Author: Oregon Aglink (page 2 of 5)

Member Feature: Blue Line Farms

By Allison Cloo

If you’re headed east on Highway 213 toward Silverton, there’s a stretch of road that encompasses some of the Willamette Valley’s finest scenery of rolling hills covered with row crops, grass fields, and orchards. After the Pudding River and right before the Brush Creek Playhouse, you’ll find a white building with a cupola perched on the roof.
Climb the narrow steps up to those windows high above the road, and you get a 360 degree view of the heart of Blue Line Farms.

In 1973, when brothers Bob and Bernie Dettwyler consulted an attorney about incorporating their farm, they had picked two names they might use. Brush Creek Farms would have referred to the nearby landscape, but the attorney noted that it might be hard to distinguish from other farms and ranches with “Creek” names.

The second name, referring to their brightly painted Ford tractors, won the day. Forty-five years later, Blue Line Farms is still going strong.

In many ways, the Dettwyler name has been just as enduring.

In 1921, Swiss immigrant Karl Dettwyler started farming part-time on ten acres outside of Silverton. By the time his fourth son Bob had graduated from Silverton High School in 1959, the farm had grown to about 150 acres and grew mainly hops, with some grain and grass seed.

The next decades were a period of growth and transition. Bob took over and increased the acreage by leasing and buying more property. His younger brother Bernie joined him after a two-year tour of duty in Vietnam. Now joined by Bernie’s sons, Karl and Jonathan, the Dettwylers own and lease about 1,100 acres of land.

Pole-beans and hops have made way for blueberries and hazelnuts.

While some things have changed, others have stayed the same: there is still grass-seed, mainly turf-type, and crimson clover. Green beans and other row crops are grown as rotational crops. In 2005 the farm built its own grass seed cleaner. A late-season varietal of blueberries went into the ground in 2007, and 2009 saw the first hazelnuts added to the mix.

After harvest, Blue Line Farms products move mainly through local buyers, processors, and distributors. The grass seed likely travels the farthest, with the nationwide market for lawns and sports fields still relishing high quality Oregon seed, but the blueberries and green beans appear in major supermarket chains and commercial buyers closer to home.

Growing a Business to Match a Family

The rhythms and choices behind the farm’s current set-up might be familiar to many AgLink readers. According to Karl Dettwyler, grandson of the original owner, “The farm looks the way it does today because of the hard work from our employees over the years and our relationships with our partners.” Those partners, from bankers to buyers, “help drive decisions on our cropping systems and the markets that we have access to.” Labor is another big factor in how the Dettwylers operate, and the farm is focused on retaining good employees that can work alongside the growing family.

“As the farm has had to support more family members financially,” says Karl, “we have added more to the operation to try and provide the opportunity to the family members that want to farm.” Even as many of the children and spouses work outside of the farm, they’ll help out as needed. Margaret Dettwyler, Bernie’s wife, is still one of the primary combine operators.

Margaret and Bernie have eleven grandchildren, the oldest of whom is near eighteen, and they have all tried their hand at different farm tasks over the years. That would be the fourth generation of Dettwylers to work on the farm, and preserving the land and business is a main goal for the current operators.

Of his own children, nieces, and nephews, Karl Dettwyler says “we can only hope that they pursue their dreams and passion and hopefully it will include agriculture in some form.”

What makes Blue Line Farms unique?

Step into the main shop building where the owners and employees congregate and a playful personality starts to emerge at Blue Line Farms. Almost immediately to your right, a large glass display cabinet contains hundreds of tiny model tractors and other vehicles, many of them bought from another farmer but obviously displayed with great pride in their new home.

Up the stairs and through another door, it becomes clear that the case is part of a theme: shelves line the walls with dozens of blue Ford tractor models, both historic and modern. Besides the numerous colorful photos hung up between the shelves—courtesy of the snapshots Karl and others take on their cell phones around the farm—there is also a large wooden model of a hop house dryer built by the original Karl Dettwyler for his father-in-law around 1933.

Across the property, in the high-ceilinged storage shed where a bay sits empty of grass seed, Jonathan Dettwyler has played Tetris with several pieces of equipment. A spray buggy towers over a low-slung derocker for the hazelnut orchard, and in the narrow gaps between them you can see a berry picker tucked in the shadows. The arrangement is meant to make the most of the storage space during the winter, but it also speaks to the sense of fun and challenge imbued in unexpected corners of the farm.

And when it comes time to round up the family members working on the farm that day to take a photo, the jokes were flying just as quick as the observations about the different pieces equipment ready to come in or head out. The five Dettwyler men patiently lined up facing into the sun so the grass field and distant trees framed them nicely. It turned out to be a nice enough photo, but snapshots are never quite enough to capture a farm and operators like these: good-natured and game for anything.

Our Extraordinary Industry

Wow! What a year of change and growth we’ve had for Oregon Aglink.

