Category: Feature Article

Perennial Partners: Adopt a Farmer All-Stars

By Allison Cloo

Now in its eighth year, Adopt a Farmer has broadened its reach at the same time as it broadens the horizons of students who may have never visited a working farm or ranch.

As we celebrate growth and plan for more, looking to some of the longest-running school matches reminds us that returning volunteers deserve as much fanfare as the newcomers.

Moly McCargar at Pearmine Farms

Pearmine Farms was one of three operations that piloted the program during the 2011-2012 school year. In the next school year, the number had grown to nine, with three of those operations—Pugh Seed Farms, Victor Point Farms, and Gray Farms—falling into a rhythm that has brought them back year after year. While the number of matches has hovered between forty and fifty for the last couple years as some farms take breaks and new ones get involved, the continued participation of long-running matches is an important measure of success.

The farmers themselves speak highly of their experiences.

“I feel like I’m the winner in this relationship,” says Skip Gray of Gray Farms near Albany. “The school and teacher I work with are amazing. She has absolute control of her classroom yet has a lot of fun with her students.”

Gray has been paired with Michelle Heuberger of St. Mary’s School since his first year. It’s a smaller group of students—usually twenty to thirty students in one class period—and the size means they frequently end up driving together on the bus while Gray navigates and then brings students out into the field to see work underway.

Other school-farm matches come with a bigger crop of students each year. Twice a year at Pearmine Farms in Gervais, Molly McCargar spreads out the 180 students from Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School over four days of field trips at a time in fall and then spring. This is how a very large group is broken down in to forty-five students, and that number gets even smaller when students are split into groups to rotate through “stations” on the farm.

“It can be anything as simple as climbing in an out of tractors, combines, and other big equipment to giving them a chance to experience jobs like moving irrigation pipe or just digging in the soil,” says McCargar, who has become adept at breaking down big farm jobs into hands-on activities that make farming real to the students. “Maybe head out to the fields and learn to scout for pests, how to identify them, what actions you might need to take or not. Take soil samples, talk about soil health, different soils and how all of this plays a part in production.”

Inviting along guest speakers can spread the work around and expose students to other professions involved in farming. “There are so many jobs connected to agriculture,” says McCargar, “it’s important for kids to see and understand they can have a future in agriculture, even if it’s not as a farmer”

Jesse Rue at Victor Point Farms

At Victor Point Farms in Silverton, a group of anywhere from 145 to 190 students comes during one big field trip, but is split into five groups to rotate through stations that vary from year to year. Co-owner Jesse Rue has run an equipment station for several years, with students climbing in and out of cabs while they match different vehicles and implements to their functions on a worksheet. His brother and Victor Point co-owner Lucas almost always runs a station about soil profiles, drainage, and erosion. Depending on who else they can arrange to be present, the students might talk with a field rep about precision agriculture or tour neighboring Ioka Farms’ grass seed cleaner in a bus.

Even with smaller groups, like the thirty students from St. Paul Parish School in Eugene who drive to Pugh Seed Farm in Shedd, having guest speakers helps students understand how farming takes so many different skills. Owner Denver Pugh might not even be able to keep the field trip all to himself if he tried: “I have a warehouse manager, Allen, who completely embraced the fall tours and sets up diagrams and demonstrations for the students.”

In spring, when students return for a special second trip to see the fields in bloom, Pugh may invite an agronomist or his bee keeper to explain their roles in keeping the crops productive.

Denver Pugh at Pugh Seed Farms

Pugh has dialed in the routine of the field trips and what works best for his students and him, including when it comes to class visits. “Because I’ve done this a number of years now, it’s gotten way easier speaking to the students in the class. Way less intimidating now than when I first started.”

Skip Gray is another farmer who makes sure that class visits are part of the contact he has with students. Part of it is greeting them on their own territory and bringing the farm into the school environment. “It’s also way easier for those who make arrangements for field trips,” he says, “Since I’m merely a guest speaker and my visit to school doesn’t necessitate transportation and supervision.”

