Author: Oregon Aglink (page 1 of 3)

By The Numbers

August 21st 2017 will be remembered by many in Oregon for the total solar eclipse we experienced.  As for me, I’ll remember that day by the numbers.  My wife Lisa and I gathered two other families from our suburban neighbourhood, including five children under the age of twelve, and drove fortyfive minutes to our family farm in Amity.  The intent was to give everyone the best view of a once in a lifetime event by camping out in the middle of a field.

We arrived at the farm about three p.m. on Sunday the twentieth. We immediately pitched five tents, ate three beer-can chickens and devoured twenty s’mores.  We slept about six hours, conveniently being woke up by the volunteer fire department siren at two a.m. and the neighbor’s dog regurgitating a chicken bone at four-thirty.  After the news helicopter did a flyover at five-thirty I trekked five hundred feet to the house and made five cups of coffee.  We passed the rest of the morning with breakfast and talking about what to expect with the eclipse.

Shortly after nine, with the ISO-approved eclipse glasses in hand, we began to watch the moon slowly overtake the sun.  About every five minutes I would look up and ask myself what percent of the sun was covered and when it would start getting darker.  What amazed me was how bright the sky stayed even though more than ninety percent of the sun was behind the moon!  As totality occurred I couldn’t help but feel a surreal and awestruck sense that I had never felt before.  Standing in the middle of a valley and seeing a three hundred-sixty degree sunset is something I won’t soon forget.  Everyone in the group was in a strange elevated state of giddiness.

One of the mothers thanked me with great enthusiasm for inviting them to the farm and said she hadn’t had so much fun in forever! I didn’t think much of it at the moment, since after the eclipse I thought it would be a good idea to put in a half day’s work. I took off toward St. Paul, which is normally a thirty minute drive.  Three hours and two road closures later I arrived at work.

Reflecting on the eclipse and traffic-o-geddon, it wasn’t the three hour drive that stuck out to me.  It was how much power the sun had with only a tiny percentage of energy getting to earth.  It reminds me of the power that two percent of the US workforce has as it engages in agriculture, and how rarely the other ninety-eight percent has a chance to spend one day on the farm like that suburban mother and her two children.

That’s three people, and yet that one day shared with them had a huge impact.

Regardless of whether it’s a cosmic event like the eclipse, a planned Adopt a Farmer tour or a barn dance, people with limited farm exposure are more open to seeing the power of farming when they’re on the farm.  My new goal is to get all of my urban acquaintances on the farm—one visit at a time.  The farm has tremendous power! Maybe we owe part of it to the sun.

Jeff Freeman, President

Until We Meet Again

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Nearly 11 years to the day that I accepted the Agri-Business Council of Oregon Executive Director position, I notified the Oregon Aglink Board of Directors of my resignation. I have accepted an opportunity to become the CEO of Oregon Hazelnut Industries. This new challenge excites me, and I am more than a little humbled that I was selected for the position. None of it would be possible without the support I’ve received from so many people.

We’ve accomplished a lot over the past 11 years, and it’s all because of the dedicated people I’ve had a chance to work with. That dedication showed during the interview led by Dick Severson, who was the volunteer president of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon for three years. His passion was evident throughout the process, but a bond was already starting between Dick and I during that interview. Oregon State was about to play in their first-ever College World Series championship against North Carolina. Near the conclusion of my interview Dick got serious, looked me in the eye and said “this is the most important question of the interview… who are you rooting for tonight?” I got serious, looked him in the eye, and said “I am wearing a powder blue tie for a reason. Go Ducks!”

Somehow I still got the job.

Outside of the executive committee, Dick was the first person I called to notify about my transition. More than a decade later, despite a serious battle with cancer that he beat down, he still sits on the Aglink board and is an active Adopt a Farmer participant. That’s dedication.

Not everything in my personal life has gone according to plan. A couple years later it was apparent that my marriage was not going to survive. It’s funny where you can find solace at a time like that. When things were looking bleakest I had to drive to Baker City to present at the Oregon Cattlemen Association’s summer meeting. Bill Levy was a new executive committee member then and agreed to make the trip with me. You really get to know somebody when you’re stuck in a car together for 6.5 hours, and I’m sure Bill got much more than he signed up for on that trip. I’ll never forget his sage advice and willingness to listen. Bill continues to be an important sounding board for me to this day.

 A few years later my son was born. Obviously, a lot in life had happened between divorce and a newborn. We’ll have to catch up over some great Oregon hops if you want the whole story, but it was a life-changing event to be 40 and dad for the first time. As I was trying to figure out how to be a dad, my own father was losing his battle with muscular dystrophy. It was an emotional time for me, but Amy Doerfler, Molly McCargar, Terry Ross and others were always there checking in on me. When dad finally lost the good fight, the outpouring of support and flowers was overwhelming to both me and my mom who had never met these amazing people.

