Joe Pearson was raised on the family grain and livestock farm in Grant County, Indiana. He graduated from Purdue University with a B.S. in Animal Science in 1964. After a short stint in California as grain merchandiser with Continental Grain, Pearson returned to Purdue to pursue a degree in education. He completed his M.S. in education at Ball State University, where he is currently working on a doctorate in educational administration.
Pearson has dedicated himself to the betterment of education in both his professional and volunteer service activities. After receiving his teaching credentials, Pearson moved to Ohio where he taught biology, science, and industrial arts. During this time he was active in leadership of his church’s youth group, and in 1967 he set out to Borneo to become an agricultural missionary. For the next four years, from 1967 to 1971, he worked with Borneo’s Iban people to help them integrate modern cultural practices into their production of rice, a staple in their diet and their primary crop. The Iban were utilizing “slash and burn” practices that were devastating to the country’s jungle, and Pearson’s work helped them to become more productive while become better stewards of their natural resources. In 1971, Pearson moved back to Indiana and became a partner in Pearson Brothers grain farming operation in Hartford City. He farmed full time until March 1995 when he was named Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture by then-Lieutenant Governor and Commissioner of Agriculture Frank O’Bannon. He has continued to serve in the same capacity for Lieutenant Governor Joe Kernan. Pearson told O’Bannon that he would take the job only after being assured that he would be allowed to “do what is right, do what is best for agriculture and operate in a bipartisan fashion,” and under Kernan’s leadership he has had the same agreement of philosophy.
In his position, Pearson oversees the activities of many state activities including the Indiana Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development (ICARD), the Indiana Rural Development Council, the Indiana Land Resources Council, the Livestock Promotion and Development Fund and the Agricultural Value-Added Grant Program. He also represents Indiana on the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). True to his roots in education, Pearson has found fulfillment in helping many segments of Indiana agriculture build successful programs, building coalitions among agricultural organizations and in helping individuals achieve professional development.
During his farming career, Pearson held many local leadership positions. He served twelve years on the Blackford County School Board, including a term as board president. At the state level, he served as president of the Indiana School Boards Association. He also served as president as the Indiana Soybean Growers Association (ISGA) and was one of Indiana’s representatives on the board of the American Soybean Association. While heading ISGA he was responsible for conducting the first soybean check-off referendum held in Indiana. Currently he serves on the board of directors of USDA’s Fund for Rural America Animal Waste Group; the Center for Agricultural Science and Heritage; the Indiana State Fair and the Indiana Agricultural Leadership Institute.
Pearson’s commitment to his public service on behalf of agriculture is easy to understand when you learn that after eight years on the job in Indianapolis, he still makes the 90 mile one-way commute from Blackford County so that he can remain connected to the land and to the family farming operation. “I will never leave the farm,” he declares. Pearson’s efforts and accomplishments have been honored by numerous organizations, but he keeps no list of them and the plaques and certificates are not displayed on his wall. He is much more comfortable honoring others’ achievements than even talking about himself, but those around him quickly see his “natural leadership,” noted former Purdue staff member Horace Paarlberg who first observed Pearson at work as Nobel Ruler of the Purdue chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho in 1964. Pearson has summed up the guiding principles of his life as ones that were imparted to him by his parents, “Have a strong faith, obtain a higher education, and do something for people other than yourself.”