When Dale Threatt-Taylor came to NC State University in the 1980s, she thought about becoming a chemical engineer, largely because the field paid well. But a botany and zoology class in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences took her in a new direction, igniting a passion that undergirds her conservation career.
“That class clicked. It put all of the pieces together so that I understood how the environment works,” she recalled. “I understood why the soil is important, why clean air is important, and that we humans are a piece of that.
“All my love of science … came out when I took that one class.”
Threatt-Taylor has served as director of the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District for nearly a decade. Previously, she worked as a conservationist for the organization. Over the years, she’s earned the nickname of “The Conservation Evangelist.”
Threatt-Taylor was recognized earlier this year as the 2018 Distinguished Service Award recipient from the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The award recognized her knowledge, understanding and leadership of conservation – and her passion.
As the association’s director Bryan Evans said, “If there is a chance to showcase soil and water conservation, Dale seizes the moment. If there is no opportunity, Dale creates one.”
How did you end up in the conservation field?
Once I got a hold of conservation, I haven’t let go. I mentor young people and I tell them, “If you’re not walking in the direction of whatever your thing is, or if you’re going in some direction just because somebody else said, you need to refocus. You need something that you love to get up and go to.”
For me, conservation has been a wonderful career. … As much as I love the science part, it’s the collaboration and the partnership with people that’s the best part of the job.
Can you tell us more about Soil and Water Conservation Districts? What are they?
Every single person can be a natural resource conservationist, no matter their profession, their family — no matter what!
Here in North Carolina, water quality is our core value and work driver – we work to stop erosion, enhance wildlife, plant trees, and improve soil health. We basically evaluate natural resource problems, come back and design a plan to fix them, and then work with landowners to fix the problems, and then we follow up and make sure it stays fixed.
How would you describe your experience with CALS over the years?
As a student, I wasn’t as engaged in the college, and that could have been due to my background as a minority student in agriculture. But once I entered the conservation field, that changed. My love of CALS comes out of people who helped me in my profession, people like Dr. Maurice Cook, a professor emeritus (soil science). Later in my career, I received my MEM degree from Duke and then I met Dr. Bill Collins, who has directed (and in retirement helps run) the North Carolina Agricultural Leadership Development Program. I graduated in 2014 from that program. … [It] really changed my life.
I get called a conservation evangelist, but for me to be able to stand boldly and talk about soil health or talk about conservation and natural resources or … how we should partner with conservation, the ag leadership program and the Duke Environmental Leadership Program really gave me the foundation — they really helped me be able to be a voice and have this career.
What is the number one thing you want people to know about conservation?
Everyone should consider themselves a conservationist — and then act on it. I believe every single person can be a natural resource conservationist on any level, no matter their profession, their family — no matter what! … You can just find out what parts of the natural world you love. Do you cycle on the greenways? Do you farm? Do you eat fresh vegetables and local foods? Do you breathe clean air and drink clean water? All of that has to do with conservation.
We are raising the next generation of environmentalists, or at least a generation of children who are aware of their natural environment; the track that we were on for a while, they were only aware of a screen and a digital keyboard. But we are getting them back outside. Getting them outdoors and understanding — and loving — this one blue marble that we live on.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
It comes back to leadership: We need to continue to mentor each other and help each other explore all opportunities connected with CALS. I take every opportunity I can to mentor young people, and it’s important for them to know more about College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. There are so many different possibilities available in CALS; we don’t want people to hear CALS and think “ag and biology,” or something like that. Not only is it those two great areas, but so much more. If we could somehow really reconnect healthy food and healthy living to agriculture and life sciences — if we could just make those connections in a positive way — it could open their eyes.