The CAMP mentor/protégé 2024 series continues for Class 3 with Pinal County farmer Nancy Caywood and NRCS employee, James Felix. The Caywood/Felix team has met several times already including attending Arizona Farm Bureau’s November Annual Meeting in Tempe last year. Protégé Felix’s enthusiasm for the program is quite evident. 


The Conservation Agricultural Mentoring Program (CAMP) in Arizona, in partnership with the Arizona Farm Bureau, has now been at it for three years. This program, unique in its regard, has a double dose of uniqueness as the Arizona NRCS team approached the Farm Bureau to partner with them in the effort. 


The Caywood Felix partnership, along with all the mentor protégé partnerships for Class 3, works to understand Arizona agriculture and conservation opportunities, joining forces to provide firsthand experience of the conservation practices and agricultural happenings


Nancy Caywood’s protégé James Felix, joined the Pinal County Farm Bureau board meeting in January to learn how the county Farm Bureaus operate at the county level. He’s flanked by Pinal County Farm Bureau President Richie Kennedy and Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Manager Elizabeth Rico. 

Mentor: Nancy Caywood

Talk about your first meeting: I first met James at the Great Wolf Lodge when I attended the mentor/protégé graduation on October 19, 2023. James grew up in Pinal County and is very familiar with the issues and challenges farmers face. We began planning our future meetings so that we have a game plan that would hopefully be beneficial to James.

What about the subsequent meetings? James attended our monthly West Pinal Natural Resource Conservation District Meetings in November and December allowing him to experience the link between the Conservation Districts and the NRCS.  The West Pinal NRCD Board feels this mentorship program is very important and beneficial to NRCS employees and provided him the opportunity to discuss his role at NRCS.

James is very interested in policy development and attended the State Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Tempe in November. On January 17, James attended the Pinal County Farm Bureau Board Meeting which allowed him to meet our local county Farm Bureau Board member leaders.

Share specifics about what you got out of it as the farmer: As a mentor, I can get to know NRCS Employees. I find it so refreshing that the proteges I have worked with are very enthusiastic and allow me to share my passion for agriculture, knowledge, and experience. Introducing proteges to Pinal County farmers and providing them the opportunity to interact at the ground level may help to create a positive working relationship to resolve conservation issues they are experiencing on their land. 

For the remaining time with the program, what do you also hope to help with? On February 29, James, myself, Kelly Dugan, and her Ag Ambassadors will be taking a trip to Coolidge Dam/San Carlos Lake, a very important water source for Pinal County farmers. On the way back to Casa Grande, we will stop at two San Carlos Canals. One of the canals will be lined with concrete and the other one will be unlined. This will let our group see why infrastructure money is so desperately needed to complete the lining process. We will also stop at a Central Arizona Project Canal so the group can observe two different water sources and learn how water is delivered to Pinal County. The final stop will be at our farm to see a short PowerPoint Presentation with maps of the canal systems and watersheds.

We also hope to visit Hoover Dam in the spring.

You’ve been a mentor from the beginning, why such a vested commitment? Agriculture is freedom. Our voices need to be heard as we face issues and challenges regarding conservation, including water. Through this mentorship program, the partnership with NRCS and Farm Bureau could bring solutions that could be possibly implemented in the future. By being a mentor, I am investing time and commitment because I feel it is important to see these issues addressed with possible solutions.

Protégé: James Felix

What’s been the biggest takeaway from your first gathering? Subsequent ones? My first gathering with my mentor Nancy was the West Pinal Natural Resource Conservation District Meeting out at Caywood Farms. The biggest takeaway for me during that meeting was the love, passion, and pride all the board members have for Pinal County, from the discussions on conserving our water to helping our neighbors in times of need. 

How do you see this helping a broader set of NRCS employees? What’s key for you? Spending time with my mentor Nancy has been a huge help for me and I know it will help other NRCS employees understand firsthand what our local farmers and ranchers are going through with all the water issues and why so many are reaching out to us to help better their productivity.

Why have you felt this program has been helpful? Personally, I feel like this program has helped me better understand and have more knowledge of what all our Arizona farmers and ranchers go through daily. Knowing that I can better focus on what our producers' needs are when taking a survey or designing a plan to help their productivity. 

What more do you hope to learn? I hope to continue attending our local and state events to network with our Farmers and Ranchers, letting them know we are here to help. I’d like to learn more about how different producers do things in different parts of Arizona as far as farming and ranching, knowing what might work in one area doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in another.