Author: Oregon Aglink (page 1 of 4)

Farmers Reap Tax Benefit from Donated Food

curtis-sawyer-750x750BY CURTIS SAWYER, CPA

No one wants to see hard grown crops go to waste, but surplus crops happen. Fortunately, a recent tax law change has created an opportunity for farmers to support their communities by donating surplus crops to hunger relief organizations in exchange for a charitable donations tax deduction.

What is the potential benefit for my farm?

Cash basis growers can now deduct 50% of the fair market value of donated food to qualified organizations.

How does the charitable donations tax deduction work with my surplus crops?

A special rule permits an enhanced charitable contribution deduction for food donations to qualified organizations. The deduction is the lesser of:

  • twice your tax basis of the donated food, or
  • your tax basis plus one-half of the appreciation (the difference between fair market value and tax basis).

Cash basis growers have not previously been able to benefit from the food donation tax deduction since their basis is zero (because they do not record inventory costs), but Congress recently passed legislation permitting cash basis taxpayers to elect to deem the tax basis as 25% of the fair market value of the donated food.

What food qualifies for the charitable donations deduction?

The food must be “apparently wholesome”, which is defined by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act as “food that meets all quality and labeling standards imposed by Federal, State, and local laws and regulations even though the food may not be readily marketable due to appearance, age, freshness, grade, size, surplus or other conditions.” The description is intentionally broad to ensure food that might be a little unattractive or nearing the end of its life will not go to waste.

What organizations qualify to receive my food donations?

The recipient must be a qualified tax-exempt organization, and the food must be used for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants. Your local food bank most likely qualifies, and there are also many hunger relief organizations willing to accept donated crops.

Is there a limit to the food donation tax deduction?

The deduction cannot exceed 15% of your net income for the year. If you cannot use it all in one year, it can be carried forward for future use.

How do I claim my charitable donations tax deduction for donated crops?

To claim the deduction, the receiving organization will need to provide you a written statement confirming the donated food will be used exclusively for the care of the ill, the needy, or infants. This statement will need to be in hand by the tax return filing date.

Additionally, the following information should be maintained for each donation:

  • Description of the food
  • Name and address of organization receiving the donation
  • Date of donation
  • Fair market value of the food on the date of the donation, and
  • How the fair market value was determined (comparable sales, etc.)

For example, say Aldrich Farms is a cash basis farm growing vegetables. As harvest comes to a close, Aldrich Farms has an abundance of green beans. The green beans have a fair market value of $100,000 and no tax basis because all costs to grow the beans have been expensed along the way. The bumper crop has buyers at capacity, and Aldrich Farms is short on storage so instead of paying to store, sell, transport or dispose of the excess, Aldrich Farms reaches out to the local food bank to see if they have a need for the green beans. The local food bank happily accepts the donation and provides Aldrich Farms with the necessary documentation to support the deduction. Come tax time, Aldrich Farms takes a deduction for $50,000 (50% of the fair market value), which assuming a 40% tax rate, results in a tax savings of $20,000.

If you have excess crops and are looking to take the next steps in earning a food donation tax deduction, please reach out to our Aldrich Agribusiness team. We are here to talk through all of your donation considerations and can even help you find a hunger relief organization.


“Okay, Google…”

Mallory Phelan Resized Maybe you’re the one in five people who utter those words in order to search for information online every day. With more than 3.5 billion searches every day on Google alone, there’s a good chance you’re at least one of the four-fifths of people typing into that search bar. More than half of us make these requests from the palm of our hand on our mobile device. We live in a world with access to more information than any humans have ever had. People are using artificial intelligence to answer questions about the world, including the where, when, why and how of their food production. Gone are the days of pulling the encyclopedia off the shelf or relying on generational knowledge for answers.

Consumers have access to websites with inaccurate information about agriculture, documentaries with strong but hidden biases, and inescapable fear-based marketing tactics in advertisements and on food labels. All of this adds pressure and guilt to the choices that consumers make regarding their food.

It is our responsibility as an industry to make sure there is factual information about farming and ranching at the top of those search results when people do ask questions.

According to a 2015 Oregon State University Extension study, less than one perfect of Oregon’s population are principal farm operators and only four percent of the population work on farms. Thanks in part to this disconnect, we are at a point in time where people will pay money to visit farms all across our state because the farm or ranch is something novel, desired, and significant in their 21st century lives.

While there are fewer farmers, the way people learn and connect using technology means that the days of farming and ranching in isolation are fading fast.

On one hand, the public wants to feel connected to agriculture, arguably now more than ever. On the other hand, if real farmers and ranchers don’t show up for the conversation with the public, someone else will. Unfortunately, in that scenario, you might not like how that “someone else” portrays what you do to feed the world.

This is where Oregon Aglink comes in.

We fulfill our mission by communicating the many stories of Oregon’s farmers and ranchers, whether straight from the farmer’s mouth on Adopt a Farmer field trips and classroom visits or via a blog post on Oregon Fresh. Our social media pages are populated with information about farms and ranches in Oregon, including stories hosted on our website from more than forty of our members.

We’re always looking for more stories to feature on our site and social media, so if you aren’t quite ready to make a Facebook page for your farm or ranch and commit to regularly sharing your story there, let us help. It’s a quick and easy process – just contact one of our staff members to get started. We would love to help share your story about your part of Oregon agriculture.

If people are asking Siri, Alexa, and Google for their answers about farming, we need to make sure there is an ample amount of accurate information at the top of those search results.

Consumers will find an answer one way or the other. With our input as an industry, we have a better chance of that answer reflecting our reality and our priorities here in Oregon.