2018 brought us the first full year under a new director, a new staff member, a new venue for Denim and Diamonds, and a first step to finding a more suitable location for the main office. I feel positive about the path the organization has traveled.

Director Mallory Phelan has done a tremendous job at leading the Oregon Aglink staff and planning for 2019.  Changes implemented by Mallory and the Board of Directors were embraced by staff members Allison Cloo, Cate Stuart, and Leah Rue. I am humbled as well as excited to have these driven and inspiring women behind the day to day operations of Aglink.

Our new hire, Leah Rue, hit the ground running as she helped to oversee the event planning and coordinating of Denim and Diamonds. 

Although we use the same planning template for the event, changing to a different venue in Salem created new challenges and decisions. Overcoming the obstacles, we achieved a record breaking fundraising year, which speaks volumes about the support and generosity of Oregon Agriculture.

Most importantly, I recognize that we would not be up for the challenging task of bridging the urban and rural divide without the investment made by our industry members.

Our chief effort, the Adopt a Farmer program, was able to add seven new classrooms to the participant list. Moving forward, we are exploring opportunities to better serve and highlight our more rural regions across Oregon.

I am proud to have served Oregon Aglink and its membership. The board and staff are enthusiastic about celebrating our differences and working together toward a common goal: making Oregon agriculture stronger through communication and education. The diversity of crops, markets, and the people that make it all happen are unique to Oregon. I am excited to see how Aglink will continue to aid our extraordinary industry in the future.   

In January, at the Northwest Ag Show, Oregon Aglink will hold its annual meeting.  At this time, I will be saying ‘goodbye’ to my year of service as the organization’s president. Stepping into this role for 2019 is Megan Thompson from The Dalles. She brings great vision and perspective, having grown up in Portland before beginning her career in agriculture. I look forward to seeing where she leads us!  

Oregon Dairy Winners

by Allison Cloo

If you’re looking for a tasty connection between consumers and the dairy industry, there is always the ice cream served up in the landmark Red Barn at the Oregon State Fair. If you’re looking for the people who dish up education along with the treats, look no further than the organizers behind the counter: Oregon Dairy Women.

The bustling Red Barn is a popular attraction at the fair, and a central fundraising event for the Oregon Dairy Women (ODW). The funds collected from the milkshakes and ice cream sundaes help power the rest of the group’s annual advocacy efforts. Still, the promotion couldn’t happen without the formidable team of volunteers driving the ODW’s efforts to connect Oregonians with their local dairy industry.

In recognition of their long-term and tireless work, Oregon Aglink will honor the women of ODW with the Ag Connection award for 2018 at the annual Denim and Diamonds dinner and auction presented by Wilco on November 16.

The first Oregon Dairy Princess was crowned in 1959, and the first president of ODW served in 1962. Whether the Oregon Dairy Women—or Oregon Dairy Wives, as it was originally known—started a few years earlier is a little unclear. What is abundantly obvious, however, is how the program itself has grown in spite of the number of dairies shrinking over the decades. As the industry has changed, ODW has expanded its reach and honed its strategies to support Oregon dairies through connecting tens of thousands of consumers per year with people in the Oregon dairy industry.

“We have so many skilled ladies that take charge and are involved on so many different levels,” says Tami Kerr, a past president of Oregon Dairy Women.

Kerr has practice listing off the activities of ODW, but it still takes a minute to recite them all. The Oregon Dairy Princess Ambassadors at county and state levels are crowned in January then tour the state. They educate students and consumers about milk and dairy production, reaching 14,000 in 2017. Their impact in schools extends to work with Adopt a Farmer, Oregon Ag in the Classroom, and the Summer Ag Institute, which reaches teachers as well.

You also can find ODW at Oregon Ag Fest and the State Capital for Dairy Day, or helping with dairy tours, 4-H, and the Oregon FFA convention, or fundraising for their scholarship program at the Dairy Women’s Auction. It is a full schedule that requires commitment and cooperation.

The dairy princesses are instantly recognizable in their tiaras and sashes, whether matched with a gown at a banquet or a polo shirt at Oregon Aglink’s golf tournament. The other women who drive the organization, often behind the scenes, are well-known among Oregon’s dairy and agricultural industry groups.

Part of the Dairy Princess Court at the Friends of Oregon Agriculture Golf Tournament in 2017

Along with the programs listed above, ODW and its volunteers work in conjunction with the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council, Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, and Oregon Women for Agriculture. It stands to reason that hard-working women supporting agriculture recognize the power in standing together with other organizations where there is often crossover in participation among the groups.

In some cases, women involved with ODW have started out as Dairy Princess Ambassadors and translated their training in public speaking and outreach to their own careers.

Jessica Jansen, executive director of Oregon Ag in the Classroom, served as a princess- ambassador in 2011. During her year of service, she spoke to over 17,000 students all across the state.

