Cattle rancher turned event center director enjoys the best of both worlds

She may be only a few years out of college, but Kady Porterfield is already commanding attention from the Northwest agricultural community.

Just five years into her career in Central Washington, Porterfield has ascended to a number of key leadership positions, expanding on what she learned growing up on a ranch in Macdoel, Calif. Now, she’s using her influence and experience to help shape the future of ag.

“I try to encourage others to be as involved as they can in supporting our industry,” said Porterfield, 26, the event center director for the Kittitas Valley Event Center in Ellensburg, Wash. She also serves as president of the Washington Cattlewomen’s Association and vice chair of the Washington Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers division.

“The farming demographic is getting older every year, and that means the younger generations have a lot of responsibility,” she added. “Young voices will play a key role in moving this industry forward.”

Sharing her love for agriculture has always come naturally to Porterfield, a sixth-generation cattle rancher whose parents, Chet and Tara, started their operation in Macdoel — 31 miles southwest of Klamath Falls — when they were her age. 

She credits her parents with teaching her the management and leadership skills she has used to advance her career. But most of all, they taught her to appreciate the beauty of life on the farm.

“Both of my parents have been huge inspirations,” she said. “They taught me how to work hard and run a business, but also how to care for animals and raise them for a purpose. It’s a very fulfilling and humbling lifestyle, and you learn huge life lessons that you can’t learn anywhere else.”

Porterfield said the best memories of her childhood include riding horses and moving cattle with her parents and younger sister, Kara. Both women have every intention of returning to Macdoel someday, where their parents manage 230 cow-calf pairs and farm 380 acres of alfalfa. But for now, Porterfield feels like she’s in a good place, both spiritually and professionally.

“I needed to do something that was important to me, and county fairs are just part of who I am,” she said. “The whole reason I’m here is that I want to showcase agriculture and celebrate the young people who are learning to become productive agriculturalists.”

Porterfield earned an agricultural business degree from the State University of New York at Cobleskill in 2014, and then worked for the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima for four years before assuming her current role in 2019.

At the Kittitas Valley Event Center, she helps coordinate about 1,000 gatherings of all sizes throughout the year, including trade shows, meetings, banquets, rodeos and cattle jackpots. The biggest attraction, the Kittitas County Fair and Ellensburg Rodeo, draws an average of 65,000 people from across the region every Labor Day weekend.

Porterfield views the county’s signature event as her best opportunity to connect with the growers and ranchers of the future. She genuinely wants others to understand why a career in agriculture offers so many long-term rewards.

“The fair is where the community goes to be a part of the agricultural experience, and when I see kids who are just as excited as I was, it’s a really cool feeling,” she said.

Aside from her event center management duties, Porterfield has taken on a more active role with the Washington Cattlewomen’s Association in recent years, currently serving her second two-year term as president. The organization’s aim is to personally connect with consumers around the state and show them that cattle ranchers care about the same things they do, including family, quality food sourcing and the environment.

“We’re trying to put a face to cattle ranching, which helps dispel some misconceptions,” Porterfield said. “This group of ladies is absolutely amazing, and honestly, I’m the one who looks up to them. For them to choose me as their leader is an incredible honor.”

This article appeared in the Capital Press in July 2020.

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