Over the past decade we’ve done some pretty cool things. Some of those accomplishments include changing name of the organization, launching the Adopt a Farmer program, creating the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign, developing a successful social media platform, and nearly quadrupling attendance of Denim & Diamonds. None of it happens without some very talented people I’ve had work for me. Mallory Phelan, Julie Schiele, Julie Pederson, Danielle Meyersick and Misty Kaihani in particular. When you work in a small office you get to know people on a more personal level. Not only are these ladies extremely dedicated to their craft, they are kind, generous and giving human beings that made coming to work every day a fun environment to be around.

This organization is positioned well for the next executive director to take it to even greater heights. Not because of anything that I’ve done, but because of the people who care about the mission, the industry and each other. It really is a family.

Today, much of my life revolves around the cutest 5-year-old on the planet. The other night he was adamant I watch Winnie the Pooh with him before I put him down for the evening. At one point in the episode, Pooh said: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I couldn’t say it any better. Thank you so much for the past 11 years.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Paying it Forward

By Mitch Lies

(also read Dedicated to Ag Advocacy about Agriculturist of the year winner, Brent Fetsch)

Brent Fetsch, Oregon State President of Northwest Farm Credit Services, has long been an advocate for paying it forward, a term for giving back popularized by the 2000 movie “Pay It Forward.” By some estimates, he’s been doing so since he started at Northwest Farm Credit Services in 1987, two weeks after he graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in agricultural economics.

Through his work at the 16,000-member lending cooperative, Fetsch has helped farm and forestry operators maintain strong balance sheets and vital natural resource operations. And, as a long-time volunteer for charitable organizations and agricultural-based entities, Fetsch has distinguished himself as a dedicated contributor to rural America.

Fetsch, who once interned for Oregon Aglink (then the Agribusiness Council of Oregon), has been named winner of Oregon Aglink’s 2017 Ag Connection Award.

“I am flattered and humbled to win this award,” Fetsch said. “But I want to stress that, while I’m the guy who gets to go up on stage and receive the award, the connection I have with agriculture and rural American has been nurtured by a great many folks, including my parents, my FFA advisor in high school, my grandfather, my Oregon State University professors, my fabulous coworkers at Northwest Farm Credit Services and the farmers that I worked with over the years.”

Fetsch grew up on a small farm outside of Pendleton, and although his grandfather sold the farm in the 1980s, in some respects, he’s never left it.

“Farming is in my blood,” he said. “I worked for my dad and area farmers when I was young. I was active in FFA, and FFA is still important to me. I try to support that on a pay-it-forward basis. I feel like I got a lot out of it. It enriched my life tremendously.”

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The 1982 Oregon FFA

At Northwest Farm Credit Services, Fetsch most recently served as senior vice president of operations and chief information officer at the co-op’s headquarters in Spokane for four years, before taking the helm of the Oregon lending and insurance team in January of 2015.

While he had no idea he would still be with the lender/insurer when he started 30 years ago, it turns out he did have a good idea of his career choice even back then.

“I remember showing up at Oregon State knowing in advance that I wanted an agriculture and natural resources economics degree,” he said. “I was always interested in keeping track of the income and expenses from raising and selling livestock.

“So now here I am, trying to help our customers grow their agricultural enterprises through Northwest Farm Credit Services. It is such a rewarding place to work,” he said. “I love that all we do is work with agriculture, the food and fiber industries, and rural communities. I love that I am supporting industries that mean so much to me.”

Northwest Farm Credit’s commitment to agriculture can be seen in many ways, including the formation of a program for young farmers that has grown to encompass 1,400 customers. Called Ag Vision, it addresses what has become a significant issue in agriculture, the aging of the farm operator.

“The average age of the farm operator today is 59, and it keeps going up,” Fetsch said. “There is going to be significant change in ownership in the years ahead. So, one thing we’re doing to help address that is a special program to help young, beginning and small farmers get a toe-hold in agriculture.”

In the program, farmers who are less than 35-years old, have been farming for less than 10 years, or have less than $250,000 per year in gross sales are eligible for low-interest loans, often with reduced or waived fees. The program includes an educational element that Fetsch said is critical to its success.

“We put on seminars. We encourage them to get outside training through Oregon State or a community college,” he said. The program gives credits, which can be used to earn reduced interest rates, for attending educational seminars.

To date, the program has extended nearly $540 million to participants.