“This experience confirmed my desire to work in education,” says Jansen, “specifically agricultural education.” The scholarships through ODW helped pave the way for her degree in Agricultural Sciences and Communication. According to Jansen, her experiences in ODW and the network it established are still serving her in her current position, and she gives back as well: she’s still a member of the Clackamas Dairy Women chapter.

The ties between organizations, or between county and state, families and career, are echoed again and again in ODW as you realize that connection is something they do remarkably well. It’s no wonder, then, that they have had such a sustained impact on the dairy industry as they initiate and build connections between Oregon consumers and their local dairies.

Oregon Aglink isn’t the only one to notice, either.

“The dairy women are outstanding advocates for our industry,” says Derrick Josi, a Tillamook dairy farmer. Josi does his own share of outreach, with nearly twenty-five thousand followers spread across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His digital reach extends beyond that of many local farmers with blogs or social media accounts, and yet he knows all about the in-person education that ODW accomplishes each year with schools, other organizations, and events for all-ages.

Dairy Princess Ambassadors at Oregon Ag Fest

For those days when Derrick Josi or other dairy farmers don’t have a free hand to update their social media, the Oregon Dairy Women have their backs. Chances are you can find princess-ambassadors talking about nutrition in a classroom, or volunteers serving up creamy treats; their friendly patter is heard in the halls of the state capitol and near the stalls at county fairs.

In 2019, ODW will celebrate 60 years of advocating for an industry they love, with many members dedicating decades of service to the organization. The letter nominating ODW for the Ag Connection award cites the thousands of hours of often unrecognized work: “these women are so far from the spotlight they often get missed, but their service is truly remarkable.”

The nomination called out a core group of members, including Ida Ruby, Jessie DeJager, LucyAnn Volbeda, Rita Hogan, and Debbie Timm. Those women will, in turn, point to the qualities in the other women of ODW: strong, devoted, unique, and proud. Credit is frequently shared.

Since they pull together and share the load, the education and promotion efforts of Oregon Dairy Women never come down to just one voice. It is, however, unified behind one message: Oregon dairy deserves support, and these women will make sure it happens.

The Measure of Success

Tom Wimmer in his office at Marion Ag Service

By Allison Cloo

How do you take the measure of your own success?  For Tom Wimmer, success is less about your own gains and more about what you’ve made possible for others.

“It’s really important to me that everyone around me is successful,” he says, “Because if they’re not successful, I’m not successful.”

This attitude of generosity and concern for his clients helped Tom Wimmer become a familiar name among Willamette Valley farmers over his thirty-eight years at Marion Ag Service, first as a bookkeeper and now as Chief Operating Officer. The success of others around him is reflecting back stronger than ever this season.

In November, Wimmer will accept the Agriculturist of the Year award at Oregon Aglink’s 21st annual Denim and Diamonds dinner and auction sponsored by Wilco.

Far West Business Association executive director Jim Fitzgerald echoes and expands on the idea of success: Wimmer might take account of his own accomplishments and be a little competitive, but that’s not his defining characteristic. “It’s not just what he does but it’s how he teaches, how he instructs, how he supports the people that work around him.  That’s what makes Tom unique.”

So what exactly has Tom Wimmer done to make such an impression? How can someone who isn’t a farmer or rancher by trade be nominated for “Agriculturist of the Year”?

A lot of it has to do with the agriculture that he supports through his career at Marion Ag. According to his coworkers and clients, Wimmer is normally at work by four in the morning—that’s quite a head start on the day.

That routine is especially apparent during lime season, says Alfred Pohlschneider of Pohlschneider Farms. Not only is Wimmer phoning farmers first thing to help them schedule their spraying or spreading, he brings the knowledge of the science and of the local farming community.

“He understands the plants, the soil.  He understands fertilizer, how they’re made up and how they’re mixed together.  What you can do and what you can’t do,” says Pohlschneider. “He’s not a BS-er.  He just tells you what it is and he’s a great person.  He knows a lot of people.  He knows where everybody’s farm is.  He knows where everybody’s road is.  He knows everybody’s name.

Pohlschneider thinks we should recognize Wimmer for one reason above all:

“He makes the farmer what the farmer is.  The farmer wouldn’t be able to do some of the things that he does today without Tom’s advice or the business that developed to help the farmer.”

That support for agriculture and community extends to other organizations where Wimmer has served. He was on the board of the St. Paul Fire District for seventeen years, sits on the Oregon Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Research Committee, and worked through various seats on the board of the Far West Agriculture Association until his stint as president in 2015. Through his teenage son, David, Wimmer also got involved with local groups like the Salem Youth Symphony and the Whiskey Hill Jazz Band.

Wimmer with one of his own cattle as a young teen

And then there are the fairs.

Every year, Wimmer tries to make it to multiple fairs in order to support the local 4-H and FFA students. After growing up in a large family that relocated from Iowa to a small farm outside of Woodburn, Wimmer spent his teen years working at a local farm picking beans and berries as well as, you guessed it, coming up through the FFA.

