As a teenager, Colleen Larson spent summers working on dairy farms in north Florida, while her friends slept in late, swam in a nearby river or just hung out. Early mornings, waiting for the Florida heat to engulf her, Larson would spend her time milking cows, caring for pregnant cows and keeping inventory of the corn silage. So, a career in agriculture was a natural fit, even if she took a detour along the way.
“I was nicknamed the dairy queen because I wasn’t going to hang out at the river with my classmates,” Larson said. “I enjoyed the pace of working on a dairy farm, and there was always something to do. I liked contributing to a large-scale operation, and I really liked making my own money.”
While she loved agriculture, Larson also wanted to try her hand at educating children. She spent eight years teaching math and science in local middle and high schools. “I would take time off from teaching to give dairy tours, and that somewhat satisfied my need to still be involved with agriculture,” Larson said. “I never considered a career in Extension because I didn’t know a whole lot about it.”
When Larson heard about a position at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences Extension in south Florida, she realized she could combine her love for teaching and agriculture as a regional specialized dairy agent. “The position is a combination of teaching and working with producers. I was overjoyed when I realized that all of my jobs had prepared me for this,” she said.
Larson works with producers and residents of Okeechobee, Highland, Hardee, Desoto, Glades and St. Lucie counties. “Every day is different: We provide trainings, workshops and troubleshooting to solve problems on the farm,” she said. “Also, I work with UF/IFAS faculty who are conducting research projects at south Florida dairies. And, I teach the public about the dairy industry.”
According to Larson, it’s an exciting time for women to consider careers in agriculture. An increase in the use of technology has changed the industry, she said.
“This a great time for women to get involved in the dairy industry. More technology means there are not only manual labor jobs, but also more positions that require innovative thinking,” Larson said. “By utilizing more efficient tools, women will have increasing opportunities to contribute to our food supply through agriculture.”