Category: Executive Notes (page 1 of 3)

More Choices Than Chance

By Mallory Phelan

 Half of the top eight deadliest professions in the United States? Logging, fishing, truck driving, and farming/ranching – ranking 1, 2, 7, and 8 respectively. I love to pore over statistics, but that one from the 2016 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries by the US Department of Labor is easily my least favorite of them all. 

Have you ever had one of those stories that gets stuck in your throat? For many in agriculture and similar industries, it’s a story that is one of those deadly statistics. That painful story is the human connection to the myriad of statistics we have relating to safety in this industry. Growing up, I remember my dad teaching me how to drive a tractor and to be safe above all else. We were never to be in too big of a hurry to sacrifice our safety. Now working in agriculture, I certainly have heard a fair share of stories – everything from close calls of broken bones to lost limbs to fatal accidents. 

One Saturday evening this spring, news of a farm accident in my hometown knocked the wind out of me. Kirk Burkholder, a friend and fellow participant in Class 2 of REAL Oregon, lost his life in a forklift accident – now a void left in the lives of so many friends and family.

We know that agriculture, forestry, and the transportation to get product to market comes with an element of danger. The very elements and means that make production possible are often the source of the most risk: machinery, animals, asphyxiation, falls, entanglements, electrocution, heatstroke – the list goes on. Moving parts, long hours, time-sensitive and sometimes repetitive work, weather, age, sleep, mental health, and more all play a part in safety on the job. While the danger is clearly present, there are choices to make (often over and over again) when it comes to safety. 

Most people are guilty of unsafe choices like taking a shortcut to get something done or operating machinery on too few hours of sleep, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look to identify areas to improve safety on our operations so everyone makes it home each day. Just because you’ve always done it one way and never had a problem, doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Safety is not where you want to play the odds.

On your operation, do you spend time on safety improvements like you do planning your crop rotation, fertilizing, planting, spraying, or even budgeting? Creating a culture of safety can not only save your operation from becoming a statistic, but it improves morale and saves money in the long run.

One of the best parts of cultivating a culture of safety on your operation is that it can be rooted in choice. Just like solving the dozens of problems a day on the farm, you can identify safety hazards and choose to focus your energy, time, and resources where it’s most needed. For example, knowing that in 2016, two out of every five workplace deaths were transportation related – a majority of which were farmers and truck drivers – might make you decide to implement the use walkie talkies instead of cell phones for employees moving equipment down a road.

We all wish that stuck-in-your-throat story we know first-hand wasn’t true and unfortunately, these dangers in the natural resource industry work are not news. As harvest ramps up, slows down, and ends, I hope you spend more time than you did last year, last month, and last week choosing to be safe. It’s a choice we all make every time we are out on a farm, ranch, boat, or truck – for ourselves, our families, and those who are no longer with us.

Flipping the Script on Safety

By Allison Cloo

How did Anissa Branch and her son Dylan know that the safety culture had changed at Riddell Farms?

Instead of avoiding the meetings, employees started asking if they could attend.

The farm grows turf and forage grass seed, specialty seeds, cover crops, and hazelnuts on 4,700 acres around Monmouth. That means a lot of equipment and people on the road between the central farmhouse office and fields in all directions. Employees from all parts of the farm gather in a circle of chairs for a monthly safety meeting and staff lunch on the ground floor of the stucco farmhouse on Riddell Road.

The sandwiches are a draw, but the atmosphere is obviously part of the appeal. While a few employees are comfortably lounging on a couch and one rests his shoulder against the doorframe, others are leaned forward in their chairs. Everyone is engaged in the agenda, offering their thoughts and nodding along with reminders about seatbelt usage and updates on harvest procedures. When someone
mentions their mild knee injury, it’s the other employees who speak up about jumping down from tractors and other vehicles. One shakes their finger gently, and they all agree: “We don’t do that anymore!”

The Former Normal

“Safety in the past was common sense mostly,” says Anissa Branch. “Thanks to my father’s charm we had a great relationship with our OSHA inspector, but for the most part, we discouraged outside
regulations and believed they were adversarial to us.”

Things were changing with safety and OSHA, especially as the farm grew slowly over the years from five full-time employees to over twenty.