These days, he’s visiting the Marion, Polk, and Yamhill county fairs to scope out the livestock brought in by the 4-H and FFA groups. He’ll buy some each year, he says, but it’s not just about marketing and selling. “There’s other areas of agriculture to focus on, too.  So I try to encourage them to do other things within these organizations: bring in plants, do performing arts, give a speech.  Do whatever you can to develop yourself as a person.”

While Tom Wimmer grew up to spend more of his time helping farmers than farming himself, he understands their business and comes from a background that many in Oregon agriculture would find familiar.

In those early years after his family had moved from Iowa and his father passed, Tom and his ten siblings had to work hard on their 30 acres to help their mother make ends meet. They raised cattle to market weight and took jobs at nearby farms.

In the relatively small world of the Willamette Valley, one of Wimmer’s former bosses, farmer Pat Johnston, used to have coffee a few times a week with the current owner of Marion Ag Service, Bob Hockett. While Hockett never knew Wimmer directly as a teenager, he heard about the boy’s work ethic and saw him out in the field. According to Johnston, at least via Hockett, the teen’s only fault had been “his big feet stepping on the bush beans.”

Wimmer went on to study Agricultural Engineering at Oregon State University, where he minored in Business Management and graduated in December of 1979. It was only a few months before he signed on as a bookkeeper at Marion Ag Service. In Tom Wimmer, Hockett had found a local college graduate with knowledge of agriculture and a gregarious personality.

“He wanted to get married before he went to work,” Hockett remembers.  “And so, he took time off and went to North Bend and he married Meliah. I think he took a week off maybe.”

You might think that Wimmer would show signs of strain or boredom after so many years, not to mention the quick turnaround from college to his job at Marion Ag Service. That’s never the impression you get from the people who know him, though, and certainly not from the man himself.

At Marion Ag, Bob Hockett doesn’t mince words: they’d need four people to do the work that Wimmer manages by himself. “If there’s something that needs to be done, he’s going to take it on and he’s going to do it.” And yet the pride that motivates Tom Wimmer is never for his own sake: he is proud of the business, of Oregon agriculture, of the community around him.

Once, while riding in Wimmer’s pick-up near Woodburn, Jim Fitzgerald took note of a hazelnut orchard that was looking a little worse for wear.

“Tom apologized for what that looked like.  He said, don’t — I see you’re looking over there, don’t judge us by that.  That particular orchard, it’s going through some transformation.  There’s been some attention that hasn’t been taken there and they’ll get it back.”

“I didn’t even ask Tom if it was a customer,” continues Fitzgerald. “I don’t think it was.  I think he takes such a pride in what his area looks like. I didn’t say anything, but if he saw me looking at something that didn’t look right, he assumed some responsibility for it, you know.  He looks forward to when that looks better. “

With Tom Wimmer’s work ethic, it might not take that long.

Along Memory Lane

By Mallory Phelan, Oregon Aglink Executive Director

After listening to stories from my grandma on a 1,300+ mile road trip to Monterey, California recently, I became intrigued about my ancestry. Upon returning to Oregon, I hopped online and started cross checking websites, clicking through generations of my relatives. Come to find out, I am related to one of the founding fathers of the United States! The journey has been one of discovery and surprises, with bits of confusion, and continuing curiosity as I’m eager to know more about the stories of the people who paved the way before me.

The outcomes of my personal genealogical sleuthing have been similar to the work being done in the Oregon Aglink office of unpacking our 300 square foot storage unit with five decades worth of history in many nooks and crannies.

Prior to doing my familial research, I had knowledge of my grandmothers’ maiden names, my paternal grandparents’ roots in the southern United States and of my maternal grandmother’s immigration across the Atlantic at age fourteen. Similarly, the collective memory of the staff at Oregon Aglink knows we were founded in 1966 by Marion T. Weatherford as the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. Beyond that beginning up through about a decade ago, it’s more of a haphazard understanding of the who, where, when and how.

Finding birth and death dates, marriages, and names in my family tree has been similar to learning when various projects the council took on began and ended, how relationships with different organizations around the state were formed, and of course identifying all the people who kept the organization rolling with its mission to grow Oregon agriculture through education and promotion. We’ve discovered that Oregon Aglink has spearheaded promotion for the industry using Portland ad agencies, facilitated grocery store taste testing, appeared on morning news segments, and more. Flash forward to today, when much of our programming is centered on education—Adopt a Farmer, strategic partnerships for adult education, road crop signs, and supporting other organizations with similar end goals.

