Otis Wright is RAFI’s Farmer Resources Coordinator, focusing on assisting farmers with obtaining FSA loans. He works remotely from his home in Pearl, Mississippi and serves farmers throughout the Southeast U.S.
Otis grew up in Tallulah, Louisiana, a small agricultural and prison industry river town where jobs were hard to come by unless you taught school, worked for the prison system, or worked on a farm. A number of Otis’s relatives lived close to each other on family property that his great-grandfather purchased in the 1920s. While growing up he realized his town had challenges like many rural river towns, but he says, “it was a great place to me. Family was everything.”
He fondly recalls family fish frys, BBQs, and annual Christmas parties. As an only child, he liked getting together with nearby family and working together to upkeep the family’s 100 acres.
In high school, he played offensive guard and defensive tackle on the football time. His team made it to the playoffs three years straight, but never advanced to the championship. Being on the football team was like “being part of a royal family,” he recalls. “I also enjoyed the social life and having no responsibilities in high school — besides getting good grades, of course,” he says.
Otis attended college at Alcorn State University, the first Black land grant college established in the United States in 1871 and the alma mater of his family. “It was like home being that I was always out there with family members who attended before me. I enjoyed the independence and meeting new people,” he says.
He thought he might have gone into engineering, law, or possibly become a veterinarian, but farming called him and he received his B.S. in Agricultural Economics. He always had an interest in farming that perhaps was sparked when he assisted his grandfather in fixing up his old 1940 model Ford tractor. “I developed a passion for farming then,” he says.
In his current work, he enjoys assisting new farmers and likes to see them start from nothing and grow into a full-out farm. On the other side of the spectrum, he liked helping older community members tend to their urban gardens, through a position he once held in Jackson, MS. Many of them would talk with Otis about their roots growing up in the country before migrating to the city. “They would come to the garden and just sit and talk about how they thought the city was better than the country but how now they would love to move back,” he shares.
Otis brings a wealth of experience in helping farmers with USDA programs, experience he learned on the ground as he navigated the department’s policy and procedures. “It showed me the infrastructure and how things work on the ‘inside,’” he says. He now uses this knowledge and experience to help other farmers have successful outcomes with the USDA.
Otis learned about RAFI from a friend and felt like the work “was familiar and after reading the mission statement, felt we shared the same passion. I like the grassroots approach and the authenticity of the organization and my co-workers.”
Outside of work, Otis enjoys spending time with his family, teaching Sunday school, and hunting. He wants to see agriculture be sustainable into the future and “more farmers catering to the food issues that we have all over this country,” he shares. Otis places great importance on “God and family” and strives to “be sincere about my passion to help others.”
On advice he would give to young people considering a career in agriculture? “Best choice you can make. Agriculture is the axis of life,” he concludes.