Get to know Hailee Sandberg
Born and raised in Independence, Iowa, Hailee Sandberg is knowledgeable and passionate about “farm life” in the state. Although she grew up in town, “farming is a big part of my history,” she says. Her father farmed, and now she lives on the very farm that her husband grew up on. In Buchanan and Linn counties, “we have about 2000 acres of corn and soybeans that we farm.”
For 20-some years, Sandberg worked in social work, non-profit work, and human sciences. Ultimately though, she “wanted to do something more leadership focused” and completed her master’s degree in strategic leadership.
In 2021, a position became available with Iowa State Extension and Outreach that encompassed Sandberg’s experience, education, and farming interests. “Everything sort of fell into place and fit,” she says about taking on the role as Linn County Director for ISU Extension and Outreach. “I’m very interested in and passionate about farming. Obviously it’s important in Iowa, our society, and our economy. So when this role came up, I was excited about being able to use my skills and knowledge.”
ISU Extension and Outreach is known for having experts in agriculture in the state. Everything is research-based and scientific. Sandberg says there’s also extensive work in human sciences, 4-H and youth development (which she has a background in), and community and economic development. Plus, Iowa State University is continually doing research to “help farmers make better informed decisions in how they farm their land,” she says.
It wasn’t long after she started that Sandberg was connected with Wings2Water (W2W). Partnering ISU Extension with W2W was and is multifaceted. First, ISU Extension plays a vital role in reviewing the information that W2W sends out and ensuring that the projects they approve are research-based. Sandberg and ISU Extension have also contributed to W2W’s structure as an organization. “It’s exciting to have helped with and see how W2W has put organizational mechanisms in place to be a true non-profit. They’re set up to be a real powerhouse organization that can make an impact,” she says proudly.
Furthermore, the partnership between W2W and ISU Extension has the potential to build trust between farmers and conservationists; historically, that’s been an antagonistic relationship. “I love that W2W is committed to creating a partnership…and I know that W2W is going to continue to work on bridging the gaps with farmers and agriculture. It’s needed when you’re talking about conservation,” Sandberg explains.
That’s personal for Sandberg, too. Growing up around farms and now living on one, she has seen how conservation and conservationists can be seen as adversarial in the agricultural world. “I love that I can sit in a room [with the W2W board] and hear from people who are passionate about conservation, and they do it in a way that doesn’t look at farmers as an enemy,” she says.
In addition to improving communication between conservationists and farmers, Sandberg is excited to see W2W potentially support farmers with their conservation efforts. In some instances, conservation can be costly, and “W2W can be that potential resource for a farmer. It’s a funding source and an organization that wants to support farms, and we need more of that,” says Sandberg.
What could be next? The idea that W2W wants to serve the whole Mississippi watershed includes a lot of land grant universities, and ISU Extension and Outreach can help W2W with that expansion to other states. This early partnership is one that the entire W2W team would like to see connect and mend even more relationships on a similar mission.