There are always challenges to work around—rain can lead to some muddy field trips, and snow days at the schools have forced a rescheduled visit or two—but the Oregon Aglink staff, teachers, and farmers are always finding ways to make it work and reasons for participants to come back year after year.

The farmers all have a similar story about why they stay involved. Take Denver Pugh, for example: “It still is totally worth it. It gives me a chance to show others what an actual working farm is like. Many kids these days don’t get these opportunities, and if I can show them what all it takes to run a farm and how important we are to the health of our society, then I’m all for it.”

Jesse Rue knows his favorite part right away: “Just seeing the kids’ reaction outside of the classroom is rewarding when they get to be on a farm and see firsthand what we do.”

Skip Gray at Gray Farms

Skip Gray also comes back to the curiosity and imagination he finds with a new group of middle school students each year. “At their age, there is so much variation in physical development and maturity, so getting out on the farm or even having laughs in the classroom while we talk farming is really fun for me.”

For the farmers and ranchers who feel like they might not have enough to share to hold the interest of a classroom during one trip, let alone two or three, Molly McCargar has encouraging words: “If someone thinks it’ll only take one trip to share their farming operation, they aren’t giving themselves enough credit for everything it takes to farm.”

What about the farmers and ranchers who worry about getting bored with the same material? Well, McCargar has an answer for that too: “If there’s anything consistent in agriculture, it’s that every year nothing ever stays the same.”

Luckily for Adopt a Farmer, it’s clear that the value of these farmers and their experience stays consistent for every new student who comes through the program.

The Farmers Share

By Allison Cloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Never Stop Learning”: Welcome to President Pamela Lucht

By Allison Cloo

With the annual membership meeting marking a new year, Oregon Aglink welcomed in its new president, Pamela Lucht of Northwest Transplants.

Some readers of AgLink magazine may be familiar with Lucht after a summer 2016 article explored the Molalla-based transplant business and greenhouses she runs with her husband Neal and daughter Lauren. Lucht has been serving as the Chief Financial Officer of Northwest Transplants since 1990. At a Denim & Diamonds event in 2014, then-executive director of Oregon Aglink, Geoff Horning, approached Lucht about serving on the board of directors.

Involvement with Oregon Aglink and its mission of education and promotion fit naturally into the path Pamela Lucht has carved for herself. “I was excited to be asked to serve,” she says, “especially where agricultural education is concerned.” Service and learning have been intertwined for Lucht since high school.

“At one of my first workshops in high school, we were told to never stop learning. Learning to do new things, learning about yourself and your leadership styles, etc.  This is one of my core beliefs.”

After running for class office in spite of childhood shyness, Lucht took that workshop lesson to heart and has continued to pursue opportunities to learn more about leadership and, as it happens, agriculture.

Lucht’s family had moved away from agriculture when her grandparents left a farming community in Oklahoma for California’s Bay Area in 1939. Lucht remembers her grandmother’s stories about picking cotton. For many families, the movement westward toward California and Oregon meant a journey away from farm life and toward other jobs. For Lucht’s family, that was construction and factory work for her grandparents in California, real estate once her parents moved to Eugene.

At the time Pamela Lucht was growing up in Eugene, she and her brother Douglas weren’t aware that their paths would lead them back to farming. A “city” kid like his sister, Douglas got degrees in computer tech and Spanish at University of Oregon but now works at Gingerich Farms. At Oregon State University, Pamela set out to study interior merchandising, an extension of an early interest in architecture and interior design. It wasn’t long, though, before she met her soon-to-be husband Neal and other friends who stoked her interest in learning about agriculture.

“Many of my college friends are producers around the state,” she says, “I had many opportunities to visit their farms and ranches, meet their families, and experience the farm lifestyle.” Beyond the warm welcome she received, Lucht appreciates the technical aspects that keep farms and processors running in Oregon. “I love farm tours and processing plant tours. I enjoy watching how machines work.”

Since attending OSU and co-founding Northwest Transplants, Pamela Lucht has doubled-down on her commitment to service, learning, and support of local farmers and rural communities.