“Being a small farm was no longer a free pass from the regulations and safety requirements,” says Branch, “Our long-term employees were fairly safe but we didn’t have specific operating procedures or rules for new employees. We were also not training consistently. I am actually surprised there were not more safety issues. I knew we had been lucky”

 

Pulling Together

An early attempt to enlist Kirk Lloyd of Lloyd’s Northwest LLC made for more regular meetings but no shift in the safety culture on the farm.

Around that time, two things happened: Branch began serving her term as president of Oregon Aglink and OSHA established its requirement of safety meetings for farms with fewer than ten full-time employees. With the combined efforts of Branch, Lloyd, and former Oregon Aglink executive director Geoff Horning, the first safety pod was formed. With Pearmine Farms, O. M. Cook Farms, and Wigrich Farms, the crew at Riddell Farms started a new routine.

Instead of conducting monthly meetings independently, the farms went through a quarterly cycle with a safety inspection one month, a farm meeting the next month, and a group meeting with participants from all the pod farms in the third month.

“We learned so much from each other—much more than just safety,” says Branch. By pooling their experiences, the near-miss or accident at one small farm could educate employees at all of the farms involved. Moreover, the pod meetings became a space for sharing other procedures and resources.

“It was so beneficial to hear other ideas and not live in our own bubble,” Branch emphasizes, “This all led to us being more proactive about what we specifically envisioned for our farm.”

“Our farm has never looked better or been more efficient”

Over five years in the program, there were some shifts in personnel. New staff at Oregon Aglink and Lloyd Northwest stepped in to help run meetings at the same time as Anissa Branch’s son Dylan was hired to run the day to day operations of the farm and the number of employees rose to over twenty. A new safety coordinator is now appointed every six months to run meetings and adopt a special project, whether it’s mapping fire extinguisher locations or checking every tire on the farm. With time, regular
meetings at Riddell Farms felt routine and were as well-attended as the group meetings with multiple farms.

The most important shift? Employees were accountable to each other, and suggestions started coming from the bottom instead of the top.

“Our employees are now constantly thinking of new ideas on how to be safer and more efficient,” says Branch. “It’s a daily task, not just one that we think about once a month. We strive to have a continuous process of improvement that flows into all aspects of the operation.”

The benefits go beyond saving money on claims, she adds. The changes have brought “happier employees who feel valued, a more clean and organized work environment, cost savings because everyone is doing things the safe way which almost always is the best and most efficient way. Even if a safety measure takes a couple extra seconds, in the long run it saves down-time and money from accidents.”

Training as Incentive

Organization and efficiency are enviable goals on their own, but at Riddell Farms the shared trainings and refresher courses feel like treats instead of mandatory tasks for many of the employees. In fact, training is the biggest recommendation offered by Branch as a way of building skills and a sense of teamwork.

“Learning is challenging and can be fun” says Branch. “We brought a welding instructor in for a half day to refresh everyone on basic welding and safety in welding. We have a fire extinguisher company come in once a year before harvest to do a quick training. We also did a first aid/CPR course last year and now everyone on our farm is CPR certified for three years.”

“All of these are team building as well as enforcing our safety culture and spicing work up, which translates to better teamwork and productivity.”

The training brings everyone together on the same page—from the employee who has worked there for twenty-nine years to one who has only been at Riddell Farms for six months and may not have built up the same breadth of skills. The trainings also present an opportunity for staff to help each other, ask questions, and share knowledge.

Calling In, Not Calling Out

The sense of pride evident in the outward appearance of the farm is also evident during the safety meeting when everyone agrees that jumping off of vehicles is not something “we” do anymore.

Corrections are made as a matter of calling people back into the group as opposed to singling someone out for their mistakes or bad behavior.

When asked what safety problems might arise and how they would be handled, employees had several suggestions. If, for instance, “an employee sees another employee using a hand grinder or loading chemicals and they aren’t wearing [personal protective equipment]” the old response might have been to avoid saying anything “or worse, shame them a bit.”

Now, Riddell Farms has flipped the script.

“If someone sees [an employee not wearing personal protective equipment], they will hold them accountable in a way that says we care about you and your safety so please wear your PPE.” Another employee agrees, “Our safety culture and general farm culture is one that really strives to build people up, and if we see or hear about another employee not using positive reinforcement of our culture, it will be addressed immediately.”

