Wilson County Extension Office Director Ruth Correll is set to retire today, capping off a decade of service to hundreds of local farmers.
“I’m older than the retirement age, by far, so it was just time to retire,” she said. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I’m going to find another passion because I want to wear out rather than rust out. My thing, and not that I can lay my hat on one particular thing, was providing customer service. That was my entire goal, was to provide and help the agricultural community with whatever they needed help with.”
Correll’s career at the local extension office dates back to 1993, but at the time she never imagined her part time job would turn into something she now considers a lifestyle.
“I am originally from Wilson County,” she said. “I was reared on a farm in the Norene community, and in 1987 my mother had a severe stroke. My husband was career military, so I came back here to help take care of my mother and when he retired we decided to move back to Wilson County.”
Working as a part-time program assistant allowed Correll to make use of her bachelor’s degree in agriculture from MTSU for the first time, following her previous career as a science and math teacher.
Over the years she also served as a full-time program assistant and 4-H agent. She became the county director while also working as an adult Ag agent.
“My position will probably be opened up after the first of the year, and another Ag and Natural Resources agent will be hired,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that person will be county director.”
Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent Lucas Holman will take on Correll’s workload until that position is filled, so local farmers can expect to see continued service from extension in the meantime.
“We’re about education and helping farmers help themselves,” she said. “We want them to be economically viable, and we’re about doing whatever we can to help them to do that — to improve their agricultural operations, help them with production and help them with economics.”
Extension offers a variety of programs, classes and field days to meet those goals, and also serves as a liaison between farmers and the county government. But most of Correll’s day-to-day is about taking calls and making farm visits.
“We try to connect them with their resources,” she said. “A lot of them are unaware of the resources that are out there, so I personally visit them to figure out what their needs are and try to connect them with what they need. Every week is different, every phone call is different. It might be weed identification on this phone call, for another one it might be someone that has an issue with animal nutrition or hay production.”
According to Correll, that work is especially important as the number of farms in Wilson County declines.
“The average age of the producer is now upper 50s, early 60s,” she said, estimating that there are 1,200 existing farms in the county. “Agriculture, we can’t get by without it, but Wilson County is losing its agricultural landscape to development. If farms can stay economically viable then they’re more apt to stay farms, and that’s what we want to help them do.”
Correll has personal experience in that arena because of her childhood in Norene.
“The farm that I was reared on, that farm supported the family,” she said. “Our cash crops were beef, dairy, tobacco, primarily. But we had a garden, we had an orchard, preserved food, so that farm sustained us.”
When Correll started as the county’s extension director, her main goal was to be fully available to the local producers doing the same for their own families.
“The impact that I think I’ve made is just the fact that I was willing to help, that I was willing to be there and get people whatever they needed,” she said. “It’s a 24/7 job as far as I’m concerned. This job has not been a job, this has been a lifestyle for me.