greg Gnatt
District Director
Berks and Schuylkill counties