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Kate Greenberg ’09 Leads With Purpose as Colorado’s First Female Ag Commissioner

A passion for the West, the land and the people makes for meaningful work and change

By Casey Brown and Melissa Welling ’99

Kate Greenberg smiling.

Minnesota-born Kate Greenberg ’09 came to Whitman College with a romantic view of the West—and a thirst to explore it. 

Her time here inspired a respect for the land—and the people who work with it—that has only grown over time. And now, as Colorado’s first female Commissioner of Agriculture, she’s deeply invested in creating socially and environmentally responsible ag policy for the 21st century.

Exploring Nature, Culture & Policy

In Whitman, Greenberg found an academic environment that encouraged her to explore her diverse interests and discover the world around her.

“When I first visited, I fell in love with the campus and with what Whitman had to offer,” she says. “I wanted a solid liberal arts education that allowed me to think in big ways about how the world works.”

She also wanted to connect with the outdoors. So in her sophomore year, she enrolled in Semester in the West, a field study program focusing on ecological, social and political issues in the American West. The experience was transformative and led her toward a major that combined many of her interests: Environmental Humanities, which explores the connection between nature and culture. 


Throughout her time at Whitman and beyond, Greenberg chose work that put her at the nexus of land and people—from an internship at an organic farm in Vashon Island, Washington, to a stint as a Restoration Field Assistant on the Colorado River Delta in northern Mexico. She even returned to Whitman to work as a Field Manager for Semester in the West and Whitman in the Wallowas.

It was meaningful work, and it opened her eyes to the necessity of good agricultural and natural resources policy. That was a turning point. 

“It wasn’t just planting trees and harvesting vegetables that was going to change things,” she realized. “It was really policy decisions that got us to where we are.”

As she turned her attention to policy, she became the Western Program Director for the National Young Farmers Coalition, where she established and grew the organization’s presence and membership across the West. And in 2018, she was appointed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis to be the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture. 

A Role Model for Next-Gen Ag

As Commissioner, Greenberg serves on the Governor’s cabinet, manages dozens of ag programs across the state, and supervises the approximately 320 employees of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“Agriculture is among the top drivers of our state’s economy,” she says. It contributes $47 billion to Colorado’s economy each year, and the department’s programs and policies have a direct impact on farmers and ranchers, the state’s natural resources and the environment.

When Greenberg thinks about the impact she has as the first woman in her role, she speaks about the young people she meets throughout the state.

"When I’m speaking or at an event and meeting high school students trying to figure out where they want to go in life, it makes a difference to see somebody who looks like you in a position,” she says. “It’s important for people to know what they’re capable of. I think it does help communicate to young women: This is possible for you.” 

She hopes her work will be an inspiration to younger generations who are deciding what they want their future to look like.

“Just because there hasn’t been a first yet, go after whatever it is you want,” she says. “And if you work hard and do a good job and build great relationships, then you should have just as many opportunities.”

Kate Greenberg talks with local producers outdoors.

Looking to the Future

For Greenberg, the future of ag is rooted in people.

“This is a very public role, and each Commissioner does it a little differently, but I really believe in showing up in the communities we serve. A lot of my time is spent traveling, being at a kitchen table with a farm or ranch family or being in a community hall for their town hall,” Greenberg says. “Being out with folks and learning what their life is like … how do we translate that into good governance and good policy?”


She wants to make sure that Colorado’s Department of Agriculture is growing and shifting to be as relevant as possible to the 21st century—whether that’s through supporting STEM education for the next generation of farmers or investing in climate-smart agriculture. 

“Just in the last four years, we’ve developed new programs and services in climate mitigation and resilience,” she says. “We actually didn’t have the word ‘climate’ in our statutes until three years ago, but we’ve now built a Soil Health Program that’s all farmer-led.”

Under Greenberg’s leadership, Colorado also has a new Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office that’s driving statewide policy with natural and working lands. 

“We have a new focus on water, knowing we are entering drier and hotter times,” she says. “And how do we support a thriving future given that reality?” 

As she looks ahead, Greenberg’s gaze is steadily on the important work to come: “We’re not done yet by any means.”

Published on Jun 3, 2024
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