Member Feature: Bobbi Frost of Harrold’s Dairy

These are the sorts of images you’ll find on Bobbi Frost’s Instagram feed, which she maintains as part of her social media for Harrold’s Dairy in Creswell, OR. She’s the fourth generation working on the farm that her great-grandfather started in 1946. The fifth generation, formerly just daughter Max, got a new member in November when Bobbi and her husband Patrick welcomed baby girl Bo.

An Instagram feed that alternates sunlight, silage, and her small children provides what Frost says “the average consumer wants to see and still can’t believe happens every day.” That’s valuable stuff in the age of damaging online campaigns about agriculture. And yet this doesn’t feel forced or scripted as a strategy. These are snapshots of her daily life and, in spite of keeping a Facebook account, it’s Instagram she finds relaxing.

Her ease on social media and use of smart phone apps around the farm made her the face of the “Millennial Dairy Farm” in a Slate article in 2014, and yet it’s inaccurate to pin Bobbi Frost as notable only for her age and her smart phone.

While the Instagram feed looks effortless, she’s equally adept with other outreach: visiting classrooms and hosting field trips as part of Adopt a Farmer, writing testimonies to the state legislature, and joining the Oregon Aglink Board of Directors in 2017. The outreach, of course, begins with her work at the dairy.

Her career kicked into gear as soon as she obtained her bachelor’s degree in animal sciences. “When I graduated from OSU in 2011, I was fortunate to have a family that was ready to welcome me with open arms into our business,” she says. By the following fall, her family bought more cows and soon took on a neighboring farm that added 300 acres. “That purchase has probably been the biggest game changer.”

With the added herd and acreage, the farm has dialed in a new rhythm for their days and seasons. The 350 cows are milked thrice-daily now, instead of twice, making for some added labor but less stress on the herd between sessions in the milking parlor. The family works between 900 and 1000 acres each year for their forage needs and additional grain.

“We grow a lot of grass mixtures for forage: fescue, orchard grass, and clover type mixes,” she begins, “we also grow all our own corn silage and double crop most of that ground with annual rye as a cover crop.” Barley and wheat make up most of their grains, with husband Pat using almost half of it for their own brewing. “We are also using forage oats as part of a crop rotation, with the goal of adding alfalfa to the mix sometime in the next 12 months.”

Frost’s husband was an unexpected addition to the farm team. “Pat was a history major and part of the Naval ROTC” she says. After 3 years as a Marine Corps officer, including a tour in Afghanistan, he returned to Oregon with no immediate plans to farm. As Frost puts it, though, “he came home during corn silage season and I was short a couple truck drivers.”

These days, Pat handles the dirt-farming side of the operation, leaving Bobbi and her father to take care of the dairy and its cows. However, Pat’s transformation “from a suburban kid to a farmer in his own right” doesn’t mean that Bobbi is one to shy away from learning new skills.

“The cows and crops come a little more natural to me,” she says. “I have never considered myself a mechanical person, and there was never any part of my formal education that said “this is how all this works.” So when something breaks down in the middle of the night or when she’s by herself, there’s nothing to do but dig in and figure it out.

Frost is quick to credit this spirit of pushing forward to the generations that worked the dairy before her. “The option to be part of a healthy family business is one of the greater gifts I have ever been given,” she says, and it’s a gift she doesn’t take lightly in the face of challenging futures for dairy.

“It seems to be one of those times where we are going to have to button down and endure. My ultimate goal for the dairy is to have a business that, when the time comes, is viable enough that my girls can choose whether or not they want to farm.”

With two children under the age of two, she admits, “that’s obviously pretty far into the future.” It’s never too early to start thinking about the future of the farm, though, just like it’s never too late to give credit to the past.

According to Bobbi Frost, when it comes to willingness to plan ahead and push through the uncertainty: “I am lucky enough to be the recipient of four generations of that kind of thinking.”





A Creed of Our Own

IMG_1301For those of you who didn’t make it to Oregon Aglink’s most recent Denim and Diamonds fundraiser, please mark your calendars for November of 2018 to join your fellow agriculturalists.  The event is great for reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in years and meeting new people passionate about agriculture.  For me this year’s reintroduction was not an old face or name from the past but a verse of words that many of us could once repeat from memory.

Brent Fetsch, this year’s Ag Connection award recipient, artfully weaved the Future Farmers of America Creed into his time on stage.  Hearing each paragraph brought back memories of FFA activities and the students, teachers and parents all involved in the organization.  The creed, as Brent pointed out, was written by E. M. Tiffany in 1928 with timeless clarity to convey foundational beliefs.

The FFA Creed

I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years. 

I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny. 

I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others. I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure, and in the ability of progressive agriculturists to serve our own and the public interest in producing and marketing the product of our toil. 

I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so–for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me. 

I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.

As an FFA student these words always seemed like more a memorization project rather than a belief system.  It’s probably been 25 years since I’ve heard the creed in its entirety.  I found the message simple, refreshing and moving. The FFA creed is a living connection to a set of beliefs and an organization engrained in millions of alumni.

Creeds, beliefs, pledges and individual opinions are fuel for social media banter in today’s society.  Kudos to E.M. Tiffany for crafting a timeless creed that holds up 89 years after he put pen to paper.  The creed has held together a collective of individuals based on their common beliefs.  As members of Oregon Aglink what is our collective creed?  I believe

Still have a few minutes? Follow this link to watch a video on how E. M. Tiffany came up with the Creed. 

Denim & Diamonds 2017: The 20th Anniversary

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


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.”


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)


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.



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 or contact our staff at

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