Some journeys circle back. In the 1990s, Wes Harrison was a doctoral student in agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky. After 22 years, he has returned to chair the UK Department of Community and Leadership Development in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
On Aug. 1, Harrison took over leadership of the multi-disciplinary department that includes community education, communications, development and leadership, sociology and agriculture education.
“We are happy for this department, which did a lot of preparation to position itself for a bright future. As a result of a national search, we were fortunate to hire Dr. Wes Harrison. Under his leadership, we expect continued growth and even more success for all the department's programs,” Dean Nancy Cox said.
Harrison is a native of Ocala, Florida, an area known for its horse farms, though in his youth, he said, there were more citrus and cow-calf operations. He received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Florida and a master’s degree in agricultural economics from Clemson University. After receiving his doctorate from UK, he joined the faculty of Louisiana State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness, where he rose through the academic ranks to become the Warner L. Bruner Regents Professor in 2006 and director of graduate studies in 2015.
Much of his research and writings have focused on local food systems, consumer demand and confidence in their food, and value-added products.
“All of those things are applicable to community development. Global food security, food deserts, health, wellness and obesity are all relevant issues among underserved populations,” he said.
Harrison has served as president of the Southern Agricultural Economics Association and president of the national Food Distribution Research Society. He has received the Food Distribution Research Society’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Research and Communication for Outstanding Published Journal Article, as well as numerous teaching awards. Although he probably will not be teaching for the first year or so, he would eventually like to develop a course that exposes students to the role private food and agribusiness companies have in community engagement.
“What really excited me about this job is the opportunity to learn about what other disciplines are doing and how they address or attack the same types of problems we research, teach about and have extension programs about in ag economics,” Harrison said. “This is going to get me out of my comfort zone, but that’s a good thing.”
Wes Harrison, 859-257-7586