Another way in which we reflect on the past contributions to Oregon agriculture is through our annual awards presented in November at Denim and Diamonds. We will hear from our Agriculturist of the Year, Marion Ag’s Tom Wimmer about his own history and career, as well as from our Ag Connection award winner, the many voices of the Oregon Dairy Women and their nearly 60 year history! Memory lane can be a place of inspiration—such as the hard work of these award recipients—as well as motivation, such as comes with the unearthing of decades of dedication to our cause.

As we continue to piece together where we came from and who we were as an organization, we are also working on streamlining our current processes and documenting our practices so that future generations can learn from our challenges while building upon our successes. Just like family history can be murky and become clearer with a little digging, so can our understanding of past outreach efforts that may be improved upon or spur new ideas.

Our summer project of moving out of our big storage unit has been completed, albeit with dozens of boxes to still sort through. A huge thank you to Oregon Aglink members Northwest Transplants for helping us shred documents and to Victor Point Farms for the use of their disposal bin! In addition, we would love the input of any members, past or present, to share stories, photos, or documents with us to help fill in the gaps of our organization’s history. We look forward to better serving our membership with a deep gratitude for those who paved the way before us, those who have sustained our efforts, and those currently giving their time, energy, and resources to growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion!


Looking Back and Moving Forward

By Oregon Aglink President, Pamela Lucht

Succession is on the minds of many farmers in Oregon and across the United States. Who will take over? What will my business or land look like in twenty years? I’ve written before about our process at Northwest Transplants, where my husband Neal and I have started a transition already by including our daughter Lauren.

Oregon Aglink has gone through a similar process of cyclical growth and transitions. The staff at the office are going through boxes from an old storage unit that held decades of history going back to the early years of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. You can read more about that process in Executive Director Mallory Phelan’s column at the end of this issue.

Oregon Aglink continually asks whether we are on track to meet our mission: to grow our state’s agriculture through education and promotion. The best part about that mission is that it is simple and flexible enough that we’ve been able to hold true to it even as times change.

In the same way that a family business might evolve over time from a small dairy in the 1930s to row crops to wine grapes and hazelnuts now, Oregon Aglink has evolved through different programs and methods of outreach.

For example, our name and the Landmark of Quality logo used to appear on food coupons and grocery bags. The Keeping Agriculture Viable committee hired design firms and film studios to get Oregon agriculture featured in magazine ads and television spots. These days we spend more time (and less money) getting the word out via social media and programs like Adopt a Farmer.

Our mission succeeds because our supporters, board members and staff Mallory Phelan, Allison Cloo, Cate Stuart and Leah Rue continue to bring new ideas and energy to the table that balance the steadiness and wealth of memories that our long-serving board members provide. A large board means we can retain members for thirty years while also bringing in new members who contribute expertise from their respective industries. We owe thanks to the people who help keep an organization like Oregon Aglink vital.

This dedication of people behind Oregon Aglink means we get to celebrate some amazing events each year. The Friends of Oregon Agriculture golf tournament this past August just hit its tenth anniversary, and on November 16th we’ll have the twenty-first Denim and Diamonds!  I’d like to personally thank our members and sponsors for their continued support, because of your support these events have endured and are more successful than ever.

Let’s end 2018 with a commitment to keep pushing forward and to do that by remembering where we’ve come from as an industry and, in this case, as an organization.

Guest Post: Here and There, Before and After

Disasters–whether wildfires or hurricanes–  impact us on a personal level when they’re at our doorstep. At the same time, they can seem abstract or trivial for someone far away, watching on the nightly news or reading online.

Nicole Sanchez, currently a faculty member at the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center, has deep ties to North Carolina, where Hurricane Florence has left its mark.

As a child growing up in coastal Virginia, I saw the Carolinas as a mystical beach wilderness full of wonder and salty air, a place made of beach vacations and bears, alligators and wild ponies, and stories of hurricanes on the news at dinner. When I read the book The Prince of Tides in high school, I had been to coastal North Carolina several times, was already in love with it by the time Pat Conroy’s novel showed me how Love of Place can turn even the ugliest of stories into something beautiful.

The Tidewater area of Virginia is also no stranger to hurricanes, and I was well trained in Mr. Mazaitis’ earth science class, where we tracked storms on a giant map in the classroom until the waters of the Atlantic cooled down in November and we moved on to other weather. My earliest hurricane memory is watching sheets of rain pour down, sitting on the floor in front of patio doors. We were at the house of a family from church that I did not know well. I was not in school yet. I watched the water creeping in under their patio doors. When an adult noticed, I was whisked away and we all left for higher ground.

In 1986, my neighborhood was on the border of the evacuation zone during Hurricane Charley.

We “rode it out” in our house. Again from the patio doors, I watched the wind pick up my father’s metal shed and turn it into a metal ball as it bounced amongst trees and neighbor’s houses, then over a fence and down the alley. We never saw the shed again. After the storm, the only things remaining from the shed were its foundation and an engine block.

By 1992, I was a young adult working in the florist industry when Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of Florida.

