MASSILLON, Ohio — Barbara Stoll remembers vividly the first appointment she had as a new program technician with the Stark County Farm Service Agency.
The grain and dairy farmer rounded the office corner, saw her unfamiliar face, then turned on his heels to leave, muttering, “Oh, no. I got the new girl.”
She got him to turn around, assuring him that she was a farmer herself, and would do the best she could to help decipher the sometimes-confusing USDA programs.
That farm connection has been the hallmark of Stoll’s 28-year career with the Farm Service Agency, first as an FSA program technician in Wayne County for three years, then in Stark County as program technician and then county executive director since 1995.
Stoll will be retiring Nov. 30, taking advantage of an early retirement option offered to the state’s FSA employees.
The farmer-members of the Stark County Farm Service Agency county committee are hosting a retirement open house for County Executive Director Barbara Stoll Nov. 21,from 1-3 p.m. at the Farm Service Agency office, 2650 Richville Drive, S.E., Massillon.
Stoll could relate to her farmer clients because she farms herself, with husband Chester, and now her son, Ralph, near Marshallville, in Wayne County, where they farm 800 acres of crops and milk 170 head of cattle.
“I listen to farmers’ stories and troubles at the office and then I go home at night and listen to it at home, too.”
The farm background let her better explain USDA programs and tell producers exactly if a specific program would be good for them.
“You get to know these farmers and their families,” she said. “I appreciate and respect them all, and I understand what they go through.”
“I think they’ve gotten good advice from us over the years.”
“I pride myself, and my staff, in giving good customer service,” she added. “Service is the second word in our name, Farm Service Agency, after all.”
Her experience has included administering numerous changes in commodity programs, from
commodity certificates in the 1980s, and the start of highly erodible compliance programs, through Freedom To Farm and then SURE and ACRE programs.
“I’ve lived through five farm bills,” she laughs.
The SURE disaster program was very complicated and “the ACRE program was way too complicated” for FSA to administer and farmers to understand.
She can’t predict what will come in the next farm bill, currently in conference committee, but “I continue to see less and less programming, due to the federal deficit,” Stoll said.
“I think direct payments will be gone.”
The Stark County FSA office has roughly 1,000 eligible farmer-producers, and 350 active participants, including between 60 and 70 farmers in Carroll County, who chose to move their program records to the Stark County office when the Carroll County FSA office closed in 2012.
Stoll has also represented the agricultural community on the Stark County Emergency Planning Committee ever since her appointment as county director in 1995. She served as secretary, and vice chairman, and then became the first woman to ever chair the committee.
Within FSA, she served on the state automation committee and has served as a trainer for new management trainees. She has also served as a statewide trainer for the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, attending national training updates and returning to Ohio to help train other FSA employees statewide.
Stoll also served as an FSA software tester, traveling to Washington D.C. or Kansas City to pretest software before it was nationally unveiled.
She’s retiring from farm program administration, but not agriculture, and will now be able to help more with the family farm.
“My husband’s first request was to help get his office in order,” she said.
The couple is also members of the Farm Bureau, National Farmers Organization and Ohio Farmers Union, and Stoll is looking forward to working on issues on behalf of farmers.
Of course, she’s also looking forward to spending more time with her four adult children and six grandchildren, and doing a little more camping.
By Susan Crowell