Category: Featured Farmer

Leadership: A Family Tradition

by Mitch Lies

From left to right: Neal, Pamela, daugther Lauren Lucht

From left to right: Neal, Pamela, daugther Lauren Lucht

For Pamela Lucht, providing leadership to community and agricultural organizations is a family tradition.

Pamela, administrative manager for the family’s business, Northwest Transplants in Molalla, has served as treasurer on several boards and committees over the years, including six years as the Molalla FFA Alumni Chapter’s treasurer.

Recently, she took over as treasurer for Oregon Aglink.

“(Oregon Aglink Executive Director) Geoff Horning asked me if I would do it, and I said yes, because there was a need and I believe in what Oregon Aglink is doing,” Pamela said.

Her commitment to Oregon Aglink adds to the Lucht family’s legacy of leadership that dates back to Charlie Lucht, father of her husband, Neal.

Neal, president of the Oregon FFA Foundation and chairman of the Molalla River School District’s Board of Directors, tells a story about how he once asked Charlie why he participated in so many boards and committees.

“He looked at me incredulously and said: ‘Who else would you have do it?’ Leadership happens,” Neal said. “If the right people don’t choose to, the wrong people will. There is never an option for no leadership.’”

In addition to serving as treasurer of Oregon Aglink, Pamela and her farm participate in the organization’s popular Adopt a Farmer program.

“The Adopt a Farmer program is relatively new to us,” Pamela said, “and we are really excited about it.”

“My favorite thing is just seeing the kids get engaged and ask questions, and seeing the lightbulb come on when they start to understand the process,” said Neal and Pamela’s daughter, Lauren, who is the marketing director for Northwest Transplants.

“It is really fun to see that lightbulb come on,” added Neal, “to see that connection that somebody actually grows everything I eat.”

“I hope we are inspiring some entrepreneurship among some of those kids, too,” Pamela said.

That spirit of entrepreneurship has long been present in Northwest Transplants. The business started with just 11 greenhouses when Neal and Pamela purchased it from the Lucht family’s Crestview Farms in 1990.

Today Northwest Transplants operates 92 greenhouses, moving about 80 million seedlings a year through the operation.

The business’s origin came from the realization that the transplant technology they provide offers many benefits to producers, especially as the industry and consumer needs began to change.

“When I was growing up, we worked with transplants, but typically in old technologies,” Neal said. “We’d looked at other areas of the country and appreciated how they utilized their greenhouse plug-tray plants for field planting. But the management and production logistics had never really been thought out for the production of a variety of crops in our temperate climate.”

The farm sought advice from Oregon State Extension advisors and others, but found that no one had answers.

“They told us we really just couldn’t do it here,” Neal said. “So we spent three years working on solving the program of what combination of greenhouse management and technologies could be made into a commercial seedling production venture. We developed some of our own concepts on climate modification and greenhouse management to fit our economic resource of a seasonal climate.”

“Now we grow over 300 varieties of crops each year,” Lauren said, “including everything from medicinal herbs, such as stinging nettle, to traditional cold crops and crops that thrive in specific environments, like peppers and sweet potato.”

Although Northwest Transplants operates solely on a contract basis, its business model includes much more than simply taking orders from farmers.

“Many times we have to look at what growing trends are out there. How might we impact those crop systems for the future? What technologies can we bring with our ability to control climate to affect the outcome of that particular crop and affect its profitability?” Neal said.

“We do our research, and many times take it to our customers,” he added. ‘We are constantly managing our relationships with our customers, rather than just sitting back and waiting for a contract. We’ve always tried to stay focused on how can we grow the success of a particular grower and improve profitability on their farm.”

Northwest Transplants works with about 200 growers, both large and small, Neal said. The farm produces plugs in unique soil mixtures that are tailored for individual crops. The ingredients in their blends are sourced from all over the world. The organic mixture they produce, for example, calls for peat moss from Northeast Canada, vermiculite from South Africa or China, and another ingredient, which Neal wouldn’t reveal, from Northwest Canada.

Northwest Transplants today is in the process of completing what Neal described as the final phase of maxing out the capacity of the operation’s existing 20-acre site. The family farm recently purchased a 100-acre site across the street from its operation, which the family plans to use, at least in part, for production agriculture.

One thing certain to be in the mix for the Lucht family’s future is a continued emphasis on providing leadership to community and agricultural organizations.

“We are just really passionate about giving back,” said Lauren, who is a member of Oregon Aglink’s Adopt a Farmer Committee. “If you have the capability to lead, we believe you have the responsibility.”

