Editor's note: In honor of Agweek's 35th anniversary, this is part of a series of features planned for the coming months on people who seem poised to be a big part of the next 35 years of agriculture in the region. If you have a suggestion of someone who should be featured, email it to email@example.com.
Growing up in western Minnesota, agriculture was around every corner for Katie Zenk. From the seed companies to local markets stocked with fresh produce lining the streets, agriculture was everywhere. Yet, being immersed in something at such a young age, it was hard to see the impact until she took a step back.
“I grew up in rural western Minnesota and did not necessarily realize the bulk of our local economy was in the ag growing up. It took me a while to connect the dots,” Zenk said.
But, once Zenk connected those dots, there was no stopping her.
Zenk grew up on her family’s farm north of Danube, Minn. Her family’s operation entailed beef cattle, poultry and raising corn, soybeans, sugar beets and other crops. The family farm even has a couple of acres of grape crop, which they sell to local wineries.
Zenk was an active 4-H and FFA member, going above and beyond by taking every opportunity the organizations offered. Starting her freshman year of high school, Zenk dived head first into the FFA organization.
“FFA was an amazing organization for me to be a part of growing up,” Zenk said.
Zenk competed in a variety of career development events, such as public speaking, job interview and more. She so enjoyed her time in the organization, she was an FFA state officer. As for 4-H, Zenk showed poultry and was even a state ambassador for the organization.
Following graduation from high school, Zenk attended the University of Minnesota, where she majored in applied economics. During her undergraduate career she was an intern for Land O’ Lakes in Minnesota and was an intern for the House Ag Committee in Washington, D.C.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time in D.C. while interning,” Zenk said.
Zenk so loved her time in the nation's capital, she made the move to the East Coast after receiving her undergraduate degree in 2012. Zenk has also received her graduate degree from Purdue and her MBA from Indiana University.
She began working for Land O’ Lakes in D.C. until 2018. Zenk was then hired by the House Ag Committee, where she works as subcommittee staff director for livestock and foreign agriculture. She is also a committee economist.
Zenk works under Rep. Collin Peterson, who chairs the House Ag Committee and also happens to be Zenk’s hometown member of Congress.
“A lot of people want to go to D.C. and work for their hometown member of Congress or a specific set of issues. I am extremely lucky that my hometown member of Congress is chairman of the Ag Committee, so I get to work on issues I am excited about and work for somebody that represents my local area,” Zenk said.
Zenk is passionate about helping producers during this difficult time in the industry and is using her role to do so.
“Farmers are resilient, but our top priority right now is helping those folks who have had to deal with so much and are still facing challenges. We just want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help them,” Zenk said.
As for the future, Zenk hopes to continue fighting for rural communities, much like the one she came from.
“I hope the things I have been able to work on are meaningful and have helped support rural communities. I work for great people and look forward to continuing learning from them and the ag industry,” Zenk said.