Not only did this affect my work for nearly a year- the storm wiped out the ornamental greenery epicenter of Florida, leaving  much of the U.S. fern-less – there was a mass exodus of young men from my community, all headed to Florida for construction work. Most of them, I never saw again.

None of this deterred me from moving to coastal NC when I had the chance in 2011. I started work in March, bought a historic home on the main street of a tiny town in April, and renovated it over the summer while living in a rental. We moved in July. Hurricane Irene happened in August.

It went on forever. I had two young children and their father, a combat vet, was in the hospital being treated for severe PTSD. For brevity, I’ll just share that we lost six trees, two of which tore down sections of fence I’d just paid $3,000 to have built. Water dripped from multiple ceiling locations. No sleep. The eyewall, a couple hours of quiet right in the middle of the storm, was followed by 80mph winds in the opposite direction from before. As soon as the eyewall passed and the wind kicked back up, I could hear trees snapping all around us. The howling wind woke up my four year old son, who made his way to the window just in time to see a hundred foot tall pine tree fifteen feet away snap at the base and fall, taking two other trees and a shed with it. It missed our propane tank by two feet. Thankfully, it fell away from the house instead of into it. My son turned around to me and said, “Mom, if that tree had fallen into the house, would it have killed us?”

Fast forward to 2016, when career opportunities brought me to Oregon. We got here June 20, missing Hurricane Matthew by two months – and leaving a legacy of “hurricane two months after you move in” to the family that bought my house. Adjusting to a huge move and job change while hobbling on a broken ankle, Matthew really didn’t sink in for me. The flooding was tremendous. Many of my NC co-workers were ousted from their workplaces by flooding. Their new building was opened just a couple months ago. They’ve been working remotely for two years. 

Florence is different.

Three thousand miles away, I have been unable to escape Florence. I’ve lived in the PNW for two years now, but keeping track of developing Atlantic storms in the fall is ingrained in me. Florence was a clear threat early on, and through social media I watched all my friends, many of whom work for NC State Extension and are intimately involved with preparation and response, getting ready.  There was a fist-sized lump in my throat for a week. Someone asked me about my NC friends at a meeting, and I burst into tears. While I was discussing future trees, they were packing livestock into trucks as fast as possible and answering reporter questions for farmers so said farmers could salvage some crops before the storm. They were helping make sandbags and sharing info and helping coordinate evacuation efforts. They were making choices about whether to leave with their families or remain behind to pick up the pieces. They were sharing posts from strangers further west with room to house one, or six, or fifteen horses. They were figuring out who had small boats, able to navigate soon-to-be-flooded roads.

Florence made landfall just to the south of where I lived in NC. Bad, bad news for my friends to the north: the northeast quadrant. Everybody in the coastal southeast knows this is where the worst storm surge and flooding will be. Hurricanes and real estate: location, location, location. This is why New Bern, NC made national news. Storm surge pushes ocean water hundreds of miles upstream, adding to the several feet of actual rain. It is lethal, and it takes days and weeks to completely play out. As of this writing, Florence is no longer a hurricane, and many people have forgotten about it. But where I lived, the rivers haven’t even crested yet. It is far from over.

While for most of Oregon, Florence was a blip in the news, for me it was unfolding in real time on social media, and I could not pull away. Before the flooding in New Bern, NC made the national news, I watched my friend Eileen’s house being engulfed by the Neuse River via video. She is one of several friends who learned that their homes had been flooded via Facebook video. Another friend, Amber, a nurse, begged in the middle of the night for someone, anyone, who was willing to drive a neighbor to a hospital. I pieced together later that the patient was a child involved in a freak accident. Amber hasn’t been on social media since then.

Another Friend, Willow, evacuated, while her husband stayed behind. (In case you wonder why people do that, it’s looters, y’all. Social media posts about looter sightings started way ahead of the actual storm. It’s pretty easy to figure out who’s evacuated. And if you did evacuate, you might not be able to get back home for weeks, depending on road conditions.) Via social media posts, I watched Willow panic as pictures of her flooded house began to surface, with no word from husband. Eventually, she learned that he was safe at a neighbor’s.

On Sunday, September 16, the towns of Pollocksville, where I lived, and Trenton, my work base ten miles away, were evacuated by the national guard. A dam broke in Trenton. Both towns are completely flooded. The rivers still have not crested. My friends in NC have not slept well for over a week now. The rescues go on. The County of Jones, population 10,000 will be little mentioned in the national press, despite the huge contribution its agriculture makes to the wider community.

When I became acquainted with the agricultural community in Jones and surrounding counties after beginning work there in 2011, one thing was clear: there was Before Floyd and After Floyd (1999). Pecan groves devastated by this storm were permanently abandoned. Farmers noted that blueberries planted on Floyd-soaked fields still performed differently than fields that were not flooded. Trenton proudly showcased its new dam, years after Floyd removed the old one. A high- water memorial sign commemorated Floyd on the town building where I paid my water bill.