Besides running the books at Northwest Transplants, Lucht keeps herself busy with other volunteer commitments like Molalla Drive to Zero: a campaign to reduce auto accident fatalities by 50% by the year 2020. Clackamas County chose Molalla as its pilot city, with hopes of expanding the program to other rural towns in the county.

If Molalla is setting an example with its drive for safety, Lucht is on a similar example-setting track with her other community work. She recently finished a project with Ford Institute Leadership Program, which focuses on building leadership in rural communities. Moreover, she has begun working with the Rural Development Initiative based in Eugene, Oregon. Their mission “to strengthen rural people, places, and economies in the Pacific Northwest” is a good match for Lucht, whose passion for Oregon agriculture and the surrounding communities is evident.

If it’s not clear already, Pamela Lucht is ready for her year as president of Oregon Aglink. She has no shortage of hopes and plans for the months ahead.

A strong marketing plan to boost membership will likely include sharing the benefits of the SAIF discount with potential members but also upcoming social media projects to help farmers tell their stories. Along with the Adopt a Farmer program, in which Northwest Transplants participates, Oregon Aglink will continue developing the adult education programs first piloted last year.

Lucht looks forward to working with Mallory Phelan and the rest of the board of directors:

“We have a tremendous opportunity to move the organization forward and capture some of the new energy that’s out there in agriculture.”

Denim & Diamonds 2017: The 20th Anniversary

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.



Dairy Meets Classroom: Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms

by Allison Cloo

Melissa and her daughters on the farm.

Halfway through its sixth year at Oregon Aglink, the Adopt a Farmer program shows no signs of slowing down. It has evolved from its pilot year with three schools to nearly 50 in its current form. This year alone, the program will use its field trips and classroom visits to introduce approximately 5,000 middle school students to local farms. In some ways, the reach is even greater.

Melissa Collman of Cloud Cap Farms, a second-year participant in the Adopt a Farmer program, knows an encounter with a student on a field trip could be the starting point for a whole chain reaction of understanding.

It seems so simple: a student asks a question, the farmer gives an answer. The information doesn’t stop there, though. That student could share their newfound knowledge in the cafeteria at lunch, or around the dinner table with family. The experience may end up online on Instagram, with a middle schooler taking a selfie next to a Holstein munching hay.

So what makes Adopt a Farmer so different from other programs or field trips that bring around 500 students to Cloud Cap Farms each year?

First, Melissa says, “the kids are typically older than the students we normally see.” As opposed to the kindergarten and elementary students that Melissa often guides through her barns, middle school students in the Adopt a Farmer program are right on the edge of adolescence, developing their critical thinking skills and expanding their sense of the world.

Beyond that, Adopt a Farmer also tries to recruit urban or suburban schools where students may have little to no firsthand knowledge of where their food and fiber originates. “The kids are very removed from agriculture,” Melissa says. “Some of these kids have never left the city.”

Still, the students visiting Melissa’s dairy often arrive with more than the simple image of Old MacDonald and picture book farm animals. Even if they are removed from agriculture, as Melissa notes, they receive plenty of food- and farm-related messages “on the internet or [from] their parents.” The gap between an urban student and their rural neighbors will be bridged one way or another.

So, while some students ask the innocent and funny questions like “Do boy cows make milk,” other students echo myths about dairy farming spread on social media and blog posts.

On one such occasion, Melissa recalls, “a boy walked up to me and said milk has pus and blood in it,” repeating a common accusation of animal rights activists and concerned vegans. Melissa’s solution? “I milked a cow in front of this little boy and he got to see for himself that there was no blood and no pus and he was shocked.”

She saw an opportunity to explain how farms care about food safety, making sure that only quality milk is leaving the farm, and animal health too, separating and treating any sick cows before they return to the line. It was a happy ending to a tough question. Melissa remembers, “He was so excited to go home and tell his Mom that he saw for himself that the milk was safe and that our cows really did look happy.”

Not every farmer-student interaction deals with such challenging questions, but each interaction does offer a chance to build up a sense of trust and empowerment. “Some of those questions are tough to answer,” Melissa offers, “but it is important not to lie. There are ways to explain why we do what we do that can help consumers understand.”

