New Tippah County extension agent learning the ropes

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

RIPLEY – Tippah County’s new Mississippi State University extension agent is young in years and experience, but a long family history with the extension service should serve him well.
Nick Simmons, 25, came to the job, now called county director, in April and readily admits he is still learning and is gaining a lot from the county residents who are supporting him.
“Tippah County has one of the most traditional and deep-rooted agencies in the state,” Simmons said. “People rely on it a lot and it’s been a great learning experience for me.”
Tim Needham, who served as county agent for 13 years, retired in 2009.
Helping to get Simmons acclimated to his responsibilities are extension secretary Loretta Smith and 4-H agent Connie Walker.
Tippah County’s extension office is housed on the grounds of the Tippah County Fair, with an extensive campus that includes a program building, a community building, concession stands and more.
“The fact that we’re intertwined with the county fair helps make us successful,” Simmons said. “The extension agent wears many, many hats. One time you may be a judge for a talent show, then you’re teaching programs at schools. That’s one of the most fulfilling parts of the job.”
None of the roles are unfamiliar to Simmons, though he’s learning exactly how things work in Tippah County.
He grew up in 4-H in Saltillo until he aged out at 18, and went to Mississippi State University as an animal science major, with plans to become a veterinarian. He’ll receive his master’s degree in animal science at MSU in December.
“I saw vet school just wasn’t the path I wanted to take,” he said. “I had a lot of options, but I heard about this position open close to home.”
Simmons’ mother was a program associate in Lee County extension, and his grandmother retired as extension secretary.
With a wife, Michelle, and 5-year-old son, Allen Thomas, it was good to be near extended family. They’re living in the Dumas community and expecting a new baby this month.
One contrast for Simmons as he makes the adjustment to Tippah County from Lee County where he grew up is the existence of community development clubs.
Established in the 1940s and 1950s as a way to support farmers by helping them learn improved methods that would boost their production, the clubs have evolved through the years toward general rural development and improvement as agricultural activity throughout the state has declined.
The focus now is more on improving rural water systems, bringing utility services and phone services to communities, making sure rural communities could get the conveniences available to town and city residents.
“We’re fortunate to have very active clubs across the county and they’re bringing communities together,” Simmons said.
Few counties in Northeast Mississippi have community development clubs any longer, but Tippah County has eight: Ball Hill, Center, Chalybeate, Dumas, Flatwood, Mount Hebron, New Hope and Ruckersville.
“We’re probably one of the more rural, agriculture based counties, with plenty of row crops, livestock and horticulture activity,” Simmons said. “We have an active cattleman’s association, and a lot of the questions I get are based off all those areas.”
Tippah County also places a high priority on its 4-H programs.
“4-H is one of the largest youth organizations in the country, and I work closely with Ms. Connie to encourage youth to join 4-H,” Simmons said.
Mississippi 4-H has about 80,000 youths ages 5-18, and Tippah County’s programs include livestock, shooting sports, home economics, sports and more.
“Our junior council meets once a month, and they do a lot of fun things like trips to the corn maze and pumpkin patch in Pontotoc,” he said.
Youths have a chance to learn many new skills as well as become comfortable with public speaking, participate in competitions that can lead to trips in-state and nationally.
Interested families may call (662) 837-8184 for more information.
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com