As for Fetsch, his commitment to the health of agriculture is evident in many ways. Fetsch serves on the board of the Oregon FFA Foundation. He serves on the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences Dean’s Council and meets regularly with OSU College of Forestry Dean Thomas Maness to provide support where needed. He also serves as treasurer of the Oregon Food Bank, joining a long list of Northwest Farm Credit Services leaders on food bank boards throughout the Northwest.

During National FFA Week, Fetsch (far right) and his colleagues wore t-shirts and jackets from their days as FFA members and officers

“It is a natural stewardship activity for us, given that we at Northwest Farm Credit Services work with the people that grow the food,” he said. “And we have such an abundance here in the Pacific Northwest and in Oregon, particularly, that it is hard for me to fathom why a child would go to school hungry.”

Also, he said, his service on the Oregon Food Bank Board of Directors offers an opening that he embraces: “It is an opportunity for me to engage with the Portland metropolitan area and share a rural perspective when the opportunity arises, one person at a time.”

 

Dedicated to Ag Advocacy

By Mitch Lies

(also read Paying It Forward about Ag Connection winner, Brent Fetsch)

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John Zielinski, owner/operator of one of Oregon’s most successful farm markets and a prodigious volunteer, is Oregon Aglink’s Agriculturist of the Year. It is an honor he is not taking lightly.

“I am deeply honored,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d done that much to deserve such an award, and I really appreciate that other people think that maybe I did.”

One look at his resume, and it is easy to see why many believe Zielinski is deserving of the award.

Zielinski is president of the Marion County Farm Bureau and serves on the Labor Committee of the American Farm Bureau. He serves on the board of the Oregon Agritourism Partnership, is a past president of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, and a past board member of Oregon Aglink.

Asked why he donates so much of his time, he said: “I think it is important to give back.”

Then there is the influence of his mother, Eileen Zielinski, 84.

“When I was young, my mother was very involved with Oregon Women for Agriculture,” he said. “She also served on the State Board of Agriculture, and she is still serving, and has been for about 20 years, on the Marion-Polk Food Share Board. I guess that kind of rubbed off on me.”

Then there are the issues that crop up that draw people into organizations. “I got involved with Farm Bureau because Marion County was proposing that the fresh cider that we sell was a value-added product, rather than a farm product,” he said. “Because we sell a lot of cider, it would have thrown our proportions out of whack to be considered a farm stand in an EFU (exclusive farm use) zone.

“So I worked with the Farm Bureau and we were able to get that changed in the administrative rules, and I liked what was going on at Farm Bureau and stayed involved,” he said.

His Chamber of Commerce experience started similarly. “When we first opened the market, I got involved with them because I thought it might help business to get my face out there and let people know that we were open,” he said. “Then I served on their ag committee, then became chair of the ag committee. Then they asked me to become a board member for Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, and I served 11 years on the board, eventually becoming president.”

During the time Zielinski was becoming a presence in the local Chamber of Commerce, his store, E.Z. Orchards Farm Market in Salem, was becoming a mainstay for mid-Willamette Valley shoppers looking for fresh produce and specialty packaged goods.

Asked what it takes to get on his shelves, Zielinski said: “I emphasize local first. Then, on the packaged foods, what I am looking for is it has to be a good quality product and it needs to have eye appeal. People buy with their eyes first. You can have the most wonderfully tasting product in the world, but if has got an ugly label and isn’t packaged well, it is not going to sell well.

“For fresh, whenever it is possible, I will carry local,” he said. “If local is unavailable, then I can source it out of a produce warehouse in Portland that delivers six days a week. That is where I get things like the bananas, papayas and mangoes.”

Zielinski added that much of what he sells during the summer originates in fields not far from the store. “One advantage to having lived in this area my whole life, having a family name that goes back four generations in this area and knowing the community, is I have good connections.”

The market also draws extensively from its own orchards, which are co-managed by John’s brothers, Kevin and Mark, who also serves as the farm’s chief financial officer.

“We’ve expanded the orchard considerably over the years and tried to diversify in as many ways as we could,” Zielinski said. “We have always been orchardists, but there has been a shift over the last 20 years from being predominately apple growers, and having pears and peaches also, to now we are predominately pear growers, and we grow enough apples and peaches for the farm market.”

The farm also in recent years has been producing hard cider from its apples and is selling apples and juice to other cideries, some as far away as New York, an operation that Kevin runs.

Then there are the market’s famous donuts, the idea for which originated in a tour of New England states that John took 20 years ago through an organization of farm-direct marketers.

“Apple cider donuts were very popular back there, so I came back and found a used donut machine and started making cider donuts,” he said. “Now we’re going year round, not just when there is cider. We eventually figured out that we could make strawberry, raspberry, marionberry and blueberry donuts. And in October, we do pumpkin donuts, in addition to the apple cider donuts.