Harrison Park School students at Cloud Cap Farms in Fall of 2016.

One of the more successful strategies that Melissa uses to differentiate enclosures for her dairy cows and their calves is to explain it in relatable terms. Calves advancing from their individual hutches to small groups and then larger pens is laid out as the process of graduating from preschool to grade school and high school. Younger animals are vulnerable to spreading germs or injury, but as they grow older they learn to socialize and be productive members of their society.

Field trips on a working farm present challenges, of course, but Melissa makes it look manageable. The schedule can be a bit tight trying to balance chores and visitors, but she finds the time. Safely conducting tours around live animals and moving machinery means a little extra vigilance and good communication with teachers and chaperones.

The final element of the Adopt a Farmer program may also be part of what makes it so valuable. Getting a farmer like Melissa into the classroom for a visit or two may be tricky to schedule when she needs to milk her cows twice a day, but logistically it ends up being easier than bussing several dozen students from one place to another. Something as simple as putting the farmer in the classroom has a big impact, though, and Melissa knows it.

Melissa shows students how butter is made in a jar in Spring 2016.

Aglink staff will help with the activity, like making butter in a mason jar, but the farmer is the star of the day. “I think it makes the kids feel a little special,” she says, “They not only came to see your farm, but you go and see what they do. Not often do kids get that from a stranger who isn’t being paid to be that role model.”
At the end of the year, Melissa receives batches of thank-you cards from teachers and students, who write about their favorite memory from the field trip or her visit. She makes note, she says, of things that will help her better tailor her message for the next year.

“After doing tours now for years and doing the Adopt a Farmer program for the last two, it is becoming painfully clear that kids really don’t have a true understanding of where their food comes from.” She continues, “Having a real life reference is way more memorable and impactful than just reading something from the internet. These moments, though, are not possible if we don’t put ourselves out there.”

Customer Service, Smart Growth Winning Combo

by Mitch Lies

From left, John Hocket, Jeff Freeman and Bob Hockett, outside Marion Ag Service’s new 70,000-square-foot fertilizer plant, which is set to begin operating in February. The plant will increase the company’s storage capacity nearly eight-fold.

Over coffee one day in 1978, Bob Hockett agreed to buy out his four partners in Marion Ag Service.

“I had all these ideas to buy more equipment, buy this and buy that, and the rest of them didn’t,” Bob said.

Thirty-eight years later, Marion Ag Service is still expanding. And the five still meet almost daily for coffee, often joined by half-a-dozen other local farmers at Marion Ag Service headquarters, just outside of St. Paul, Oregon.

“If we’re not doing the right thing in the field, we hear about it every day,” said Bob’s son John Hockett, the company’s vice president of sales.

Indeed, Marion Ag Service is an agribusiness success story rooted in long-term relationships and smart growth.

As John put it: “Dad didn’t sit still very long.”

Jeff Freeman, left, and John Hockett, in Marion Ag Service’s new 70,000-square-foot fertilizer plant. The plant, scheduled to open in February, includes sixty 500-ton storage bins, in addition to two fully automated blending lines.

The company’s most recent expansion involves a 70,000-square-foot fertilizer plant, which includes two fully automated blending lines that will enable growers to get fertilizer blended to individual prescriptions.

Set to begin operation in February of 2017, the plant will increase the company’s storage capacity to 29,000 tons, nearly eight-fold of its existing capacity, providing opportunities for other companies to warehouse fertilizer in the facility, as well. The facility consolidates many fertilizer functions under one roof, delivering supply-chain efficiencies for the regional fertilizer marketers and users. The opportunity should help companies get product to growers in a timely fashion – something that can be at risk with the Willamette Valley’s current storage capacity.

“The windows for applying fertilizer are short sometimes,” John said. “Like this fall, it rained all October, so now (in November) everybody is going full bore.

“If everything works out perfectly, we can keep up,” John added. “But as soon as there is a hiccup in manufacturing or on the railroad, now you’re out of product. Growers aren’t fertilizing, and that’s a problem.”

