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Jeff Schahczenki

Jeff Schahczenki, agriculture policy and development director at Butte’s National Center for Appropriate Technology, poses in the center’s greenhouse. - Angela Brandt / The Montana Standard

Jeff Schahczenki’s earliest memories are time he spent at his grandfather’s Wisconsin dairy farm. After working hard all day, his politician grandfather would take Schahczenki with him to council meetings. 

These times stuck with Schahczenki. He ended up getting graduate degrees in both agriculture economics and political science. And he has even tried his hand at farming a couple of times in his life.

“I was good at the books,” he said. “Not so much the farming part. I think farming is the hardest job in the world. I really do.”

While he keeps a greenhouse at both home and work, Schahczenki mostly sticks with paperwork these days.

In his job at the nonprofit National Center for Appropriate Technology in Butte, he can marry his passions. As agriculture policy and development director, Schahczenki’s focuses are organic and sustainable agriculture production and marketing, climate change, bio-energy, agriculture public policy, conservation policy, intercultural communications and apiculture.

“This has been the best job I have ever had,” he said. “I must say if I look forward to work every day, then I’m lucky.”

And those who work with him say he’s superb at the position.  Schahczenki recently received a prestigious recognition for his work:  the 2013 Leadership in Organics Award from the Montana Organic Association.

Doug Crabtree, vice chairman of the association’s board, said his biggest question regarding the award was why Schahczenki hadn’t received one sooner. Schahczenki was a board member, and people who sit on the board can’t receive recognitions.

“That kept him out of consideration. As soon as he was eligible, he rose to the top of the list,” Crabtree said.

Schahczenki has spent his career working in organics and sustainable programs. “Most recently, he’s been working tirelessly and mostly thanklessly to try and make crop insurance more equitable,” Crabtree said.

Schahczenki is the principle author of AGR-Lite Wizard, a farm revenue software tool. It’s one of his most successful projects, thanks to farmers’ input on the software.

“That’s a key to how we succeed at what we do. I’m very proud of that tool,” he said.

Schahczenki says organic agriculture is worthy of more resources and promotion. While some people choose an organic lifestyle over concerns health concerns about pesticides, Schahczenki is concerned about ecology. Organic farmers must improve the health of their soil, he said.

The production may be more expensive, but the harvests yield higher costs, he said.

“Why doesn’t everyone go organic?” he said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to answer.”

Contact Brandt at 406-496-5519 or angela.brandt@mtstandard.com.

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