Staff spotlight: Wyatt’s decades of dedication to rural America continue

Wyatt Fraas’ first job was in agriculture. He spent summers bucking hay bales as the wagon he rode on swayed and creaked across the field, trying to pitch him, and the bales, to the ground.

Throughout the years, he has continued working to better rural America. Today, Wyatt maintains a strong connection with his agricultural roots as interim program director in the Farm & Community Program at the Center for Rural Affairs.

He’s held that position for four months, and has been assistant program director of the program for 15 years.

In these roles, Wyatt handles program, grant, and project management—meaning he does everything from supervising staff members to developing partnerships with other organizations and agencies to advising beginning and retiring farmers.

“My current role is as much about growing my co-workers as it is about providing information to farmers, ranchers, and community members,” said Wyatt. “The Center has a track record of developing national experts in their fields; I get to help make that happen.”

Wyatt also works with farmers and community members each day.

“I get to meet real innovators who solve problems and save resources,” he said. “I get to share their approaches with others who are hungry for solutions.”

Background knowledge and firsthand experience in the fields of natural resources, biology, and ecology have given Wyatt the ability to approach community development, food systems, farming, and ranching from the ground up.

“I worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Wyoming, learning conflict resolution to deal with  disgruntled ranchers,” he said. “I managed a ranch in New Mexico, learning hard lessons about drought and profits. I worked for a conservation district in Wisconsin, learning how strong women had to be to deal with employment discrimination. In between, I observed soils, plants, and animals in a number of climates.”

With such extensive knowledge of the natural world, Wyatt has strived to bring what he can to his role at the Center, to help rural America today, and in the future.

“I want to improve resource management so that my children—and now my grandchildren—have better access to clean air, clean and abundant water, fertile soil, healthful food, and flourishing wildlife,” he said. “When I help farmers and ranchers achieve their own goals for the land and for their families, I make progress toward mine.”

Wyatt’s deep respect and admiration of rural America started in his youth, and has only grown throughout his life.

“I grew up in a very rural area of Ohio at a time of small, diverse farms,” he said. “My generation of young farmers bore the brunt of the 1980s farm crisis, and vanished from the fields and small towns. I wasn't a farmer among them, but I watched them leave. I now raise some of my own food and cherish the neighbors who raise more of it for me.”

He credits the people of rural America as some of the most valuable in the nation, and feels honored to help them through his work.

“Rural America is where most of our national wealth originates—from the soil, mines, and forests,” he said. “The people who make their livelihoods from living near and harvesting those resources are the most important in the country. Our economic and social systems all depend on the health of our environment, and our farmers and ranchers control many of the sources of our water and wildlife.”

In their free time, Wyatt and his wife tend a large garden and raise sheep at their home outside of Coleridge, Nebraska.

Wyatt can be reached at the Center’s office in Hartington, Nebraska, at 402.254.6893 or wyattf@cfra.org.