Category: Executive Notes (page 1 of 3)

Between Farm and Fork

“Where did the onion on this sandwich come from?” asked Mark Dickman, a farmer from Mt. Angel to a classroom full of seventh grade students at Laurel Ridge Middle School in Sherwood during an Adopt a Farmer classroom visit. Students had learned about onion production at Dickman Farms during a field trip and most answers were the store, the farm or the farmers market. While true, these are simple answers in comparison to the complex web of how an onion is grown, harvested, transported, stored, marketed, sold, delivered, distributed, stocked, and so on before a consumer cuts it up for a sandwich.

Farmer Mark diagramed this tangled web highlighting the array of jobs connected to agriculture by peppering students with more questions: How does the onion get to the store? Where does the truck pick up the onions? How did the onions get on the pallet? Students caught on to Farmer Mark’s questions regarding our food system as he went through each item in the picnic lunch he brought to class. This type of exploration gives a more complete story of all of the people involved in between farm and fork.

Not only are students able to better understand the bigger picture of how food is grown and ends up in their lunch, they also realize how many careers there are related to agriculture.

According to a report by USDA and Purdue University, there are an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings every year in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environmental fields across the country. There is a shortage of 22,500 qualified high-skilled workers annually! This is a huge opportunity for the natural resources community to inspire and engage with the next generation who will have careers in management, business, food and biomaterials production, as well as education, communication, and government – all impacting the future of our industry.

We are intentionally weaving career awareness into the Adopt a Farmer program. Students see a variety of jobs on the farm during field trips and we are currently in the process of creating a classroom activity to explore the importance of not only jobs on the farm, but all of those between farm and fork, just like Farmer Mark talked about. By profiling actual people working in careers on and for the farms students have visited, we can help them discover the education required, skills needed, and how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) play a role in Oregon agriculture today.

The endeavor of showcasing careers in agriculture is not one Oregon Aglink is doing alone.

There has been a groundswell of focus on STEM in K-12 as well as Career and Technical Education (CTE), both of which the natural resource community can engage with and benefit from. Both FFA and 4H promote leadership development through agriculture. Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom will be launching an Agriculture Career Exploration project. Even the Oregon Department of Agriculture has identified “promoting Oregon food and agriculture as an exciting career choice” as a key objective in its recently released 2018-2023 strategic plan.

Winter Olympics & Oregon Wool

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 09: Flag bearer Erin Hamlin of the United States and teammates enter the stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images) Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Four years after its wool was featured in Olympic ceremony outfits for Team USA in Sochi, Imperial Stock Ranch is once again part of the thread that connects Oregon agriculture to Winter Olympic history.

Oregon agriculture is no stranger to Korea. Most of the soft white wheat grown in our state is exported to East Asia for noodle and bun production, and that area has been a solid market for berry, nut, and brewing exports as well. In that sense, there’s some good agricultural company for wool to join once it has traveled from Imperial Stock Ranch to National Spinning Co. mills, and from there to Ralph Lauren studios to become sweaters, mittens and hats worn by Olympic athletes.

Wool produced by Dan and Jeanne Carver at their ranch outside of Shaniko, Oregon featured in both the Opening and Closing ceremony uniforms for Team USA in Pyeong Chang this year. While National Spinning Co., Inc. is the official yarn vendor this time around, the story of the wool’s source at Imperial Stock Ranch is as much a selling point for the yarn as its high quality.

Founded nearly a century and a half ago in 1871, Imperial Stock Ranch still runs cattle and sheep, and produces hay and grains, near the ghost town of Shaniko. The Carvers persevered through a market downtown for domestic wool in the 1990s, creating a value-added yarn and clothing business that catered to multiple markets and employed local artisans to produce clothing.  Following their visible relationship with Ralph Lauren during the 2014 Winter Olympics, they continued to grow.  In early 2015, National Spinning Co., Inc., one of the strongest spinning mills in the U.S., proposed a licensing partnership based on Imperial Stock Ranch’s rich history, sustainable practices, and sheep and wool production. Together, National Spinning and Imperial Stock Ranch met with Ralph Lauren’s design and production teams, and presented this new model.  National Spinning launched their Imperial Stock Ranch American Merino branded yarn program later that year.  Their partnership represented a strong business model that brought Ralph Lauren back for the 2018 Olympics.

Throughout it all, the Carvers maintain their roots with the ranch and its chief business: “converting sunlight,” as Jeanne Carver says, into grass that feeds their animals.

The practices at Imperial Stock Ranch made it a pilot audit site for the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), a benchmark set by the Textile Exchange of best practices surrounding animal welfare and land management. In 2017, Imperial Stock Ranch became the first ranch in the world certified under the RWS.

While honoring its 147 year history, the ranch is like many other operations in Oregon that look equally as hard at the future of their land and its productivity in the long run. In Carver’s words, she is most proud of “the management of natural resources, and the interconnected relationship of grazing animals and grasslands. All food, clothing, and shelter begins with the soil. Managing for the health of our soil and systems is good for our family’s future and for all.”