 

Fourth Generation Farm Girl

By Mitch Lies

Lori & BrotherAs U.S. citizens drift further from the farm, efforts to educate urban residents about the economic, environmental and social benefits of agriculture become more valuable. That is the sentiment of Lori Pavlicek, the new president of Oregon Aglink and self-described “fourth-generation farm girl from Mount Angel.”

As president, Pavlicek said she hopes to continue growing the organization’s signature programs, including Adopt a Farmer and the Road Crop Signs, in an effort to keep with Oregon Aglink’s aim to educate urban Oregonians about agriculture.

She singled out the Adopt a Farmer program as particularly important.

“Bringing farms to urban kids who don’t have any idea of what farming is about is an integral part of our organization, and extremely important,” Pavlicek said.

The Road Crop Signs program she said also is invaluable in keeping agriculture in front of urban residents.

“It makes people look out and realize, ‘Oh, we’re in an ag area. I wonder what they grow here,’” she said. “It helps get people thinking about agriculture and where it is being done.”

Pavlicek also singled out Denim & Diamonds as a key event she plans to focus on during her tenure, both because of its fund-raising capacity and because it serves as an opportunity to recognize individuals and organizations that have excelled in advocating agriculture to Oregonians. The 2016 awards dinner and auction is scheduled Friday, November 18 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Pavlicek comes by her advocacy for agriculture naturally. The mother of two grew up working the family’s farm, 4B Farms, Inc., and continues to do so today, serving as office manager. She co-owns the farm with her brother, Jeff Butsch, and parents, Jim and Donna Butsch. (Pavlicek’s husband, Derek, is from an agricultural community, but works for Daimler Trucks North America.)

Pavlicek holds a bachelor’s of science degree in business from George Fox College in Newberg, and she has experience in helping start and manage a yogurt store in Tualatin. She came back to the farm in 1988 when the former office manager left the position.

The diverse farm raises hops, garlic, grass seed, filberts, squash for seed, beans and corn, among other crops.

Pavlicek’s commitment to community goes beyond her advocacy for agriculture. She also is president of the Mount Angel Community Foundation and is secretary of the Providence-Benedictine Nursing Center Board.

Pavlicek also served eighteen years on the Mount Angel Oktoberfest Board of Directors, before taking over as president of the foundation in 2010.

“I believe in community involvement,” she said. “If you don’t support your community, than you can’t expect anyone else to.”

Pavlicek said she is attracted to Oregon Aglink because of its commitment to promote the business, education and social benefits of agriculture.

“Farmers can be too busy to get involved in the promotion of agriculture, so I took an interest in that early on,” Pavlicek said. “That is where I gravitated to.”

Pavlicek also likes that Oregon Aglink stays out of politics. “It doesn’t take sides, which I think is important,” she said. “It is all about awareness of where food and fiber comes from and educating urban residents about the state’s natural resources.”

Geoff Horning, executive director of Oregon Aglink said he is excited to have Pavlicek leading the organization.

“Lori is such a great listener. She is not the most vocal person in a meeting, because she’s busy listening to the various points of view,” Horning said. “When she does speak, however, everybody in the room pays attention, because they know she’s heard the conversation from every angle and is making an informed decision or recommendation.

“We’re excited to have her leading our association over the next year,” he said.

Pavlicek, meanwhile, said she is honored to be serving as president in this, the 50th year of the organization. “This year we will be celebrating Oregon Aglink, which has been 50 years in the making,” Pavlicek said. “I’m honored to be selected as president and look forward to serving the organization in the upcoming year and beyond.”

Keith Nantz: For the Greater Good

The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is one that rings true for Central Oregon rancher Keith Nantz. Actively involved in several organizations, his commitment speaks volumes about who he is as a person. As does a saying Nantz looks at every day, which is posted on his wall. “There’s a quote by Zigg Ziglar that goes ‘You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want,’” says Nantz. A phrase that, for Nantz, goes hand in hand with his belief that his biggest purpose, and everyone’s purpose, should be to help other people. With this motivation, Nantz gives back in a variety of ways.

He is chairman of the National Young Cattlemen’s Conference and the National Young Beef Leaders Committee, president of the North Central Livestock Association, an executive board member for Outdoor Adventures with Military Heroes, and has participated in ABC’s Adopt a Farmer program for two years. Nantz also finished his term as the state Young Cattlemen’s Committee chairman at the end of March. In each position, he is leaving his mark and gaining a lot in return.

