Alicyn Smart joined the Maine Farm Bureau as its executive director about six months ago, during which time she’s overseen a redesign of the organization’s website, roamed the state to attend annual meetings at the bureau’s county offices and tried to learn a lot of names. Oh, and she got married. Curious about Smart’s background – she’s 27, a Unity College graduate and has a doctorate in plant medicine from the University of Florida – we called her up and asked about her plans to bring new energy to the Maine Farm Bureau and what she loves(!) about plant diseases.

BIG SHOES: Smart replaced Jon Olson, who led the bureau as executive director for 34 years before retiring in June. Those were big shoes to fill, and Smart knows it. “I try to tackle him and ask him questions whenever I can.” But she has been charged with bringing new energy to the nonprofit organization, and that’s her intention. “There are some things that need changing. It’s good to come in with new eyes.” Like, for starters, how about using Google calendars to arrange meetings? Also on her agenda: Bringing more youthful energy into the group, which skews to a much older demographic. She just signed up a new chairman for the Young Farmers Committee, Nick Smith from Bull Run Farm in Cushing. “He is an active member and born in 1992,” Smart said. The two are working on ideas to make the grass-roots group more appealing to today’s young farmers. “We want to keep it lighthearted and fun.”

GETTING HERE FROM THERE: Growing up in Walpole, Massachusetts, Smart didn’t come from a farming family (“Me and my dad would have a small garden, but that was about it”), but she was intrigued enough to apply to an agriculturally oriented high school. At Norfolk Agricultural High School she managed the school’s greenhouse. One of her mentors was an alum of the plant medicine program at the University of Florida. That sold the growing plant lover on the program. “So before I knew where I wanted to go to college, I knew where I wanted to go to graduate school.” That’s driven. She went on to Unity for undergraduate work after a visit to the campus. “I just fell in love with the scenery and the environment. People were really friendly and warm and welcoming.” She also met her future husband, Andrew Smart, while at Unity. “It was kind of a whirlwind.”

SUNSHINE STATE: In Florida, her studies included fungal bacteria, plant viruses, nemotoids and soil sciences. With a minor in avoiding the heat. “The humidity was a killer,” she said. She was also drawn to the wildlife, naturally, particularly plants and insects. “It is amazing. If mankind wasn’t there, it would be taken over in like a week because the growth rate is so insane.” In addition, to meet the requirements of a USDA fellowship she’d received, she completed several internships, including one where she developed and implemented a Harmonized Good Agricultural Practice on a Massachusetts farm.

LONG DISTANCE: She and Smart, a Maine game warden, made an agreement to see each other every couple of months. Now that they’re married, they’ve still got a bit of a long-distance problem – he is based in Aroostook County, and “They (game wardens) have to live in the district where they work.” That’s a haul from Augusta. So she lives in Skowhegan – “I moved in with my in-laws” – and they visit on weekends. Eventually, when she and her husband are able to buy a place, “I want a lot of acreage. I plan to plant a lot of plants.”

WHAT IS IT ABOUT PLANTS? “To be honest, my favorite area is diseases.” While she was at Unity, she did some field work at the University of Maine’s plant diagnostic area and discovered that under a microscope, a disease can be “pretty beautiful.” “I have to be careful when I say I love diseases to people.” Right. And why is that again? “Just the fact that they can be both beneficial and devastating.”

WEB DEVELOPER: One of Smart’s first acts as executive director was to oversee the upgrade of the group’s distinctly dowdy website. “When I was applying for the position, I obviously did my due diligence and printed out every page – not very environmental of me, I know – and I could see that it needed a lot of help.” Which she got from volunteers within the organization, who put in “countless hours” so that the new site could be unveiled at January’s Agricultural Trades Show.

SCIENCE MATTERS: Despite having signed up for a job that has her lobbying the Legislature and rallying her membership on farm issues, her passion for the science of plants and insects remains very much alive. “I’m excited to bring that science background with me.” When we talked, she’d just attended a work session on GMO labeling. “I was intrigued by that session.” Where does she stand on labeling foods that contain ingredients from genetically modified organisms? Maine passed a law in 2014 to require labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms, but it doesn’t go into effect until neighboring states do so as well. “My stance is the farmer’s stance. And that stance is that we support the farmer’s choice in planting GMO crops or not, and we supported having passed the law.” A very politic answer.