The plant is among Marion Ag Service’s most aggressive expansions over its fifty year history. “This was a big step for us,” said Jeff Freeman, director of sales and marketing for Marion Ag. But it is far from Marion Ag’s only expansion.

Marion Ag Service set its roots in 1967, when Bob Hockett branched out from full-time farming, joined with Allied Chemical, and became one of the first liquid fertilizer distributors in the Willamette Valley. In 1976, Bob teamed with four other farmers to form Marion Ag Service, with a primary purpose of warehousing and marketing soft white wheat, and applying lime and dolomite.

Two years later, Bob bought out his partners and Marion Ag became the largest distributor of Ashgrove lime in Western Oregon.

In 1994, Marion Ag Service purchased St. Paul Feed and Supply and entered the dry fertilizer, seed cleaning, grain storage and feed markets. Also that year, company hired its first crop advisor. Today the company’s collective technical staff includes six full-time consultants that work with farmers and nursery professionals on a one-by-one basis, helping ensure growers get the most out of their crop productions.

Expansions continued in 1996, when Marion Ag purchased railroad access in Brooks, allowing the company to venture into warehouse agreements with key fertilizer manufacturers, such as Simplot, PCS and IRM.

In 1998, Marion Ag centralized its seed cleaning and conditioning, moving from downtown St. Paul to its headquarters, a few miles east of St. Paul. Also in 1998, the company began to develop private a label wholesale fertilizer service, which today services turf and ornamental resale professionals in eleven Western states, Hawaii and Guam.

Expansion continued in 2000, when Marion Ag purchased six acres adjacent to its new facility and constructed a prilling plant, which allows for flour lime and other nutrition components to be processed into a more easily spread form.

In 2005, the Aurora plant was expanded to accommodate growth in organic demand. The plant today is certified for handling of organic substrates.

Today Marion Ag employs roughly 100, and services growers from Albany to Portland in the agriculture, horticulture, nursery/greenhouse, turf resale and organics sectors.

Looking back, John said he believes one of the ingredients to the company’s long-term success lies in its ability to make decisions quickly.

“As opportunities came to the table, Dad and (COO) Tom (Wimmer), both being progressive, would look at each other and say, ‘This makes sense,’ and they’d do it,” John said. “And, for the most part, that continues today.

“If it makes sense and it is a win-win for the growers, as well as for us, we jump in and do it,” John said. “There is not a lot of hemming and hawing.”

He added: “As we went to our customer base, with whether it be grass-seed cleaning or blended fertilizers, and they wanted more and it made sense to grow our business in that direction, those were easy decisions to make.”

Other keys Bob identified are good employees and good customer service.

“You don’t have to drive very far to find a fertilizer plant,” Bob said, “and if you don’t have the equipment, the product and the people to take care of this guy, he’ll go down the street. And in a year or two, he might drift away and go to some company that will take care of him.”

Then there are those morning cups of coffee with growers sitting around a table, and the fact that Bob still produces grass seed.

“Dad might tell me, ‘Your fertilizer prices are too high,’” John said. “Well, he is the owner of the company and he is telling me my prices are too high, because he also is a farmer. That kind of keeps us in check.”

Growing and Developing Adopt a Farmer in the Classroom

Sprouts, buds, blossoms and baby animals – it’s that time of year again for growth and development. This is also true for the Adopt a Farmer program. Looking to wrap up its fifth school year, Adopt a Farmer classroom activities are the most varied and thought-provoking ever.

While this reflects the variety of Oregon agriculture represented in Adopt a Farmer, it also is a testament to our farmers’ creativity, flexibility and excitement about participating in the program.

rancher keith nantz in the classroom

Rancher Keith at Scott School in North Portland

One of the most popular activities is the Farming Simulation game where groups of students allocate wheat, perennial ryegrass, sweet corn, green beans and strawberries across 1,000 acres and then calculate their projected income. Next, students roll the dice and their farmer reads the outcomes of their crops based on their dice roll so they can calculate their actual profit or loss. Students discuss risk and reward, local and global economics, and realize the importance of diversification in farming. One of our adopted farmers modified the crops in this simulation to include hazelnuts, canola, wine grapes, while another even made a new version for nurseries. One to reflect a cow-calf operation and decision-making is in the works!

