Desarmeaux, Debra

Debra Desarmeaux, TX NRCS ACES Enrollee

The ACES-NRCS Program has many wonderful facets to it, and our ACES Enrollees come from all professions in the agricultural world.  One of our wonderful Enrollees from the Temple, TX office, Debra Desarmeaux, works as an Archeologist under the ACES Program to support the NRCS mission, and we would love to share her story with you! Alan Stahnke, NRCS State Soil Scientist and Debra’s Primary Monitor gave us an indication of her contributions to their state office: “Dee has been instrumental in helping to build the Historic Preservation Program at NRCS-TX and has been a delight to work with. Her unique experiences and stories always hold valuable lessons on hard work and fiercely forged friendships.” Debra explains, in her own words, what she does for NRCS:

“This federal agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is the one farmers and ranchers apply to for federal money to improve their property. These consist of fence building, pond excavation, brush clearance or excavations to lay water pipelines for thirsty cattle and many other such ‘Practices’.  For the Practices that are ground-disturbing, those farmers are required by law, the National Historic Preservation   Act of 1966, to not destroy any known archaeological sites (the string attached to the federal $). Our ‘Cultural Resources’ Department conveys that information to them.

We process each ‘request’ from an NRCS soils scientist for the farmer asking for funds, by checking a Texas Historical Commission database map (only archaeologists can log  into it to prevent site looting). If an archaeological site is shown on that database map to be:
    1. On their farm/ranch property
    2. Located within 0.62 miles or 1 kilometer of their property
    3. If topographical features like proximity to streams/rivers and fertile soils show a likelihood of archaeological sites present,
then we do *more research. That soil scientist, after 2 days of training by us, does a ‘Field Inspection’ surface walkover, looking for old structures or artifacts visible on surface. If they find anything, after consulting us, they redesign the plan for the Practice   to AVOID the cultural resources (archaeological sites) that are in danger of being destroyed. I wish we could go dig test pits at each farm with interesting sites nearby, but we don’t have the staff. As it is just 3 of us process the requests that come in at an unpredictable   rate from the 254 counties here. Here are the statistics: Texas=127,000,000 acres of agricultural land & 3 NRCS archaeologists. California=43,000,000 acres of agricultural land & 9 NRCS archaeologists. I am not a federal employee. I work for a non-profit, the National Older Worker Career  Center (21 hours/week(: ) who hires folks over 55 in science fields to assist as part­time mentors (to combat the ‘brain drain’ factor when experienced people retire) in federal agencies.  Got great benefits and good pay, a rarity for me!  😊” *the fun part, but wish I had more time to indulge myself in that. Debra has written a book review for the NRCS Texas Cultural Resource Newsletter (April 2021) entitled Hunter and Gatherers and Farmers?   She had purchased the book Feeding Cahokia Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland (by Gayle Fritz; 2019) because she worked in an archeological flotation laboratory for the Illinois State University Archaeological Survey and was curious how the tiny seeds they found were important to the diet of ancient Tribes.  Her book review was a journey through ancient crop growth and her observations during her travels and ambitious work in archeology to explore the other crops that were grown for many thousands of years.  An excerpt from her review: (Note:  PB = Before Present) As you can imagine, we feel we are very fortunate to have Debra in our ACES-NRCS Program!