Category: Award Recipients

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.

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.



2015 Award Recipients

Barb Iverson, of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, and Paulette Pyle, former grass roots director of Oregonians for Food and Shelter, will be presented with the Agri-Business Council of Oregon’s two most prestigious awards at the 18th Annual Denim & Diamonds Dinner and Auction.

Barb Iverson (2)-001

Paulette Pyle







2014 Award Recipients

Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue, of Bushue Family Farms, and Dan and Jeanne Carver, of Imperial Stock Ranch, will be presented with Oregon Aglink’s most prestigious awards at the 17th Annual Denim & Diamonds Dinner and Auction.

barry bushue

dan and jeanne carver


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