One of the most meaningful appointments for Nantz has been his position as chairman of the National Young Cattlemen’s Conference. Earlier this year, he spent nine days touring the nation’s beef industry with peers he had just met. “That’s the biggest thing that really struck home with me,” says Nantz, “I started that tour not knowing anybody, and by the end you become good friends.” As tradition goes, at the end of this annual conference the group selects a chairman to lead them and that person is given the Max Deets Leadership Award. For Nantz, who was selected for his outstanding leadership in the cattle industry, winning this honor was “very daunting, rewarding and humbling.”

An experience that’s similar to his involvement with Outdoor Adventures for Military Heroes, a local nonprofit that serves U.S. combat veterans. As the name suggests, the group takes these veterans on outdoor excursions within the state of Oregon. Retreats that are often therapeutic and always rewarding, especially for Nantz. “I’m a huge patriot, and giving back to veterans is hands-down the biggest reward that I’ve had,” says Nantz, “we take them fishing and hunting and seeing what it does for them is indescribable.”FullSizeRender

Impact is very important to Nantz, who has also been part of ABC’s Adopt a Farmer program over the past two years. Last year he was paired with Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School in Yamhill, and this year he was paired with Harvey Scott School in Northeast Portland. For Nantz, engaging kids in where their food and fiber come from has been very fulfilling. “I really, really enjoy the interactions I have with the kids, especially those who have had little interaction with food production,” Nantz says. In particular he enjoys hearing their questions, because it gives him a good sense of where they’re at and how to interact with them more. It also helps Nantz prepare for field trips, especially those with his class at Harvey Scott School. “I can guarantee one or none of them have seen a cow and to see their excitement, it invigorates me and gets me excited to share with them,” says Nantz.

These, and all of his other leadership positions, are ones that he attributes to skills developed in 4H and FFA participation growing up. “I was very involved with 4H and FFA, that’s probably where I got the biggest start or passion,” says Nantz. Participation in 4H and FFA overlapped for Nantz, who started 4H in fourth grade and added FFA at the start of his freshman year of high school. After graduation, he went on to become state FFA vice president.

While 4H and FFA were big in guiding Nantz toward leadership roles, they also served as starting points for his interest in agriculture and ranching. After high school he spent two years at Eastern Oregon University, followed by four years fighting fires full time with the U.S. Forest Service. During this time, his interest in agriculture never waned. In fact, it grew. While with the U.S. Forest Service, Nantz helped friends raise cattle and run their feedlot. It was then that he began to put a plan in place for what he really wanted to do, raise cattle.

IMG_0939“I’ve wanted that since I was very young, I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy I guess,” says Nantz.

His last year of fighting fires was 2005, and then Nantz got involved with Young Farmers and Ranchers and the USDA’s FSA program. The latter allowed him to buy a few cows and lease some land, and the rest took off from there. “In 2008, John Dillon came to the ranch I was working at, and through several conversations we decided to start a partnership. He had some land and I had some cows,” says Nantz. Today, they run about a hundred cows and raise hay at Dillon Land and Cattle Co. in Dufur, Ore.

Being a first generation rancher is a unique position to be in, but it’s allowed Nantz to give even more to the industry he loves. “To start from scratch, it’s been very, very interesting and challenging at times but a blessing,” says Nantz, “I don’t have a mentor or anyone I can call and talk to. I try to be progressive.” Through these efforts, he’s helped Dillon Land & Cattle Co. start a management intensive grazing program that allows grass and forage to come back, promotes more photosynthetic activity, helps the soil and helps the calves gain better. Nantz is also working on a program that would trace beef all the way through to retail cuts, via a barcode generated from a computer chip placed into an EID tag. The goal is to have the consumer scan the barcode and be able to learn how and why they raise cattle, and then learn more.

All efforts that spring from how Nantz lives his life, driven by a genuine desire to help other people and continually inspired by his favorite Zigg Ziglar quote. For Nantz, the effects of his actions are his greatest reward. “Seeing someone accomplish their goals and be successful, and knowing I’ve been even a little part of that is very rewarding for me,” says Nantz. It’s an attitude that keeps him striving to make a positive difference in the lives of others. An attitude, and a way of life, that is forever dedicated to the greater good.

 

Growing Oregon’s Future with JD Ranch

By Heather Burson

The Adopt a Farmer program has made a name for itself connecting middle school science students with where their food and fiber comes from. This is accomplished in a variety of ways that all stem from two connection points. Field trips to the farm and farm visits to the classroom. Together, these connections build the most important connection of all, the one between farmer or rancher and student. It’s a connection that begins on the field trip, blossoms in the classroom and extends from there. An experience that Jeff Kuhn, of JD Ranch, and his niece Stacey Kuhn have been proud to witness as participants this year.