STEM agriculture graphing

Students work on graphing milk production at Beach School in North Portland

“What’s wrong with that cow?” exclaimed a student in Marcela Zivcovik’s sixth grade classroom at Beach School in North Portland. Chris Eggert of Mayfield Dairy in Aurora was leading a graphing activity based on milk production. Students compared their four graphs and noticed one cow’s production had declined significantly over a 7-day period. Farmer Chris then helped students brainstorm reasons why her milk production may have declined. They thought she may be a smaller animal, sick or stressed. Farmer Chris talked about how he uses technology to help keep a tab on animal health.

turf buddies in the classroom

Farmer Denver makes turf buddies with St. Paul School students

During the initial years of the program, most farm-school pairs made Turf Buddies and played the Farm Simulation. This school year alone, we have had more than 16 different activities done in more than 40 classrooms across the state! Ranging from energy, physical versus chemical change and soil health to farm-to-table webs and Oregon ag smell tests, students are connecting what they are reading about in textbooks with the real world, on the farm.

helle ruddenklau adopt a farmer

Farmer Helle visits with students at Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School

Flexibility is one of the biggest strengths of the Adopt a Farmer program. Combining the needs of the classroom with the resources of the farm and farmer is allowing the program to grow and develop to accommodate the great diversity of Oregon agriculture with the variety of grade and achievement levels in schools across the state.

Going the Extra Mile

by Heather Burson

NORPACThe phrase ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ is one that is used to describe someone who’s always there whenever needed. Someone who goes the extra mile and genuinely cares about being there for others. In Oregon’s vegetable processing industry, the equivalent is a person who dedicates their career to helping Oregon’s vegetable growers achieve success. Putting in the time to do whatever they can to boost sales and move product locally and around the world. That person is Chuck Palmquist. Today, Palmquist is vice president of sales and services at NORPAC. It is the culmination of a 42-year journey, the seeds of which were planted long before this.

In fact, Palmquist’s career happens to be the continuation of a very familiar subject. “I have always been around farmers and farming,” Palmquist says. Palmquist grew up on a small farm near Mt. Angel, where his dad grew hops, grain and boysenberries, among other things. From an early age he was either helping out on the farm or helping pick crops like green beans and strawberries. Later on, Palmquist attended Oregon State University where this experience helped lead him towards graduation with a degree in food science and technology.

He went on from there to land his first job at Stayton Canning Company in 1973 as a quality assurance supervisor. This job involved “being on a production shift, making sure that everything we did met all our requirements in terms of food safety and quality,” says Palmquist. Palmquist spent four years at Stayton Canning Company, then pursued a series of other jobs culminating in his return to Stayton Canning Company in 1983 as a production shift supervisor. Three years after his return, the consortium of seven companies that made up North Pacific Canners and Packers had dwindled down, leaving Stayton Canning Company as the only one left. Seizing an opportunity, they took the North Pacific Canners and Packers name as their own and changed it to the acronym NORPAC.

At this time, Palmquist found himself moving on through a series of other job titles at NORPAC, starting with repack scheduling manager. Special projects manager was next, and it was during this time that NORPAC’s Hermiston plant was built. Palmquist became its engineering manager. Then, in 1996, NORPAC had acquired Stone Mill Foods and he became its general manager for two years. When Stone Mill Foods sold, Palmquist came back as the manager of NORPAC’s packing facility.

“This was probably my favorite,” Palmquist says, “the day-to-day seeing something produced, there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

He remained in this position until the president of NORPAC’s sales agency, located in Lake Oswego, retired in 2007. When this happened, Palmquist became general manager of NORPAC’s sales agency office. An office NORPAC held until everything was consolidated to its current location in 2014. Palmquist transitioned to vice president of sales and services in 2009, and has remained in this position ever since. It’s one he’s proud to serve in as “part of this organization, owned by 240 family farmers.” Yet also, a role he remains humble about. “Our mission in life is to give them (farmers) access to the marketplace and we remember that every day. My role is to be part of that whole organization and keep that going,” Palmquist says. Others, like NORPAC grower Molly McCargar of Pearmine Farms, would say Palmquist has done way more than that.

