After spending years studying horticulture and helping to cultivate crops near the rainforests of South and Central America, Rip Winkel’s career path has led him to northwest Kansas.

Winkel began work in early November as the new horticulture agent for Kansas State University Research and Extension’s Cottonwood District, which consists of Ellis and Barton counties. He now will travel between the two counties, assisting residents with any garden-related questions or concerns.

“This job caught my attention because it entails working with people, No. 1,” Winkel said. “But it’s also in areas of horticulture I’ve had my fingers in at one time or another, whether nursery work, landscape design, irrigation design and landscape installation, or fruit and vegetable production.”

Winkel, a native of the Denver area, began work Nov. 5 and received an official welcome with a community reception Tuesday afternoon. He had family in Kansas and is familiar with the region, he said.

He earned a master’s degree in agriculture/horticulture from Colorado State University in conjunction with Peace Corps Masters International Program. He was assigned a two-year field mission in Ecuador, where he worked with indigenous tribes and assisted them with cacao cultivation.

He then briefly worked with crops in South Africa, before needing to return home to help care for his father, who had become ill, he said. He ran his own subcontracting business offering horticulture services after returning and also headed a project in Nicaragua to promote alternative crops.

He became aware of the job in Ellis County through an online search and said it immediately captured his attention. The position became available when former horticulture specialist Holly Dickman accepted a job with the city of Hays as water conservation specialist.

“It’s great here,” Winkel said. “The people are fantastic here, and I love the countryside.”

Winkel is available for questions and information regarding plants and gardening. He can be reached by calling Ellis County Extension at (785) 628-9430.