“Now we have two donut machines, and they are both bigger and faster than the first one I had bought,” he said.

E.Z. Orchards Farm Market is celebrating 25 years in business this year, with the actual anniversary falling on Oct. 12, which coincidentally is Zielinski’s father’s, Stephen’s, birthday.

That the market opened on Oct. 12 is fitting for another reason, as well. Each October, E.Z. Orchards hosts its Harvest Festival, annually drawing thousands of customers to participate in agritourism activities while selecting their Halloween pumpkins. Among activities in which customers partake are a corn maze, wagon rides and a petting zoo. The farm offers pony rides on weekends. There are pedal tractors to ride, lots of hot apple cider, other food and beverages and live music on weekends.

While the festival is a good revenue source each year, Zielinski sees more to it than just economic return.

“I figure that it is an opportunity for us to reach out to the public and share information about farming and educate and narrow that rural-urban divide,” Zielinski said.

“We get a lot of urban folks out here to find a pumpkin and go on a hay ride,” he said. “Is a hay ride something people do on a farm all the time? No. But it does get people out to the farm, and, of the school children who visit us every year, there are a lot of them who have never seen where food comes from before. So we take them to the apple orchard. We explain what happens in each of the four seasons with apples, and then they get to pick an apple and they get to go out and pick a pumpkin.

“And they go through the corn maze, which we made educational,” he said. “It is in the shape of the state of Oregon, and the trails through the corn maze are the roads and highways of Oregon. And we have about 75 signs out there. There is a sign for Salem. There is a sign for Portland, for Baker City and Prairie City and John Day and Ontario and Fossil and other towns across the state. And it is not just a sign saying here this is, but here is the population, the elevation, what they grow here.

“Just because of the different issues that face ag in the mid-valley, if we don’t continue to try and bridge that rural/urban gap, it is going to be more difficult for the business of agriculture,” he said. “If we don’t talk to our urban neighbors about why we perform and do certain tasks, they are not going to understand. One percent of the population or less are farmers, so that means there are a lot of other folks with the power to vote and influence the decision makers who have little to no connection to the land. So if we aren’t educating them as to why we are doing things, it won’t be good for us in the long run.”

Spoken like a true Oregon Aglink Agriculturist of the Year.

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Safety Snapshot: 2017

by Allison Cloo

What does safety look like? It’s more than just bright vests, protective gear, and endless paperwork. Safety looks like a team of people, both on and off the farm, who cultivate an entire culture of preparedness, accountability, and support. That includes a number of programs available through Oregon Aglink and its partners that put innovative safety resources in your hands.

There are people for whom safety is a vocation. You might get your workers’ comp insurance and even a member discount from a company like SAIF, where professionals like Pat Morrill and Chuck Easterly are also happy to tell you about the annual seminars held in 16 cities around Oregon with both English and Spanish. You might also seek out the services of a safety consultant like Kirk Lloyd of Risk Management Resources, who helps farms create safety plans, run meetings, and respond to accidents when they do happen. In partnership with Oregon Aglink, he also contributes to a growing video library on safety topics.

For others, safety means some extra steps that are worth the effort. There’s Jake Barge at Papé Machinery, whose company does more than sell you machinery—it helps keep you safe on the road with a sign and bumper sticker campaign encouraging other drivers to be cautious. Aglink member Brenda Frketich and others like her are participating in an OSHA-approved pilot program of local “pods” where farmers work together to operate at their safest and most efficient.

And of course there are the people at the center of it all who rely on farm safety: you, your employees, and all the family members who hope to see you and your workers get home at the end of each day.

Balancing Lives and Livelihoods

“Ag isn’t sustainable without a healthy workforce of farm families and their employees” says Lloyd, but beyond the financial bottom line, “getting people home in one piece every night is the most important thing to me.”

In farming, where paperwork can seem to pile up endlessly, it can be hard to reconcile the regulations with the flesh and blood people they’re supposed to protect on an everyday basis. Lloyd is there to help bridge that gap. He admits that “safety and compliance have become very different things,” so while meeting expectations on a checklist might save you on fines, it’s only part of a bigger safety strategy.

“Many of the biggest safety challenges we face in agriculture are not regulated at all, or the rules don’t fully address the problem, so I also put a lot of effort into teaching employers, managers, and workers about these gaps and developing “best practices” to minimize the risk of injury.”