“Just the knowledge of our industry has grown, and their curiosity of the industry has grown, and they’ve latched onto it and they really like it,” says Jeff, “they’re pulling it all together from the field trip to the classroom, they’re figuring it out.”

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Last fall Jeff and Stacey hosted 206 sixth grade students, from Diana Collins’ class at Robert Gray Middle School, to their 2,000 acre ranch on nearby Sauvie Island. Students were able to get the lay of the land, check out some of the equipment and see how JD Ranch produces a variety of crops. Among these were cattle, JD Ranch has a little over 100 head that are part of a cow/calf operation, and chipping potatoes used to create Tim’s Cascade and Kettle Brand potato chips. The group also included adults, helping the program’s message spread further. “On the field trip we had a bunch of adults, chaperones, and they were more blown away than the kids were,” says Jeff. Diana agrees, adding that “They were mesmerized by what the students were learning.” Fast forward to February and it was time for their first classroom visit.

Jeff and Stacey were met with recognition and enthusiasm, as students recalled the field trip and asked lots of questions about the ranch. “That was very rewarding for me, that they remember coming out to the farm and then recognized me and had questions for me,” says Jeff. Students remembered several things from their day there, the cattle, potatoes, potato chips, the shed where potatoes are stored, the sprayer and more. Potatoes were one of the things that made the biggest impression, especially for those who took one home. One student shared that he “took a potato home, named it Fred and ate it raw.” Another student was excited that she took one home and made French fries. Their awareness had grown, and this was even more evident in the questions they asked.

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Simple questions, such as how many acres JD Ranch grows on, led to more critical questions like “if it’s a cow farm, why are there potatoes too” and “are potatoes GMO?” Students learned that it’s important to diversify, that there are few true GMO crops, and that methods like crossing and breeding are also used to create different kinds of things. Their questions also led to other kinds of links, like the one between farm and consumer. One of Stacey’s favorite moments was from a girl who just learned that JD Ranch’s potatoes are graded on color. Only a little green, caused by sunburn, or black, caused by bruising or a bug, is allowed. In fact, Tim’s Cascade only allows JD Ranch five percent green within a quarter million pounds of potatoes a day. Upon hearing this, the girl said that must be why there are green chips and some consumers may see those and think ‘I don’t want to buy from that company again.’ A response that impressed Stacey. “She made that connection and that was really neat,” Stacey says.

Next, Stacey linked back to the classroom and their recent studies of evolution. A soil science major in college, she was excited to share her knowledge of what soil is made of and how soil evolves. “I’m really passionate about it, I get really excited about it,” says Stacey. Students learned about the soil’s different components, gravel, sand, silt, clay and organic matter, and how to observe these layers in the soil around them. Gravel feels coarse, sand feels gritty, silt feels like flour, and clay feels sticky. They also learned one of Stacey’s favorite facts that a past professor of hers imparted, that one cubic inch of soil contains over a billion living things. “You’re stepping on that every day, think about that!” Stacey says.

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She also talked about the Missoula flood, comparing its size to the Seattle Space Needle, and its deposits of soil throughout Oregon and the Willamette Valley. Students learned that 200 feet of fertile top soil, from Montana, Washington and Idaho, was deposited in Oregon, with sand, silt and clay deposited from Portland to Eugene. The flood’s effects, the Washington state scablands and erratic rock deposits, impressed students. One boy asked how scientists knew one of the rocks was from Canada, and learned that its composition was different than the soil around it. This got him thinking about how other geographic features were formed, such as the Grand Canyon.

These are the types of connections that happen every day in an Adopt a Farmer classroom, and they’ll continue to happen in this one. Something Diana is excited about as they move forward. “I was really delighted with how much expertise Farmer Jeff and Stacey brought to our classroom, she says, “they totally went above and beyond my expectations.” Two more classroom visits will follow and perhaps another field trip. All of them, opportunities to grow Oregon’s future as one that’s more harmonious with agriculture. “I hope they have more of an open mind about Oregon agriculture in general. With all of these bills being proposed…I hope they think about how it will affect farmers, I hope they understand it more, and I hope they want to be a part of it,” says Stacey. In turn, she looks forward to learning more about her students and “what issues are important to them now, because they’ll be the ones driving the market.” Adds Diana, “I really hope that they are proud of where they come from and know that their local farmers work very hard and we need to support them and trust and believe in the work they do.”