“Chuck is a hardworking guy who has a big role in the outcome of the crops we grow,” says McCargar, “Providing market access for our vegetables is what he does, and if he wasn’t doing it, then, well let’s just say, I’d probably have a lot of inventory.”
McCargar first met Palmquist about 10 years ago at a NORPAC annual meeting, and they continued to cross paths. Located close to NORPAC, Pearmine Farms became a frequent stop on tours for current and potential buyers of NORPAC products. An occurrence that led McCargar to ask Palmquist to accompany her on an Adopt a Farmer classroom visit in 2011. Not long after, he joined McCargar on ABC’s Board of Directors where he has remained to this day.

Cindy Cook, of Cook Family Farms, met Palmquist in much the same way. As a grower for NORPAC, she got to know him through Cook Family Farms’ relationship with NORPAC over the past 10 years. At the same time, much like McCargar, she’s also gotten to know him as a fellow ABC board member and friend. “He is a stable presence on the ABC board,” Cook says, “always willing to support and provide vegetable products for Denim & Diamonds and other functions.” McCargar adds that, “If there was ever a need for something from Chuck, he was right there to ask and get it.”

Indeed, Palmquist’s time at NORPAC has been more than just changes of positions, or giving farmers access to the marketplace. It has led to and solidified many friendships he will miss as he prepares to retire next year. Retirement, for Palmquist, holds many things, catching up with friends who’ve already retired, volunteering, and spending more time with his wife Sara, their four sons and their grandchild. Although he looks forward to these and other adventures, he will always be grateful for his time spent at NORPAC. “It’s been a great place to work. I’ve had many great opportunities with NORPAC,” says Palmquist, “I’ve never gotten tired of what I did. I’ve really appreciated being part of this whole industry and working for NORPAC.”

An Original Pioneer: Founder Marion T. Weatherford

by Heather Burson

Photos courtesy of OSU Archives Library and Oregon Wheat Growers League

An Oregon pioneer usually brings to mind the image of someone who’s travelled the Oregon Trail. Itself, a 2,200 mile wagon journey from Missouri to Oregon that brought settlers westward. Marion T. Weatherford was a direct descendent of one, his grandfather William Washington Weatherford, but the term ‘pioneer’ means so much more. A pioneer is also someone who helps create or develop new methods, ideas, etc. This is what Marion T. Weatherford would go on to do, creating a rich legacy in Oregon agriculture.

With ties to Oregon State College’s extension program, Weatherford, pictured at left, joins one of its members to look at the wheat crop.

With ties to Oregon State College’s extension program, Weatherford, pictured at left, joins one of its members to look at the wheat crop.

Born to Marion Earl Weatherford and Minnie Clara Weatherford, on October 9, 1906, Marion T. Weatherford began his life near Arlington, Ore. on his family’s wheat and cattle farm. Marion T.’s grandfather was the first to plant wheat in Gilliam County, a practice his family continued. In an original publication “The Weatherford 16 Mule Team,” Marion T. describes how his father cut costs hauling wheat to the railroad in Arlington. A task that required a lot of help.

The farm used a 16 mule team to haul seven wagons both ways. A round trip The Oregonian’s “Pioneer Family to Mark Harvest” describes as being “26 miles each day, hauling 270 sacks of wheat.” Marion T. recounts his own duties in “The Weatherford 16 Mule Team” as a 16-year-old boy whose job was to “load, harness, feed and water, unharness, and act as general flunky on the job.” This lasted until 1924, when paved roads forced them to switch to hauling wheat in Model T Ford trucks.

Mule Wheat Team Photo

The Weatherford family’s mule team consisted of 16 matched mules, seen here hauling wheat in the summer of 1923 along the John Day Highway.