Regular safety meetings and certifications for workers have to compete with busy farms and packed schedules. That’s where Aglink projects like short safety videos, available in both English and Spanish, make material more accessible for farm teams. After OSHA made the first video possible with a grant, a partnership with SAIF and Kirk Lloyd has produced an additional three available on YouTube and DVD. Along with the annual seminars put on by SAIF around the state, these videos are a way to spark important thinking and conversations around the farm.

After all, good safety practices like using the right equipment and taking time for checks have to compete with the alluring numbers of efficiency: high output with the least time and energy spent. Additionally, a lot of farming involves monotonous and large-scale work that can create a false sense of security. However, Chuck Easterly, Loss Control Manager at SAIF, says it best: “When safety cultures are strong, workers are protected and operations are performed effectively [and] efficiently.”

And what is a strong “safety culture”? Watching out for one’s own actions and looking out for each other’s well-being on top of that. Not risking your own life or someone else’s, especially when some lives are endangered as workers on the farm may try to help each other in an emergency situation and the tragedy only compounds. Safety culture is all about the big-picture “why” of safety and not just the “what” of individual regulations and minimum compliance to avoid fines or legal expenses.

Innovating at the Local Level

 In 2014, to help small and mid-sized farms achieve these broader safety goals, Aglink executive director Geoff Horning worked with Lloyd and a safety committee of member farms to create an innovative new program. With OSHA’s approval, local “pods” of farms diverge from the typical schedule of a monthly safety meeting on their own farm to a quarterly schedule where farms work together to achieve that strong safety culture.

Since the pilot year, two pods have emerged, one with three farms and the other with five. Each quarter, a farm will have at least one safety meeting with as many of its own staff and workers as available. The other two meetings that quarter, which under typical OSHA practice would include only that farm, are replaced by one “pod” meeting, where members of the owner and labor management teams from each farm meet to talk about their recent and upcoming safety concerns, and a safety inspection carried out by a representative from Risk Management Resources and one or more Aglink staff members. Behind the scenes, Aglink takes care of all the meeting minutes, inspection notes, and other paperwork involved in the program.

Brenda Frketich, an Aglink member participating in the program, sees her local “pod” as an important part of the safety routine at Kirsch Family Farm. “Having safety as an on-going conversation in the culture of your farming business does a lot to remind people [of how to protect themselves] from the big risks,” she says, like driving defensively on the road or using earplugs with a chainsaw, but it also “brings up situational reminders throughout the year. Sometimes when you are only doing a job one time in a number of years it is easy to forget the best way to go about being safe on the job.” Where one small farm might not be thinking about that task this season, another member of their pod might have it on the top of their to-do list. As a pod, they work through those risks and strategies.

According to Kirk Lloyd, the pod program “introduces a power dynamic of farmer-to-farmer support, encouragement, and accountability.” When it operates alongside the top-down administration of OSHA, it represents some of the best of the cooperative and practical aspects of agriculture in Oregon.

Aglink hopes to expand the program over time with more staff and funding, especially since the regional model would serve the needs of producers across the state. In the meantime, however, executive Geoff Horning is proud of the programs and partnerships that continue to thrive and serve the safety needs of the farming and ranching community in Oregon.

“Providing safety resources for our members may not be the core part of our mission,” says Horning. “But at the end of the day none of it matters if we don’t do everything we can to make sure our members and their employees go home safely to their families every night.”

Aglink would like to thank the different organizations and individuals who contributed to this article. For more information about these programs, check aglink.org or contact our staff at info@aglink.org.

We Are An Industry In Transition

Farmers don’t age gracefully. Being successful in agriculture requires a strong will and an independent mind. It is why most farmers work 40-plus years toiling in all sorts of extremes, and the stress, long hours and crazy weather conditions wear on a body. Let’s face it, most experienced farmers and ranchers look more like Joe Pesci than Sean Connery. However, it’s not the look of most farmers that concern me. It’s the fact that there are so many farmers who look alike.

The statistics tell us that the aging agricultural community could be the most pressing challenge our industry faces, beyond even water, pesticides, labor and land use. According to data from the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture (a new one is scheduled to be surveyed in 2017), the average farm operator in the United States is 58.3 years old, up from 57.1 in 2007 and 54.9 years in 2002.

Closer to home, the numbers are even more stunning. In September of 2016, the Oregon State University Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems partnered with Portland State University to release a report on the future of Oregon’s agricultural land. Here are some nuggets from that document:

  • 60 years was the average age of Oregon farmers in 2012, compared to an average age of 55 in 2002 and 50 years in 1982.
  • 24 percent of all Oregon farmers in 2012 were beginning farmers, down from 32 percent in 2002. Although 15 percent of beginning farmers are under the age of 35, nearly half of beginning farmers are aged 45 or older.
  • Farm operators aged 55 and older control 64 percent of Oregon’s agricultural land, or 10.45 million acres, which could change hands in the next 20 years.

