Long-time Western SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) leaders Jim Freeburn and Al Kurki have retired. The Administrative Council (AC) and the University of Wyoming have announced the appointment of Jenna Meeks as Interim PDP Coordinator and the hiring of Sara Trojan as Associate PDP Coordinator.
Jim dedicated 40 years to his work in sustainable agriculture at the University of Wyoming, with 22 of those years through his efforts as the Western SARE PDP Coordinator. He worked across the Western U.S. to support the mission of sustainable agriculture research and education. Jim collaborated well with researchers, cooperative extension staff, farmers/ranchers, folks in the non-profit community, and others involved in the betterment of lasting sustainable agriculture practices.
Jim says, “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work for a creative program that is grassroots oriented. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with creative people on cutting-edge topics and projects. Knowing and working with the AC and the state coordinators was a great blessing. What a wonderful group of creative and dedicated people. “
“Though Jim worked in the West, his influence has spanned across the SARE program. We are saying so long, but not goodbye, because Jim also developed lasting friendships during his long tenure with Western SARE. We expect to hear from him, see him, and continue to feel his influence, particularly the manner in which he treated people – fair, honest, and with good humor. It seems Jim was always ready and willing to help anyone who reached out to him. We thank Jim for his years of dedicated service,” says AC Chair Julie Maitland.
Associate PDP Coordinator Al Kurki held the position from when the PDP program was first funded, in 1994. In testimonials provided by staff, AC members, and state coordinators, it was abundantly clear that his skills in evaluation and managing project reports were instrumental in the program’s achievements over the years. Just as importantly, Al is greatly respected for his even temperament, transparency, and support of everyone at Western SARE. His priority was always what was best for the program.
Previous AC Chair Larry Cundall states, “Al always has the best interest of producers and their plight as his moral compass doing Western SARE duties. It is so appreciated by this producer and friend. We thank Al, and wish him well.”
Upon Al’s retirement, Western SARE welcomed Jenna Meeks and Sara Trojan as the new Associate PDP Coordinators in September. Jenna and Sara began their positions on September 1, jumping right in. According to Jim, Jenna and Sara were very quick learners with outstanding agricultural backgrounds.
With Jim’s retirement in January 2021, Jenna will now hold the position of Interim PDP coordinator.
“We are very excited for the future of the Western SARE Professional Development Program,” says Julie.
Jenna was previously the Assistant Supervisor at Goshen County (WY) Weed and Pest, and she also was a Project Manager at the University of Wyoming Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Center. She grew up in south-central Idaho on a fourth-generation commodity crop and cow/calf operation.
"In a world where it seems sustainability is a moving target, Western SARE utilizes a unique feedback loop which includes producers. It is an honor to participate in an organization where innovation is brought forward and driven by agriculturalists. Raised by generations of both ag producers and educators, the Professional Development Program is my perfect blend of outreach and boots-on-the-ground efforts. I look forward to continuing Western SARE’s mission of implementing effective change through competitive grants," says Jenna.
Aside from her duties with SARE, Sara is a consulting beef nutritionist and works closely with ranches and beef operations to enhance profitability and sustainability. She and her family are also heavily involved in her family’s commercial cow/calf operation near Sheridan, WY.
“The face of agriculture is changing. SARE encourages producers to embrace change and challenge tradition to shape the future, while maintaining economic and resource viability. As a producer, it is fulfilling to be involved in an organization that keeps producers at the forefront of the program. Through my participation in PDP, I hope to help the program evolve and advance, fulfilling needs of current and future agriculture producers,” says Sara.