Reaping the Rewards

As the farm looks ahead toward the 2019 harvest, Dylan Branch taps his clipboard and talks about the potential safety issues ahead. One employee recently had a problem with her blood sugar dropping, and
a few fellow employees had noticed her drowsiness. This leads to a conversation about fatigue and checking in with each other.

The summer months will be busy, of course, but the farm has already planned a mid-harvest safety meeting where everyone can regroup, report on their work, and recalibrate as necessary.

There are unavoidable hazards with farming in general and harvest in particular, but the attitude here is one of being proactive rather than reactive. Preparation and accident prevention can’t get in the way of
the actual business of farming, but Riddell Farms sees a way to manage that balance to everyone’s benefit.

The More Things Change…

By Megan Thompson

 

Change is inevitable and full of emotions. Change is good. Change is scary. Change is exciting.

Oregon Aglink, like most of us, continues to change and evolve. In the last two years, we have seen staff transitions along with the standard ebb and flow of board members and executive committee. Staff leadership transitioned from Geoff Horning to current executive director Mallory Phelan. Other staff changes have also occurred bring new perspective and positive change to the organization. The collaboration with Allison, Cate and Leah means a stream of ideas and energy dedicated to the mission of promoting agriculture in Oregon.

Faces have come and gone over the fifty plus years since Oregon Aglink was originally founded as the Agribusiness Council of Oregon, but the vision and mission of the organization has been constant in many ways.

While the original spirit continues to guide us, the executive committee and board of directors have been working to update the language of the vision and mission statement to better align with where Oregon Aglink is now and will be in years to come. In 2016, ABC changed its name to Oregon Aglink to reflect the value of the organization as linking urban and rural Oregon through shared interests in agriculture. In the same way, this refreshed language in vision and mission statements will be true to the core values established by Marion T. Weatherford in 1966.

This is also a year of physical changes for the Oregon Aglink office.

After decades located in Portland and the metro area, the staff will be moving operations southward to the 45th Parallel Building in North Salem. This move offers many benefits: more centrally located in the Willamette Valley, closer to several partner organizations, a fresh and public-facing location, and large cost benefit. Once the move is complete please take a minute to stop by and check out the new space!

As much as agriculture seems grounded in tradition and prides itself on ties to the past, farms and ranches throughout Oregon are familiar with change.

Growers and processors are constantly changing to keep up with markets, weather, family needs or partner transitions. Operations have condensed, expanded, and relocated. Your grandfather’s sheep farm might be your daughter’s hazelnut farm in ten more years. Some changes are simplistic, like just changing the variety you are growing or the dealer you use. Some changes can be far more complicated due to new equipment needs, infrastructure, and shifts in marketing or regulations.

As an industry, we are constantly evaluating our operations for opportunities to do “better” for our families and our neighbors. Oregon Aglink is no different. I believe the upcoming changes are exciting and setting us on a path to get even better at our work.

 

It’s Not Just Tomayto-Tomahto

By Mallory Phelan 

Prior to working at Oregon Aglink, I took a one way flight to Peru. I worked in a hostel before finding a job teaching English at a local school. Having studied abroad in Mexico and been three credits shy of a second major in Spanish, I felt decently comfortable with communicating in Spanish.

While my verb conjugations could always use some work, I felt confident in my vocabulary until I asked a man at the market where the aguacates were – his expression and lack of response made me question my pronunciation. I started to describe the black outer layer, soft green inside with a pit and he said palta! Come to find out, some countries in South America use the word palta instead of aguacate for avocado.

If you’ve ever traveled to another English-speaking country, you understand this concept of the same language using different words depending on the country such as the Brits saying “rubbish” for trash or Aussies saying “brekky” for breakfast. You’ve probably even known of American English words that change depending on what part of our country you are from. Is a carbonated fountain drink a pop, soda, soda pop, or Coke? The first time I visited Kentucky, a server asked me what kind of Coke I wanted. Only seeing regular or diet on the menu, I didn’t even realize Coke was being used as the overarching term for all the flavors offered.

When we look at our relationships with friends and family, the use of certain language becomes our own sub-dialect of sorts. Whether it’s inside jokes with your friends or the way you and your partner can communicate unlike any others, our word choice matters.

