Alum cultivates career in agriculture, helps farmers

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Chuck Porter, a University of Indianapolis alum, has had careers in three states across nearly a thousand miles. He has focused on mission work and helping others.

Growing up in Rushville, Ind., he eventually came to UIndy to major in communication. He said that his emphasis was in radio, even becoming the student production manager for WICR on the UIndy campus. Porter said one of his greatest inspirations during his time at UIndy was his involvement with the student ministry.

“One thing I gained from being at UIndy is my involvement in the Christian life organizations,” Porter said. “I got so motivated by mission work that I realized even right there in Indianapolis [that] there were opportunities to plug students into mission work, opportunities that didn’t pull them too far from campus, but gave them an opportunity to realize that there are people right in the backyard that are struggling and need help. I really found [that] most of my experiences traveling in the United States, and also some international mission trips, really put a strong calling on my life to focus on serving others.”

Porter said that it was during a mission trip in Juarez, Mexico,  he first considered going into seminary for graduate work, after being inspired by friends he met.

Along with finding a passion for ministry on mission trips, he also met his wife, Susanna, who also was a UIndy student. Looking for something that merged his passions for ministry and communication led him to United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. There he furthered his communication education with a master’s degree in religious communication.

“I started looking into what ways I could follow a calling to be in communication but also to be in ministry, or in some other way serving people,” Porter said. “That [the religious communication degree] furthered… my radio and TV bachelor’s work and background, but it was a master’s degree focused on using different types of communications in the church.”

He lived in Dayton for several years with his wife and young son. There, an old passion reemerged.

“While in Ohio, my wife and I befriended several organic produce growers from that area,” Porter said. “My family had always gardened, and that was a big part of who I was.  I ended up even starting a small produce business with a buddy of mine. It kind of took a sharp turn there, realizing that I could still be involved in mission work and serving others by being involved in organic agriculture.”

Porter’s  renewed interest in agriculture led to an opportunity to move to southeast Nebraska to work on a family friend’s farm. After a long, thoughtful process he and his wife decided that the move was right for them.

Although he eventually moved away from working on the farm, he said he still wanted to stay in Nebraska where his family had established itself. Porter mentioned how his first experience in the U.S. Department of Agriculture came about.

“I answered an ad to be a program technician for the Farm Service Agency,” Porter said. “I was fortunate enough to land that job. In a manner of speaking, that got my foot in the door at the Department of Agriculture.”

Porter now works as a soil conservation technician for the USDA in the Natural Resources Conservation Service, where he has worked for the past three years. Even though his training is in communication, he currently works to help slow and prevent soil erosion for cropland in Nebraska.

“I primarily work with land owners who own cropland and other agricultural land,” Porter said. “We address what resource concerns that they have on the land, primarily having to do with soil erosion issues, but also with concerns about water quality and diversity issues in the landscape. Most of my work is tailored toward designing structures in cropland to guard against soil erosion. In this part of the country, that is primarily cropland terraces.”

According to the USDA, a cropland terrace is “an earth embankment, or a combination ridge and channel, constructed across the field slope” with a purpose of reducing “erosion by reducing slope length” and retaining “runoff for moisture conservation.”  Porter said it was difficult transitioning from his
communication-based background to a field more related to engineering.

“It was very much a trial-by-fire sort of thing for me to learn,” Porter said. “I didn’t have any engineering background. I didn’t have a large-scale farming background, either, although I have been around farming my whole life.”

Porter said that one of the best parts of his jobs is working directly with the people he helps.

“It’s gratifying to be part of an agency that is working in the trenches, so to speak,” Porter said, “really trying to effect some change in the way we grow our food and the way we manage our natural resources.”

Porter lives in Unadilla, Neb., just southeast of Lincoln, with his wife, Susanna, and two children, Riley and Emma. Porter said that one thing he will always be indebted to UIndy for is giving him the opportunity to meet his wife.

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