So, we’re getting older. The younger generation isn’t coming to the party, and there’s about to be a huge transition of land.

With the escalating value of that land, no wonder it’s difficult to energize the industry with young farm owners. Thanks to strong land use policies, the farm land isn’t likely to be paved over for a strip mall, but what we are seeing is venture capital and large corporations being introduced into Oregon’s ag mix more and more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but Oregon agriculture is currently comprised of 97 percent family farms, and that statistic is going to change. Being family dominated resonates with an urban populace, and as the percentage of family farms dwindles the louder a misinformed public is likely to become.

More than half of Oregon’s farms are likely to change hands over the next decade. As an industry we don’t have the luxury of debating this issue for the next five years before we take action. We need to start implementing programs now that help our farms and ranches to successfully transition from one generation to the next.

Every operation is different and has its own set of circumstances. There is no cookie cutter program that will benefit the masses. However, there are strategies that every family-owned farm operation should consider.

Father Time is responsible for that Joe Pesci complex, but with the proper planning you can ensure the legacy of your farm or ranch operation through the next generation.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

Why We Farm

It’s been a wet and slow start to the season here in Oregon. I’m sure by the time you read this article the memories of our record slow start will be forgotten. So with the objective of saving time I constructed a brief “multi-media” journal for this issue. (Less typing – more pictures and even a video)

Step one before reading this article: open your computer or phone internet connection and do a Google search for “start with why video.”  The video in question is a TEDX talk by author Simon Sinek.

At the beginning of 2016 I was working for an ag tech start-up company and collaborating with an international team on a project to clearly define the company’s marketing message and value proposition.  We sifted through multiple exercises to define the who, what, when, where, how and how much.  Ultimately the project produced the desired outcome.  During my research and gleaning ideas from the all-knowing internet I came across the video “Start with Why”.

It was apparent to me that the team had answered all the key questions except WHY.  Although not a necessity to market your company, the gentleman in the video demonstrates how WHY creates focused meaning within an organization and connections with its customers.

Inspiring urban Oregonians to have an enlightened perspective of Oregon agriculture is a monumental challenge.  Outreach programs like Adopt a Famer have created action through open-minded early-adopters, but we can accomplish even more.  Oregon agriculture and the Aglink membership are made up of diverse businesses and individuals.  Some know their WHY and other may struggle to define it.  Finding ways to distil Oregon Aglink’s collective WHY can be the catalyst to bridging the gap with the HOW of our Cultivating Common Ground initiative.

Some producers may farm and ranch for pride, others for the lifestyle and maybe some just simply because their parents and grandparents did.  Think how strong our collective messages would be if we could connect to consumers with inspiring statements of WHY we farm!

Dairy Meets Classroom: Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms

by Allison Cloo

Melissa and her daughters on the farm.

Halfway through its sixth year at Oregon Aglink, the Adopt a Farmer program shows no signs of slowing down. It has evolved from its pilot year with three schools to nearly 50 in its current form. This year alone, the program will use its field trips and classroom visits to introduce approximately 5,000 middle school students to local farms. In some ways, the reach is even greater.

Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms, a second-year participant in the Adopt a Farmer program, knows an encounter with a student on a field trip could be the starting point for a whole chain reaction of understanding.

It seems so simple: a student asks a question, the farmer gives an answer. The information doesn’t stop there, though. That student could share their newfound knowledge in the cafeteria at lunch, or around the dinner table with family. The experience may end up online on Instagram, with a middle schooler taking a selfie next to a Holstein munching hay.

So what makes Adopt a Farmer so different from other programs or field trips that bring around 500 students to Cloud Cap Farms each year?

First, Melissa says, “the kids are typically older than the students we normally see.” As opposed to the kindergarten and elementary students that Melissa often guides through her barns, middle school students in the Adopt a Farmer program are right on the edge of adolescence, developing their critical thinking skills and expanding their sense of the world.

Beyond that, Adopt a Farmer also tries to recruit urban or suburban schools where students may have little to no firsthand knowledge of where their food and fiber originates. “The kids are very removed from agriculture,” Melissa says. “Some of these kids have never left the city.”

Still, the students visiting Melissa’s dairy often arrive with more than the simple image of Old MacDonald and picture book farm animals. Even if they are removed from agriculture, as Melissa notes, they receive plenty of food- and farm-related messages “on the internet or [from] their parents.” The gap between an urban student and their rural neighbors will be bridged one way or another.

So, while some students ask the innocent and funny questions like “Do boy cows make milk,” other students echo myths about dairy farming spread on social media and blog posts.