Imperial Stock Ranch, like many other operations in Oregon, is an excellent reminder of the thread between past and future that farmers and ranchers cherish. This second chapter of their story with the Winter Olympics, first in Sochi and then in Pyeong Chang, highlights another important thread, one that spans distances and connects places.

The story of the hats, mittens, and sweaters of Team USA at the Winter Olympics is a special one for Oregon, and both ends of the thread are important. At the one end we have the journey of an Oregon product across the ocean to be appreciated by millions around the world. On the other end we see Dan and Jeanne Carver, the ranchers who made that wool possible on their own patch of soil in Wasco County.

For their part, the Carvers are quick to acknowledge how very neat it all is: “We are very humbled as well as proud to be a small part of Ralph Lauren’s Olympic uniform program,” says Jeanne Carver, “it will always be special.”

Adapt and Embrace: A Salute to John McCulley

Q: Our records show that you started serving on the board of directors in 1988, does that seem right?

A: Wow! Didn’t realize it was that long ago.

Q: How did you get involved with ABC/Oregon Aglink originally?

A: I was executive secretary for the Oregon Fairs Association. At that time and for many years, Aglink (ABC) coordinated the Oregon’s Best Program at county fairs. Aglink also had a presence at the Oregon State Fair. Oregon fairs and Aglink both saw fairs as a way to connect with many non–ag Oregonians.

Q: What do you remember about the Agri-Business Council of Oregon in those years, before it became Oregon Aglink? Are there any campaigns or events you remember fondly?

A: Just as today, the organization has always benefited from dedicated leaders. The crop sign program was the signature activity 30 years ago and it continues to this day. I also fondly recall the first Denim and Diamonds events that were just a wonderful celebration. I think also the Landmark of Quality program with its widely used logo was a foundational campaign in those years.

Q: What are some ways you’ve seen Oregon agriculture and its producers change in the last 30 years?

A: The most obvious, of course, is the rapid adoption of technology. People in agriculture are the most inventive and forward thinking individuals around. I continually marvel at the way producers adapt to changes and how they embrace the most challenging business in the world. Two other things come to mind: the very impressive number of highly skilled young people returning to the farm and the growing number of women leaders in agriculture who are making such a huge, positive impact on the industry.

Q: What’s something that current and future members of the Board of Directors should remember going forward? Any advice or encouragement?

A: Aglink has moved to a higher plane in recent years. The challenge will be to continue to advance. Adopt a Farmer is the best and I only hope that the industry continues to embrace it. Any efforts that show the public (and especially policy–makers) the truth about agriculture are vital.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I will continue to be a part of the agriculture community serving on the boards of the Oregon FFA Foundation and the Oregon Fairs Foundation. I really enjoy my involvement with Rotary where I serve on the club’s foundation board and several committees. Beyond that I’m a volunteer SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) reader, brew beer, garden, try to keep up with our grandson and squeeze in travel along the way. What a great life!

Expanding Horizons: A Salute to Ken Bailey

Ken Bailey of Orchard View Farms

 

Q: Our records show that you’ve been serving on the Board of Directors for quite a while– do you remember what year you joined?

A: I do not remember the year I began serving on the Board of Directors but it was over 10 years ago.  Orchard View Farms had been a member for many years and we have always appreciated those involved in promoting agriculture and a positive image of what agriculture does for the state of Oregon.

 Q: What led you to get involved?

A: I got involved as I have always been interested in encouraging producer involvement in the promoting agriculture.  I have always been involved in various groups representing agriculture and Oregon Aglink was a continuation of that involvement.

Q: What led you to go beyond the Board of Directors and serve on the Oregon Aglink Executive Committee?

A: I served on the Aglink executive committee to do what I could to get others involved.  Getting the younger generations involved in Aglink has energized the organization and it is great to see more and more younger producers getting into leadership position

Q: Why does it make sense for Oregon Aglink to have a member of its Board of Directors from the Columbia Gorge? Flipping that question around, why does it make sense for someone farming in the Columbia Gorge to have a local producer serving on the Oregon Aglink Board of Directors?

A: It is important that Aglink has board members from all regions of the state.  The need to have everyone represented is good for both Aglink and the various regions of the state.  Producers tend to get focused on local issues and it is great to expand horizons and see what other regions of the state have to offer.  We can all learn by better understanding the issues of producers with other interests.

Q: What’s something that current and future members of the Board of Directors should remember going forward? Any advice or encouragement?

A: Going forward, members of the Board of Directors need to remember that all aspects of agriculture need to be represented and we can better represent Oregon agriculture only if we have a good understanding of the vast diversity of what makes up Oregon Agriculture.  This diversity needs to be presented in a positive way to the whole state of Oregon if we are to continue to grow.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: As I move more toward an eventual retirement, I continue to be involved in our family farm and many different local and state organizations, not all of which are directly involved in agriculture.  We need to remember agriculture is a small portion of the state as a whole and we need to communicate with others so that they may have a much better understanding of what Oregon Agriculture is.

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 OregonFresh.net 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. 

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

IMG_7823

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

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