Working With The Tribe: New Ag Agent Maddie Ciszewski
After growing up in Washington, D.C., Maddie Ciszewski fell in love with NC State Extension’s blend of agriculture and community service. She graduated from CALS in 2017, and started her new job as an agricultural Extension agent in Cherokee. It’s the only Extension office in the state that works directly with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
What are some aspects of life in Cherokee you didn’t know about before you got there?
We’re located on the reservation — though as a trust, the land is technically not a “reservation,” per se, but was purchased by the tribe in the 1870s and subsequently placed under federal protection. And it isn’t just one big tract of land, it’s in pockets here and there based on how things were negotiated, so I do a lot of driving.
There is a big focus on reconnecting the younger population to Cherokee culture. A couple years ago, they built an immersion school that’s working to teach K-5 kids the Cherokee language, a lot of which has been lost. So that’s neat — I get to work with the teachers to learn more about the culture I’m coming in to.
What’s your job like day-to-day?
The tribe has a lot of programs to help people get out of poverty or help kids in schools get into healthy living, so it’s not a resource-scarce area — it’s figuring out where and how you can best connect.
Because of all the experienced farmers, there’s a lot of potential to diversify the economy rather than having to rely on the funds the casino brings in, because if it’s not doing so well one year, that puts a lot of stress on the community. It’s wonderful helping get people involved in things that will boost what they’re already working on.
I know you just moved there, but it sounds like you love it. What would you like to see for the community’s future?
It would be really cool to see some of these communities be able to increase their dependence on agriculture, something other than the tourist economy. It’s different from how we think of agriculture in other parts of the state, where it’s a huge industry that does a lot of exporting. Here, it’s more about being self-sustaining.
That way, you’re not bringing in outside economic resources to keep your community strong — you’re doing it yourself, right from where you are.
NC State Extension is hard at work in communities across North Carolina.