On one such occasion, Melissa recalls, “a boy walked up to me and said milk has pus and blood in it,” repeating a common accusation of animal rights activists and concerned vegans. Melissa’s solution? “I milked a cow in front of this little boy and he got to see for himself that there was no blood and no pus and he was shocked.”

She saw an opportunity to explain how farms care about food safety, making sure that only quality milk is leaving the farm, and animal health too, separating and treating any sick cows before they return to the line. It was a happy ending to a tough question. Melissa remembers, “He was so excited to go home and tell his Mom that he saw for himself that the milk was safe and that our cows really did look happy.”

Not every farmer-student interaction deals with such challenging questions, but each interaction does offer a chance to build up a sense of trust and empowerment. “Some of those questions are tough to answer,” Melissa offers, “but it is important not to lie. There are ways to explain why we do what we do that can help consumers understand.”

Harrison Park School students at Cloud Cap Farms in Fall of 2016.

One of the more successful strategies that Melissa uses to differentiate enclosures for her dairy cows and their calves is to explain it in relatable terms. Calves advancing from their individual hutches to small groups and then larger pens is laid out as the process of graduating from preschool to grade school and high school. Younger animals are vulnerable to spreading germs or injury, but as they grow older they learn to socialize and be productive members of their society.

Field trips on a working farm present challenges, of course, but Melissa makes it look manageable. The schedule can be a bit tight trying to balance chores and visitors, but she finds the time. Safely conducting tours around live animals and moving machinery means a little extra vigilance and good communication with teachers and chaperones.

The final element of the Adopt a Farmer program may also be part of what makes it so valuable. Getting a farmer like Melissa into the classroom for a visit or two may be tricky to schedule when she needs to milk her cows twice a day, but logistically it ends up being easier than bussing several dozen students from one place to another. Something as simple as putting the farmer in the classroom has a big impact, though, and Melissa knows it.

Melissa shows students how butter is made in a jar in Spring 2016.

Aglink staff will help with the activity, like making butter in a mason jar, but the farmer is the star of the day. “I think it makes the kids feel a little special,” she says, “They not only came to see your farm, but you go and see what they do. Not often do kids get that from a stranger who isn’t being paid to be that role model.”
At the end of the year, Melissa receives batches of thank-you cards from teachers and students, who write about their favorite memory from the field trip or her visit. She makes note, she says, of things that will help her better tailor her message for the next year.

“After doing tours now for years and doing the Adopt a Farmer program for the last two, it is becoming painfully clear that kids really don’t have a true understanding of where their food comes from.” She continues, “Having a real life reference is way more memorable and impactful than just reading something from the internet. These moments, though, are not possible if we don’t put ourselves out there.”
 

REAL Oregon

Warren G. Bennis, the founding chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, and widely considered a pioneer in contemporary leadership studies, said, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

If leaders are truly made rather than born, are we developing good leaders within Oregon agriculture? Before you answer that question, I’m not asking if we have good leaders within Oregon agriculture. Certainly we do. I could fill pages with names of distinguished leaders within our industry that I admire. But, are we developing them or are they getting those attributes from other resources?

Honestly, the answer is subjective and nuanced. One of the strengths of Oregon agriculture is the diverse number of associations and commodity commissions that represent our industry. Trade associations, in particular, have historically been leadership breeding grounds. While there are still organic leadership development elements in every association, the reality is that today most associations are made up of people who already possess certain leadership skills that are necessary to complete certain objectives.

Despite having great leaders throughout Oregon agriculture, I’d argue we’re not developing these leaders. Their leadership training is coming from other resources. Leadership development is a strategy and culture that needs to be nourished. It requires focus and a little fertilizer to help it grow, and not simply the loudest person talking bull…

A leadership development strategy defines the goals and expectations for leaders. It also defines the key capabilities, competencies, and experiences of a successful leader. They are not the same for every person or organization, but those definitions drive leadership selection, outcomes, and for the associations within Oregon agriculture it will help with program development. Managed in this strategic way, leadership becomes more than simple lip service for the industry.

So, where do we go for this leadership you ask?  Great question.

At the urging of a couple of growers in Malheur County a little over a year ago, OSU Extension agent Bill Buhrig started contacting agricultural representatives throughout Oregon about the creation of a natural resources leadership program. It’s not an original idea. After all, natural resource leadership programs exist in 38 other states, and Oregon even tried to launch a program at the turn of the century that didn’t quite get off the ground. Bill was persistent, and in short order had a steering committee in place representing 18 agriculture, fishery and forestry entities.