Florence is another Before and After event for the people of wild, magical coastal Carolina. My heart is breaking for its people. I am trapped by my grief for them. As I have evaluated my obsession with this storm and its aftermath, I have come to understand Survivor’s Guilt for the first time. I’ve intimately watched the destruction of lives, destruction that will take years to rebuild, months before any semblance of normalcy. And I can do nothing to help them.

Sure, I could send money. My money is not going to repair the bridge that stands between Pollocksville and groceries. Or restore electricity any faster than the two weeks currently projected. My money isn’t going to lower the humidity that will mildew everything in the boarded-up houses of the evacuated – they’re still going to return to mold, mildew, breathing problems, and ruined carpet. I know. It’s happened to me. My money isn’t going to spare them any insurance headaches or anxiety over their next car purchase- could that car have been flooded

Somehow, I managed to feed my kids and get most of my work done last week. While Oregonians went on about their daily lives, shopping in stores that had bread and bottled water AND toilet paper, my body was screaming, “Alert, alert! Danger!” Because despite my efforts to immerse myself in my new community, some of the South is still in me. Understandably, hurricane prep was not on the radar of most Oregonians, leaving me in a strange parallel universe where grocery store line conversation does not include praying for Wilmington, or Charleston, or wherever this one is supposed to hit. Where one item in my Facebook feed is Kitty, making fun of herself over her struggle over what to take as she leaves her home on her fifth-generation farm by boat, and the next is an Oregonian friend sharing a meme making fun of weather reporters trying to stand still in 75mph wind.

Over time, the waters of NC will recede, and I will watch my friends recover. Already, they are giving thanks that Florence hit  as a Category 2, instead of the once-predicted Cat 5. They are helping each other, and posting vital road and water access information, checking on the homes of those who left. Pretty soon, I hope, this lump in my throat will dissipate and my heartburn will go away. As for me, I’ve learned a lot from this storm, including the value of social media as an actual survival tool – and its ability to wreak havoc with my life by delivering too-intimate unfolding of the anxiety, and even terror, of so many people I care deeply about. Please say a prayer for the people of eastern North Carolina. Their world is now a new one. A world called After Florence.

Social Media Can Be A Team Effort

Picture this: a group of eleven people standing next to a mascot holding a ball on a court. You might assume it’s a basketball team, but that’s only part right. In this case, I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed and it’s a photo of the team behind the social media accounts of the Minnesota Timberwolves: eleven separate people working behind the scenes to produce content and engage fans.

Guess which team had the number one ranked NBA Twitter account for three years in a row until last year? Our very own Portland Trail Blazers. The big market teams who you would expect to rank high due to sheer numbers (such as New York, Boston, and Miami) didn’t even crack the top twenty!

So if it’s not the number of followers you have, what makes the best accounts? How do they connect with fans? How do they reach new fans?

First, they know the most likely reason someone would initially follow them: to know how the team is performing on the court, including stats, highlights, and game time commentary. Second, they know that fans want to interact with actual people and not a bot pumping out data. Not only do the best twitter accounts make the data visually appealing, they are witty with their words.

However, the best NBA twitter accounts give someone a reason to follow them beyond what is happening on the court. The best accounts entertain by including behind-the-scenes looks of practice, pre-game attire, the locker room, boarding the airplane— basically anywhere the typical fan doesn’t have access. They humanize the players by highlighting their personalities, including their work in the community. They creatively interact with other teams, accounts and capitalize on fan favorites. They also incorporate pop culture and current events. All of this makes fans feel like we’re part of the team, too.

The best twitter accounts stand out by striking a balance between being useful and entertaining, humorous and witty, honest and self-deprecating. They are all engaging and consistent. The end result? Fans feel like we’re interacting as opposed to just consuming.

So, how can we take a page out of this playbook and promote Oregon’s agriculture and natural resources?

All of this takes time to plan and create content to share on social media. Maybe you’re tired of spending too much time trying to do it yourself? Not sure how to start? Skeptical about whether it makes a difference? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, Oregon Aglink can help. We have a new benefit for our members through a partnership with Western Insights Media, an Oregon-based social media brand management company focused specifically on natural resources. Oregon Aglink members can save on services to manage digital content, and it’s completely customizable, catered specifically to your business’ needs.

Social media is not going away. The natural resource industry cannot hide from it. We must engage – certainly not at the expense of face-to-face connections, but we have to be in the digital space where untrue news and myths about natural resource production proliferate. Information spreads too quickly to ignore its potential impact.

While the majority of brands connected to Oregon agriculture do not have a professional basketball team-sized social media department (or budget) coordinating their posting online, we can work together to leverage one another and promote Oregon’s natural resources as a team effort in the digital world. Email us at to learn how your business and our industry can gain from this new member benefit!


