Yuma ag ex­pert re­ceives state honor

Bobbi Steven­son-McDer­mott named to the Ari­zona Farm­ing and Ranch­ing Hall of Fame

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - Buy these pho­tos at Yu­maSun.com BY BLAKE HER­ZOG @BLAKEHERZO­G

Bobbi Steven­son-McDer­mott of Yuma, who spent nearly 40 years ad­vis­ing the area’s farm­ers through the U.S. Soil Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, is go­ing to be­come a mu­seum ex­hibit.

She has been named to the Ari­zona Farm­ing and Ranch­ing Hall of Fame, and sat down last week for an in­ter­view to pro­vide an oral and video his­tory for an in­ter­ac­tive dis­play to be in­cluded in the Her­itage Mu­seum of the planned Ari­zona Farm and Ranch Ex­pe­ri­ence at­trac­tion in Avon­dale, as well as a book about its mem­bers pub­lished ev­ery four years.

“It’s a big deal, it re­ally is. I never knew, that all of this ex­isted” when her friend, Nancy Cay­wood-Robertson of Casa Grande, nom­i­nated her ear­lier this year. Nom­i­nees typ­i­cally roll over for con­sid­er­a­tion the next year if they aren’t se­lected, but Steven­son-McDer­mott, who turns 69 this month, got in on the first try.

Much of her recog­ni­tion over the years has been as a pi­o­neer­ing fe­male in what is still a male­dom­i­nated field, but also for her deep knowl­edge of Yuma County and the soil and water which has made it an agri­cul­tural hub.

And when Steven­son-McDer­mott doesn’t have the an­swer off the top of her head, she knows where to find it, such as a pa­per copy of a soil sur­vey taken of the county’s farm­land some 50 years ago, which has much more de­tail than a later one that is posted on­line.

The ear­lier study took sam­ples

as of­ten as ev­ery 100 feet, as op­posed to do­ing it ev­ery half-mile and blend­ing the data, she said: “Maybe on the ca­sual view that’s OK, but for a farmer, all those in­clu­sions and changes and soil tex­tures and water ca­pac­ity and depth, are all of the things the farm­ers need to make busi­ness de­ci­sions on how they’re go­ing to han­dle their crop­land, the more de­tailed the bet­ter.”

She doesn’t ex­pect the agency, now known as the Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, will ever re­peat the old sur­vey and says it doesn’t have the fund­ing to put the doc­u­ments on­line. So since her re­tire­ment eight years ago, she’s made sure the three con­ser­va­tion­ists who have suc­ceeded her have held onto them, and she’ll do it her­self if she has to.

Steven­son-McDer­mott grew up in Tuc­son and went to the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, get­ting a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in agron­omy, the first woman to do so in a decade. But it wasn’t her first choice.

“I wanted to be a vet­eri­nar­ian. I think ev­ery lit­tle girl wants to have a horse or be a vet­eri­nar­ian and I did both. But when I got to col­lege I signed up for an­i­mal science and the pro­fes­sor said ‘don’t even bother, be­cause we don’t want women.”

Her first job af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1969 was at the Yuma field of­fice of the fed­eral Soil Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice, when she was hailed with one head­line that shouted: “Be­lieve It If Able, a Girl Soil Sci­en­tist With Yuma Unit of the SCS,” over an ar­ti­cle end­ing with spec­u­la­tion about prospects for her “mak­ing a ca­reer of it” ver­sus get­ting mar­ried.

She trans­ferred to the Phoenix field of­fice the next year, but two years af­ter that she be­came the first woman pro­moted by the agency to a district con­ser­va­tion­ist po­si­tion, in the Well­ton-Mo­hawk field of­fice, at just 24.

“It was re­ally just an in­ter­est­ing time. I had a oneper­son of­fice so ev­ery­thing that got done, I did it,” she said. “We didn’t have air­con­di­tion­ing, we didn’t have four-wheel drive, we didn’t have nor­mal things like other peo­ple had. But the peo­ple were won­der­ful, and we got a lot done,” she said.

Twelve years later the of­fice was com­bined with Yuma’s, and Steven-son-McDer­mott be­came the con­ser­va­tion­ist for four dis­tricts, three in Ari­zona plus Bard in Cal­i­for­nia.

In pro­vid­ing the agency’s vol­un­tary ser­vices to grow­ers, she worked on soil and water con­ser­va­tion projects such as ditch lin­ing and land lev­el­ing, in­clud­ing some of the first laser­guided land lev­el­ing ever done, in the Well­ton area.

She was ac­tive in teach­ing the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity and rep­re­sent­ing it to the pub­lic. She ap­peared with Ge­orge Gat­ley on “Farm­ing in Yuma,” a live lo­cal morn­ing TV show, led tours of the Well­ton-Mo­hawk Salin­ity Project while based in that of­fice, taught soils cour­ses at Ari­zona Western Col­lege and gave speeches to lo­cal res­i­dents and tourists alike.

She said she was lucky enough to find work that never felt like work. That’s ba­si­cally what I did, be­cause ev­ery day I got to go work with farm­ers, or write sto­ries, or talk to kids in class­rooms, or do ca­reer coun­sel­ing, or all that stuff that goes along.

Since re­tir­ing in 2008 she’s still been lead­ing tours, giv­ing speeches and stay­ing ac­tive as a mem­ber of the Yuma Area Ag Coun­cil and the Colorado River Ci­ti­zens Fo­rum, among other or­ga­ni­za­tions. She has been writ­ing the Yuma Sun’s “Yuma Ag & You” col­umn for the last two years.

“You will not be­lieve how many phone calls still come into this house for her on farm­ing mat­ters,” said Mac McDer­mott, her hus­band of 21 years. To­gether the cou­ple lead the Desert Bass An­glers, billed as the city’s largest fish­ing club.

She says her com­mu­nity out­reach, now done mostly through ar­ti­cles and speeches, con­tin­ues, and she al­ways has more work to do.

“I write ar­ti­cles ev­ery spring, about the burn­ing of the fields (out­side of Yuma), and one of my farm­ers said to me, ‘you know, you’ve al­most got them con­vinced,’ and I said I know. We’re still work­ing on it,” she said, laugh­ing.

This year’s other in­ductees into the Ari­zona Farm­ing and Ranch­ing Hall of Fame are Terry and Ra­mona Button of Gila River Com­mu­nity-Sa­ca­ton, Jesse W. Curlee of Scotts­dale, Peter An­drew “Andy” Groseta of Cot­ton­wood, James Ohaco of Winslow, J. Charles Wet­zler of Phoenix, Ra­dius A. (Ray) Hud­son of Laveen and Rich Le­vis of Tempe.

In 2015, af­ter seven years the hall of fame se­lected its first three Yuma-area res­i­dents: Dr. Kurt Nolte and Shirley and Ge­orge Mur­dock.

PHO­TOS BY RANDY HOEFT/yuma sun

BoBBi sTeven­son-mcder­moTT Talks aBouT her ca­reer lead­ing up to her in­duc­tion in March 2017 into the Ari­zona Farm­ing and Ranch­ing Hall of Fame.

Buy these pho­tos at Yu­maSun.com PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN

BOBBI STEVEN­SON-MCDER­MOTT DIS­CUSSES HER CA­REER LEAD­ING up to her in­duc­tion in March 2017 into the Ari­zona Farm­ing and Ranch­ing Hall of Fame.

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