 

Building Connections at Wigrich Farms

By Heather Burson

In just four years, the Adopt a Farmer program has seen its numbers quickly grow and expand. Three farmer/teacher pairs the first year, nine pairs the second year, 18 pairs the third year and 37 pairs in its current year. These numbers are just part of the equation. There are many components to Adopt a Farmer’s success, the most important one being the connection between farmer, or rancher, and student. This connection unites math and science lessons with real-world ag applications, and an awareness of where their food and fiber comes from. Both are key reasons why Joe Fitts of Wigrich Farms and Mara Burke of Calapooia Middle School became participants this year.

For Fitts it’s about “being able to share farming with people who may not even know they have an interest in farming.” He looks forward to seeing the genuine curiosity that comes when kids or parents get interested and he’s the one who got them interested in it. A great match for Burke, who was excited for the opportunity to bring her kids into a new environment. “It’s really important to get my students outside, especially into environments where they can see how science relates to the real world,” says Burke. From the moment Burke first visited the farm last summer, it was easy to see these connections and how they’d make a good match.

The two began planning a field trip that would highlight the farm and connect it with the current class curriculum. Burke’s students were going to participate in a national contest called “ExploraVision,” where they would pick a piece of technology and predict what it would look like in the future and how they could improve it. This became the lens through which all of the farm’s field trip stations would be viewed. Oregon curriculum requirements also include an engineering design project, so it was decided that all of the farm’s field trip stations would feature some type of farm machinery as a tie-in. A few months later, on a bright and warm early October day, Burke and her 31 eighth graders arrived at Wigrich Farms for an exciting field trip.

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For the first station, students joined Fitts at the edge of the farm’s 120-acre hazelnut orchard. Each student received a bag of raw hazelnuts to snack on while he shared the farm’s history and some interesting hazelnut facts. Many questions followed, and from those came a discussion about hazelnut paste, what hazelnuts are made into, how they’re formed, how they’re harvested and more. “There were a lot of ‘What’s that?’ questions, and then from that there were a lot of follow-up questions and it was great to see them connect the dots,” says Fitts. Then the students were treated to a look at the harvest in action. The sweeper had swept several straight rows of debris mixed with hazelnuts, so the real draw was seeing the harvester sort out the hazelnuts from the debris. Students were most impressed by the amount of hazelnuts Wigrich Farms harvests per acre per year, approximately two tons or about 4,000 pounds.

After that it was on to a second station for a look at an irrigation machine with Leo Yakis of Valley Fab Corp. Yakis explained the different features of the irrigation machine, from its 1,500 foot hose to the pressure pump that allows it to shoot water 200 feet in each direction. For the students, the most impressive part was hearing about the technological advances that had been made.

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“Some of their questions showed a lot of insight. I think at Leo’s station they were immediately able to draw the connection, what it takes to irrigate and how current technology makes it easier for a farmer,” says Fitts.

Students learned that an irrigation machine’s computer is equipped with a cell phone that can text a farmer its status, can text them when it comes in for the day or can text them if it has a problem. The fact that the irrigation machine could also be started and stopped via cell phone was something students found fascinating. This led into a third station, completing the day with a look at some of the farm’s machinery, including a tractor that has the capability to drive itself and is equipped with newer GPS technology.

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Out of all the moments from the field trip, it’s easy for Fitts to pick his favorite. “I get a lot of satisfaction from sharing with them and seeing that interest reciprocated,” says Fitts. Lunch time conversations provided the perfect opportunity, focusing on farm technology and leading into what we might see in the future. Students thought that hazelnut trees would be genetically manipulated to produce bigger or smaller hazelnuts. They also predicted that irrigation machines would be bigger, wouldn’t have to move or would move themselves, and would know what crops needed water. All were concepts these students took back into the classroom. “This first field trip inspired students working on ExploraVision, it was some real good bonding for them, both on the field trip and after,” says Burke.

Connections like these are just the beginning, as the rest of the school year includes classroom visits from Fitts and perhaps another field trip to Wigrich Farms. Each interaction with students will help build the next generation’s experience with agriculture, something that isn’t lost on Fitts. “I hope that they’re a lot more informed about Oregon agriculture. Whether or not they join the industry, they’ll be community leaders and voters and to some extent they will shape the environment my kids are working in,” says Fitts. Burke shares his hope, and each of them are excited for what comes next in their Adopt a Farmer partnership. “It’s something that I look forward to. It’s not like one more job, it’s fun for me,” says Fitts of the experience. Adds Burke, ““I really appreciate the opportunity and look forward to planning the next steps.”

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