DeShon Cromartie is the new director of field services of the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation. “That’s the way my parents and grandparents brought me up,” Cromartie said. “I was never scared to take chances.”

The month after he graduated from high school, DeShon Cromartie came to a fork in the road.

One fork led the JROTC cadet to the military, a career path well trodden by several other family members before him. The other led to agriculture — a familiar route for a young man who had been doing daily farm chores since age 9.

Thanks to the Institute for Future Agricultural Leaders, a week-long summer program that introduces young people to careers in agriculture, Cromartie took the agriculture fork — and has followed that path for more than two decades into a management team role with the nonprofit North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation. Cromartie, who holds two degrees from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, was named director of field services in November.

In his new role, Cromartie supervises the 10 N.C. Farm Bureau field representatives who cover all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. He also coordinates several of N.C. Farm Bureau’s signature programs: Young Farmers & Ranchers for young adults between ages 18 and 35; L.E.A.D., a leadership development program; the Women’s Program; and the Safety Program.

“At North Carolina Farm Bureau, we consider ourselves the voice of farmers and of agriculture,” Cromartie said. “Farmers need a voice, and I’m glad to be a part of that voice.”

Cromartie has long spoken the language of farming. He grew up on a farm in Bladen County, where his family raised hogs and grew corn and soybeans. While his father and grandfather worked the swing shift at International Paper, Cromartie and his uncle took care of the family farm.

Most of what Cromartie knew about agriculture was the daily grind of farming. But the N.C. Farm Bureau’s IFAL program was eye-opening. He learned that agriculture also means marketing and business and animal science and extension agents and possible careers at John Deere or the U.S. Department of Agriculture or any number of other organizations or government agencies.

Unsure what path to take, Cromartie consulted his grandfather, his best friend from his childhood.

“He didn’t have a college degree, but he was very smart,” Cromartie said of his grandfather. “He always told me, ‘If you’re going to farm, you’ve got to be a smart farmer. You need to go to college and gain the knowledge.’”

Which he did. After a year at Bladen Community College, Cromartie transferred to N.C. A&T. He earned a bachelor’s degree from CAES in 2001 and a master’s degree in agriculture education two years later. Cromartie strengthened his connection with N.C. Farm Bureau by serving as an IFAL counselor during his graduate school days.

As he pursued his master’s, Cromartie was mentored by a young instructor — Antoine J. Alston, Ph.D., now a professor of agricultural education and associate dean of academic studies. Cromartie said he remains close friends with Alston and in touch with A&T, where he serves on the CAES Advisory Board.

After six years with Cooperative Extension at N.C. A&T, Cromartie joined N.C. Farm Bureau in 2008 as a field representative. His nine-county territory in the state’s north central Piedmont region included Guilford County, home to A&T, and Alamance County, where he lives with his wife and two sons.

While at N.C. Farm Bureau, Cromartie has served as team leader for the organization’s Young Farmers & Ranchers leadership program and help launch Young Farmers & Ranchers collegiate chapters at A&T, N.C. State and the University of Mount Olive.

Cromartie said it was a risky move to pick agriculture over the military. He also took a big chance to leave a state job at Cooperative Extension in the middle of the Great Recession. But Cromartie relied on his knowledge from college and a firm belief in himself to carry him through.

“That’s the way my parents and grandparents brought me up,” Cromartie said. “I was never scared to take chances. I was happy working at Cooperative Extension, but moving over to the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation was the best move I ever made.”