By Kellie Henderson
|Even on a gray winter day, nationally-recognized Enumerator of the Year Peggy Waters, at left, says she enjoys visiting with farmers, whether she’s there to count cows or complete in-depth surveys.
Peggy Waters is a modest woman, and she says being named 2006 Enumerator of the Year by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture is really a reflection of the fine people she is pleased to depict in questionnaires and columns of numbers.
"I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t work with such a wonderful group of farmers," says Waters. "They deserve the recognition, not me."
Waters was recognized along with four others in her field at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C, and says she was thrilled to have her daughters make the trip with her.
"The other recipients and I were recognized at an awards banquet, and it was very nice. I also got to take a cruise up the Potomac, and the entire trip was a great experience to share with my girls," Waters says.
As a field enumerator, Waters travels the Houston county area to gather information from farmers for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an organization that works in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. Waters says she finds her work fulfilling and is proud to be part of NASS.
"We collect data about the kinds and quantities of agricultural products our farmers are cultivating. One reason our work is so important is that legislators look to our statistics to help shape farm bills. That’s a big responsibility to carry to work with you, knowing the information we report may affect the American farmers’ way of life," Waters says.
She adds that it’s a way of life she respects tremendously. "You hear people say it from time to time, but farmers really are the salt of the earth. They are the nicest, hardest working bunch of folks in the whole world, and I’ve known some of them so long they seem like family now," she says.
Although the vast majority of her work is one-on-one interviews with farmers, Waters says she also attends seminars and workshops during the year in preparation for specific studies the NASS field enumerators conduct.
"We have manuals to study and different deadlines for various surveys throughout the year, and it’s important to be familiar with exactly what information you will need to cover in a given farm visit. Because farmers are nice enough to cooperate with me, I try to take up as little of their time as possible. People think of country life as being the life of leisure, but a farmer’s time is so valuable. They can’t put all those crops and animals on hold whenever they feel like it," says Waters.
A native of Brundidge, Waters says she worked for years in banking and with the Peanut Inspection Service. She became an enumerator a few years after she moved to Dothan in 1987. Her daughters Kay Massler and Kathy Dairo live in Clanton and Ariton, respectively, and Waters says they have both been so proud of her award.
"I was visiting my granddaughter and great-grandson in Tennessee when the NASS field office in Montgomery found out about the award. They didn’t know how to get in touch with me up there, but they found the number for my daughter in Clanton and asked her to have me call the office. It was the next day before I called them, so the office staff was excited when I finally talked to them," she says.
Herb Vanderberry, director of the NASS Alabama Field Office, says he is happy to see Waters recognized for the dedication she shows to her job.
"Peggy has never been one to seek the limelight, and she likes to downplay all the attention she’s received as Enumerator of the Year. The truth is, she is a great ambassador for our program and for Alabama agriculture," Vanderberry says.
Waters says her sister, Patsy Graham of Brundidge, has also been excited about the award, but Waters insists her family and co-workers are making too much fuss about her.
"The best thing about this award is that it gives me a chance to draw attention to the vital role farmers play in our way of life. I can’t say enough about how rewarding it is to work with farmers. Any of them that can make a good living deserve every penny of it. They are good people, and the rest of us aren’t nearly thankful enough for what the farmer does for us everyday," she says.
Kellie Henderson is a freelance writer from Troy.