Marion T. would remain on the farm, except for two decades from 1922-1942. A time period best described in another of Marion T.’s publications, “Things I See,” where he recounts the following. “During those twenty years, I first rebelled against parental authority and the Establishment and gave the world a whirl ‘on my own.’” Until, he adds, he “came to his senses” and went to college to get an education. Oregon State University’s archives reveal that this journey began at Pasadena University, a small liberal arts school, where he began studying industrial arts before transferring to Oregon State College (later known as Oregon State University) to do the same.

Graduating in 1930, Marion’s own biographical sketch shows he went on to teach industrial arts at Marshfield Wisconsin High School, returning in 1937 to pursue his masters in industrial education at Oregon State College. Upon receiving this degree in 1938 he became an associate professor at San Jose State College, remaining there until his parents’ death in 1942. At this point he returned to take over the farm with his wife Leona. Something that went fairly smooth given his accounts in “Things I See,” where he states “…even during those twenty years ‘outside,’ I came home frequently and always kept in touch with current events in this community.” A practice that would serve him well.

Armed with this knowledge, Marion T. quickly found ways to get involved. In 1945 he became a board member of the Bank of Eastern Oregon, serving until 1962, and a Gilliam County Fair board member, serving until 1953. The following year, 1946, Marion T. became Eastern Oregon Wheat League’s vice president. From this, he became one of three wheat growers to found the Oregon Wheat Commission. The first wheat commission in the nation. This would become one of his most well-known accomplishments.

M Weatherford

The commission’s formation came about through a wheat surplus, with Marion T. selected to serve on a three-person committee. This committee was tasked with writing and passing a bill to assure a steady supply of money in the future, to deal with these and other problems that may arise. Ever the orator, Marion T. Weatherford’s written account of these events reveals the following. “In later years I have come to view this assignment as an incredible one,” he says, “…so far as I know, neither one of us had ever even read any part of the Oregon laws, and I’m sure we didn’t have the slightest idea of how to go about getting new legislation drawn up.” Despite these challenges, the committee worked connections throughout the Legislature, the House and the Senate to get the bill drawn up and passed, founding the Oregon Wheat Commission and assuring the wheat industry’s prosperity for years to come.

In addition to founding this commission, and serving as its founding chairman to boot, Marion T. went on to become president of the Pacific Northwest Grain and Grain Products Association from 1950-1957. A position, once again, served simultaneously along with various others. An OSU Foundation trustee since 1947, Marion T. became one of the founders of the Oregon 4-H Foundation in 1957. Serving as vice president and later its second president, in 1960, he was influential in the development of its business practices and its ability to accept gifts for 4-H. One of his accomplishments was finding a location for a 4-H center, something he would see come to fruition when he was president again in 1967 and 1968.

Marion T. Weatherford, pictured here at left, helped found the Oregon 4-H Foundation and was present at a special ceremony celebrating the program in 1962.

Marion T. Weatherford, pictured here at left, helped found the Oregon 4-H Foundation and was present at a special ceremony celebrating the program in 1962.

While all of this was going on, J.F. Short, state director of agriculture, had proposed the formation of an Oregon Agri-Council to be “one voice for agriculture.” A February 1965 edition of the Eugene Register Guard recounts that the decision was proposed in 1964, and that preliminary feasibility studies would continue during the next year. Another article, written in an October 1965 edition of the Heppner-Gazette Times, discusses a September meeting where four subcommittees were chosen as part of a larger steering committee headed by Marion T. Weatherford. He would become the council’s first president from 1966-1967, and this council would become known as the Agri-Business Council of Oregon.

A 1968 article in the Bend Bulletin would quote Marion T. as saying that the council’s purpose would be “to provide a medium of communication between the urban public and the farmer.” An aim that continues today, as it approaches its 50th anniversary next year. It would also quote him as saying the council’s challenge was “essentially one of communicating the significance and importance of this agriculture business and to do it in a business-like way.” Something Marion T. had always done and would continue to do through various pursuits the rest of his life. One might say that no one did this better than Marion T. Weatherford. An original pioneer who forever left his mark on Oregon agriculture.


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