We’re fairly good at deciphering what those close to us say and mean. Do you remember any words your kids used growing up that only you understood or maybe were slightly incorrect? A little girl I babysat called a popsicle, poppy-sicky-doo. Ultimately, we invest time and show compassion in understanding those we care about.

Consider the disconnect between farming, ranching, fishing, and forestry with those who consume the products produced by those industries. While consumers and producers sometimes use words like sustainability and diversity with different intentions, there are other words those of us working in these industries use that are unfamiliar to the general public. It’s something that happens in the Adopt a Farmer program. We remind farmers and ranchers to explain terms such as variable rate application or that artificial intelligence isn’t the only thing AI stands for – even seemingly simple words like perennial or concepts such as cover crops are unknown to most people. It’s not only middle school students we work with, but sometimes their chaperones and teachers are unfamiliar with common industry vernacular.

Our use of these words common to us, but uncommon to the general public, can hinder our communication and understanding of how farms, ranches, fisheries, and forests operate. This isn’t unique to agriculture – many other science-based industries have to learn to do this including medicine, technology, neuroscience, and more.

It benefits all of us to learn to speak with words digestible to consumers today.

Committing ourselves to knowing what consumers understand and how we can better explain our industry takes time and to do it well, compassion – just like we extend to our family and friends. Instead of defense, let’s play offense by engaging in conversations now, including our very best listening, to understand better language to use and find areas of common ground with those who do not understand what farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters do.

Beyond the Bystander Effect

By Mallory Phelan

Having just wrapped up the biggest giving season of the year, we have probably all seen the ads and posts soliciting donations for humanitarian aid work in another country or a crowd-funding campaign for someone on social media. With the 24-hour news cycle and collective knowledge of humanity at our fingertips, there is never a shortage of demands on our attention and hearts.

Have you ever felt bad but kept scrolling? Thought about getting your credit card but changed the channel? I know that I have.

Of course the crisis of a natural disaster or a family’s GoFundMe account is worthy of our attention, but our funds, time, and emotional bandwidth are limited. We have to pick and choose our causes, and sometimes that is made easier when we can assume “someone else will do it.” The assumption that someone else will is the very basis for the social psychological phenomenon called the bystander effect: individuals are less likely to offer help when others are present, a diffusion of responsibility, which can result in apathy.

I’m fascinated by what makes people commit to a cause, act upon their conviction, and the tipping point of when taking action matters to them personally. It’s easy to join in on collective input like cheering at a sporting event. There can be 20,000 people in an arena and the roar of the crowd builds upon the involvement of others. As an industry, it’s so easy to cheer on one another in our own industry functions such as Denim & Diamonds, Oregon Seed League, or the Oregon Women for Ag auction. It’s trickier to get more of the hundreds of people at those social and networking events to show up at the Capitol to testify, participate in Adopt a Farmer, or even sit on commissions and association boards.

As humans we naturally prioritize, some of us better than others, and we have to. We simply cannot do it all. We’ve got to be careful not put off getting involved because it’s not urgent enough…yet. You’ve probably heard, if you don’t show up, someone else will and you might not like what they think or believe. Every time the Oregon legislature commences, we’re reminded of how important the work we do in between sessions is in engaging with our non-farming and ranching neighbors near and far.

As an organization, we have people show up for us every day – from our board of directors and event volunteers, to our committee members and adopted farmers – we have some of the best in the industry working with us to fulfill our mission of growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion. We also have committed members whose dues help sustain us monetarily. Without the actions of so many, we would not have the impact we do in the lives of hundreds of students and their perceptions of Oregon agriculture every year.

The saying “many hands make light work” holds true to the work of engaging consumers about how their food and fiber is produced. Whether you make resolutions or not, I challenge you to join me in carrying the season of giving throughout the year and look for ways to join in, give your time and resources in the best way you see fit. It matters that we all show up. The days of “put our heads down and keep on trucking” are gone – the organizations collectively working to create progress in our industry depend on your involvement. The more folks connected to agriculture get involved in engaging with consumers, the better we can minimize the bystander effect and benefit our industry as a whole.

 

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!

 

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 info@aglink.org 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.

 

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.”

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