Throughout 2016 this group worked diligently to lay the groundwork for REAL (Resource Education & Agricultural Leadership program) Oregon. REAL Oregon is a leadership program that will bring future leaders from agriculture, fishing and forestry together to learn leadership skills and gain a greater understanding of Oregon through a series of statewide sessions. The mission is simple, but complex: Build natural resource leaders who make a difference for Oregon.

The first class is scheduled to begin in November, but this spring they’re accepting applications in what is hoped will be a competitive process.

The urban/rural divide in Oregon is real. The chasm feels like it’s getting exponentially larger. There is a lot of talk about bridging that gap, but it too often feels like a bridge to nowhere. Oregon’s natural resource community needs a legion of polished leaders who can both listen and represent our interests. As an industry it’s our responsibility to develop that army.

Bennis spent his career making leaders out of ordinary people. While only in its infancy, I believe this program can have the same impact for Oregon’s natural resource community. The program outline is in place. The resources to launch the program are there as well. The most important element for the success of the program are the people who become a part of it. For specifics about REAL Oregon, I encourage you to visit their Web site at www.realoregon.net. If you’re feeling really courageous, complete the program application to be a part of the first class. We need you.

 

 

 

Geoff Horning, Executive Director

 

Welcome to 2017

As I begin this year as President of Oregon Aglink, I’d like to thank the membership, board, and executive director for the privilege to serve the agricultural community in this role. My overarching goal for the year is to learn as much as possible about the risks and opportunities farmers are faced with and find ways to help weave them into the educational and communication platform that is Oregon Aglink.

As producers, we’ve all seen the change in perception that the 98% of society has about the 2% that is engaged in agriculture. Change is familiar territory to ag producers, and their ability to identify and capitalize on it demonstrates our resilience and ingenuity. We’ve all dealt with change in the form of regulation or marketing dynamics of our crops. Many of these changes have a concrete and straight forward cause and effect.

A good example of change that I’ve seen over the decades is associated with one of my favorite events growing up on the family farm in the Willamette Valley. When harvest was winding down and the seed was in the barn, the excitement of field burning was in the air… literally. Getting the word from the local fire chief that burning one of your fields was a go set into motion people and equipment that transformed fields with tons of hay and chaff to a clean black slate to begin again with next year’s crop. The cultural practice had significant benefits to the crop and farmer.

The side effect of burning was obviously a temporary compromise of air quality due to the smoke it generated. My guess is that this side effect was perceived as a negative among valley residents who had no connection to farming. The fate of field burning was sealed on August 3rd, 1988 when a tragic fatal automobile accident occurred on Interstate 5 due to smoke and the lack of visibility. The state regulated field burning by phasing out the practice.

This left growers, industry professionals, and academics the challenge of finding new ways to replicate the agronomic value of field burning. Through research, trial work and good old farmer ingenuity, seed producers solved the challenge dealt to them by this regulated change. The challenge was clear and apparent. Farmers are great at solving these types of concrete problems with pragmatic science and economic discipline. Someone throws up a hurdle and we see it and react.

Fast forward 30 years and think about the risks and opportunities that exist for farmers today. What would happen in today’s society if the tragic events of August 3rd, 1988 happened today. How would our chosen profession be viewed and perceived? I’ve always held the belief that farming is a noble profession. Not every person classified as the 98% has the same reverence for the profession that provides the food and fiber that sustains them. Oregon Aglink serves as an organization to close the gap on any misperceptions. It’s here to communicate and educate what, how, and why we farm.

I highlighted field burning because, in my mind, it was a great example of reacting to a clearly defined risk and challenge. It’s a great testament to the industry’s problem solving abilities. Now it’s the time where I toss you some food for thought. Is our industry great at proactively innovating when risks and change are continuous, unclear, fragmented, and subtle? How good are we owning and promoting the realities of farming to our non-farming members of society? Is our radar up to identify these subtle and progressive changes and meet them with a mind-set of proactive innovation?

Traditional thoughts of what innovation looks like might take the shape of what happened in reaction to field burning’s exit: a clear and timely change-management to a challenge. I’d like to raise the awareness that some of today’s risks to agriculture require a constant, long-term mind-set of innovation. The innovators on the front line of our industry today that are communicating, educating and bolstering positive perceptions aren’t university stalwarts with PhDs but strong voices such as Brenda Frketich @NuttyGrass, Shelly Boshart @BoshartDavisAg, Marie Bowers @MarieB41, Molly McCargar @FarmerMolly9, Robert Saik @rsaik, Oregon Farm Bureau @OreFarmBureau and Oregon Aglink @oregonaglink.

Innovate every day! It’s a new year and a changing world.

 

 

 

 

Jeff Freeman, Oregon Aglink President

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