Johnson County native returns as extension educator

For her entire life, cultivating has been the focus.

Shalee Bradley grew up in Johnson County, was a 10-year member of 4-H and went to Purdue University to study agricultural education. She found work teaching students the science of farming, even while she and her own husband carried on their own farm.

Now, the Trafalgar resident has come back to the county to grow farming knowledge locally.

“My husband and I, and his family, all farm full-time. So being able to use that knowledge, and the knowledge from 4-H and college, to bring it back to people I know in the community I love is amazing,” she said. “I’m going to able to help farmers that I have looked up to and have worked beside for many years.”

Bradley has been hired as the new extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for Purdue Extension Johnson County. In her role, she’ll be a conduit between Purdue research and local residents, focusing on agriculture, natural resources and horticulture.

Her experience and knowledge make her a perfect person for the position, said Heather Dougherty, director of Purdue Extension Johnson County.

“Shalee brings an excitement for agriculture, teaching agriculture and working with our clientele in our community,” she said.

Agriculture and natural resources educators serve as research-based, unbiased information sources for county and state constituents, according to the Purdue Extension website. They can answer questions about everything from crops, agriculture business and livestock to natural resources, urban agriculture, pesticide use and land conservation.

Partnering with Purdue experts, educators can give practical advice based on best-management practices to address specific residents’ needs.

That was the aspect that most appealed to Bradley.

“This brought a new opportunity to help all ages in Johnson County, compared to what I was used to,” she said. “I get to teach all ages, adults to youth, and that’s a really cool opportunity.”

Bradley grew up in Johnson County, going to school at Indian Creek before graduating in 2016. She attended Purdue, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education.

After graduation, she got a job as an ag teacher and an FFA advisor, first at Indian Creek then at Southwestern Junior/Senior High School in Shelby County.

She and her husband, Kaleb, have their own working farm raising corn, soybeans, wheat and hay with their 2-year-old daughter, Emersyn.

But for her varied experience, Bradley was always open to joining the county’s extension office.

“I had been an intern for this office in 2017, so I knew that extension meant a lot to me,” she said. “It’s kind of a full-circle moment.”

Bradley was hired as an agriculture and natural resources educator earlier this year, and started in the role in February. She was chosen because she brings a vast array of experience from previous careers, including as an ag teacher and intern in the extension office, Dougherty said.

“Shalee has a lifelong love for all aspects of agriculture, growing and teaching,” she said.

She’ll be focused on providing educational programming that relates to agricultural audiences, whether that’s farmers, gardeners or business owners.

Local activities she’ll help spearhead include the pesticide applicator trainings, the county’s master gardener program and Ag Days, an educational day for the county’s fourth-graders.

“It’s anything that we can provide agriculturists, or people aspiring to have a say in agriculture, to offer them educational opportunities,” Bradley said. “I’m kind of like a hotline for information, too.”

The first month in the educator role has mostly consisted of learning processes and re-familiarizing herself with programs here in the county. Her main goal is to preserve the rock-solid foundation past educators have established. The master gardener program, for example, is one of the largest in the state, and she wants to maintain and grow that.

But as she settles into the position, Bradley would like to also use her agriculture background to expand the resources available locally.

“In the past, the educator was focused on horticulture-based things. In Johnson County, we do have a lot of horticulture, but we also have a lot of production agriculture. I’d like to focus on what we’ve lacked in the past, like production ag, field crops, animal sciences and farm management,” she said. “I’d like to really implement and bring to Johnson County.”