Teacher Appreciation

Michelle Heuberger of St. Mary’s School in Stayton has been involved with the Adopt a Farmer program since 2014, when she was paired with Skip Gray of Gray Family Farms in Dever-Conner. After a few years of class visits and field trips, we thought she’d be the perfect candidate to share the teacher’s perspective of the Adopt a Farmer program.

Q: How did you get started with Adopt a Farmer?

A: I got started with the Adopt a Farmer program when Amy Doerfler contacted me.  She is a member of the Oregon Aglink board of directors and a former St. Mary’s graduate.


Q: What do your students think of their farmer, Skip Gray?


A: My students LOVE Farmer Skip. He is really good at talking to students on their level and he does so in a fun and engaging way.


Q: What is the process like for coordinating your match with Farmer Skip? Has that changed or gotten easier over time?


A: Skip and I coordinate our meetings via email.  The process is pretty easy as my schedule is really flexible.  I understand how busy farmers are so I try to work around Skip’s schedule as much as possible.


Q: What do the field trips and class visits look like for your match? What do the students get to see and do?


A: Skip visits my 7th grade classroom 2-3 times a year.  During those visits we try to coordinate activities which fit into the science lessons I am currently teaching. For example, during an engineering unit we used programmable robots called, Sphero. The students had to design a planter for Sphero to pull through a field. Then, students had to code Sphero to plant the field.  Another example, is when the students were learning about the Periodic Table of Elements, Farmer Skip presented about common fertilizer types. Each type of fertilizer was made up of one to four elements from the Periodic Table and each fertilizer helped to develop plants with specific physical characteristics. Afterwards, students transplanted radish plants and recorded data about the effects of different fertilizers on plant growth.


Q: What has been the most valuable part of the Adopt a Farmer program for you as a teacher?


A: The most valuable part of the program comes from the real life experiences Farmer Skip is able to share and show the students.  Farming is a big part of our community and modern farming practices are super important for sustainability. Farmer Skip is consistently reminding the students of this.


Q: In what ways could these field trips and class visits influence your students in the future? 


A: I hope the classroom visits and the field trip influence my students to see that Farming is a very diverse industry to which is directly grown by science and research.  I would love to see students in the program go onto college and look at agriculture in terms of sustainability, engineering, research and as a way to make the world a better place.  Lastly, I hope they grow a new appreciation for how much work it takes to produce food and fibers.


The Farmers Share

By Allison Cloo

 Seeking to expand upon the successful outreach model of Adopt a Farmer, Oregon Aglink began partnering with other groups in 2017 to create field trip experiences for adults to visit farms, meet professionals, and get answers outside of online echo chambers.

An initial partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) became “Behind the Seeds”: two field trips funded by OMSI and organized by Oregon Aglink. Portlanders who might normally attend OMSI or its science-centered events could relive the “field trip” experience of their school days and get behind-the-scenes access to the farms growing some of their favorite products. Two trips, one to Sauvie Island and another to a hop farm in Mt. Angel, were a chance for farmers to field some tough questions they might not normally hear during a middle school field trip.

Pesticides? Organics? Pollinators? Genetic engineering? If participants came with buzzwords from blogs and advertising, the farmers were prepared—in large part because the daily experience of farming is a wealth of information to which the average consumer has little access.

Regarding the tough questions, Jeff Kuhn of JD Ranch knew that some participants may have been trying for a “gotcha” moment. “But they have to try pretty hard to get me,” says Kuhn. “Even if they’ve read a book or two, I’m out on a tractor every day.”

Yet the field trips showed one thing quite clearly: differences in knowledge don’t have to provoke a conflict.

The farmers have approached that knowledge gap with a sense of filling in the missing pieces for participants. Rather than a black and white world of simplified advertising or blogging, farmers presented their expertise in weighing risks and rewards. These trips offered up-close perspectives on why a farmer might need to spray a crop or amend their soil. Participants arrived with at least as many questions as opinions, and the knowledge they took away may be put to good use as they share their information with friends and family.

Seeking to replicate this “ripple effect” of spreading information, a second partnership with Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council (ODNC) has led to Oregon Aglink-organized field trips for adults training in nutrition and dietetics. Beginning with a trip for students last August and one for interns this June, the ODNC-Aglink partnership aims to help the future professionals understand how food production occurs and varies throughout Oregon.

“Connecting future dietitians with farmers makes a lot of sense because their reach will go so far in terms of disseminating information about food,” says Oregon Aglink executive director Mallory Phelan. “Since they are considered experts in nutrition and reach consumers who are conscious of their choices, it just makes sense to help them understand the full story of how food is grown in Oregon.”

Are there plans for future field trips? Phelan says yes. Outreach—to the public, the city, the consumer—has always been a core mission for Oregon Aglink. Field trips with adults and especially professionals whose network of influence extends from family to customer or patient can have an enormous impact on knowledge about food production and attitudes toward farming.


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