James Pinsky: The toughest seed to grow

James Pinsky

Conservationists, by nature, don’t like to lose anything – or anyone.

As such, when news broke that one of our own, Amanda Chester, was selected as a conservation specialist for the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District, our staff flinched.

Sure, she’s getting a great job much closer to her Warrenton home, but saying goodbye is always hard even when you know it might be for a better opportunity. After all, as tough as it is to grow trees, it’s even harder to grow great employees and Amanda Chester certainly fit that definition.

“Amanda has been wonderful to work with,” said Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District senior conservation specialist Dana Gochenour. “She is thorough and detail oriented, which is a great benefit to the landowners she works with.”

Conservation specialists are far more than able-bodied soil fanatics. Most, maybe even all of them, have college degrees.

Championed by initiative, she watered her own conservation growth by earning a bachelor of science degree in biology with two minors, chemistry and psychology, from Christopher Newport University.

By job description, conservation specialists are entrusted with people, programs and policies like farmer contact, promotional efforts regarding Chesapeake Bay non-point nutrient reduction goals and the writing of contracts for the installation of related agricultural Best Management Practices. They work with the public, nonprofits, local, state and federal agencies, and of course Mother Nature.

Many conservation specialists have spent their entire lives in and around the very farms and forests they vow to protect and improve so for them, as for their customers, the work is deeply personal. Chester was just such an employee, and the fact that she has grown into a superb conservationist shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Her conservation seed was planted years ago.

“Conservation has always been something I was passionate about,” said Chester. “I grew up on a small hobby farm in Orlean and participated in 4-H. I was constantly outside and around animals.”

Well before she graduated from college, Chester was finding ways to be on the front lines to save our planet.

“In college I took an ornithology class and really loved it, so as an undergrad and after graduation I volunteered with several groups, including the Virginia Working Landscapes project at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and the John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District doing bird surveys, and even got to do some as a park assistant for Riverbend Park in Fairfax.”

Chester’s rapid-growth personality didn’t slow down once she began work here either. She blazed though her required Virginia Conservation Planner Certification nearly a year ahead of schedule. Now, she continues her journey as a conservation specialist with the same mission, a little different geography and new faces in and out of the office.

“She is very good at creating conservation plans that balance environmental benefit and sensible farm management,” said Gochenour. “We know that when Amanda takes something on it will be done well. She is also kind and personable, and we will miss her quick wit around the office.”

Saying goodbye is always hard, even at work. Ironically, one of the best ways to help make sure conservationists like Amanda Chester continue to grow is to let them uproot. As conservationists, we all know this even if we don’t want to admit it, and the last thing anyone who works with Amanda Chester wants is for her to stop growing.

Goodbye Amanda Chester. Thank you from all of us at the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.