Here I go again, my homework is due and I’ve procrastinated once again. As ABC’s president, I am only asked to write four simple stories and so far I am 0 for 3 on turning in my homework early or on time. Maybe the next time I’ll do better? Feels like the story of my life. I find it appropriate to mention my homework tardiness given the start of fall, a new school year, and my lack of motivation and inspiration after a very LONG, HOT and DRY summer. Yet, as I watch and listen to the excitement my kids have for school (it’ll wear off by Thanksgiving I’m sure) I’m slowly becoming inspired and motivated once again.
Their endless possibilities for life, the eagerness to learn and to then think they know everything, only to realize there’s more to be taught and people to be inspired by. Who will they look up to, and see inspiration from? I secretly, ok maybe not so secretly, hope to inspire my girls. They are potentially the next generation of family farmers. Memories of my own school days flood back, and honestly I just hope I can teach them why to turn in homework EARLY! Life is all connected through possibilities, leadership, learning and inspiration, and through ABC, I believe we are working hard to accomplish this each day.
There is a theory that great leaders have a different approach to inspiring. They allow us to see what lies within us, not behind us or before us. They don’t need to be rich, well-educated, or have all of the resources available to them. As a matter of fact, you can have none of these and be a great leader. It’s the WHAT and WHY which are important and the order of how we receive this information from them. Think about this too, what’s our purpose, our cause and belief? We get folks to join us because they believe in what we believe. Let’s test this theory out briefly.
I believe Oregon has the best agricultural community in the world. We produce the highest quality products in the most efficient, sustainable, safest and reliable way. Oregon agriculture is incomparable to anything around the world. Oregon producers are willing to step up and help fill the need to feed hungry communities by donating extra or additional acres of produce to the food bank networks. We love our lifestyle, what we do; who we help and take pride in producing the best that Oregon agriculture has to offer. This makes you feel pretty good about Oregon Ag, doesn’t it? This is WHY people want to buy into and believe in what we do.
The WHAT approach could look a little like this: Farmers and ranchers produce over 250 different commodities grossing nearly $7 billion annually in Oregon agricultural products. We have approximately 35,000 farms and ranches in Oregon and approximately 140,000 jobs are connected to agriculture. All of these facts are great. This is the WHAT of what we do. But how does that really make you feel about Oregon agriculture? Does the cause or belief stand out? How about pride, does it show through in these numbers? Do they inspire you to want to rush out and buy local fruits and vegetables and add to the cause? Probably not.
We need to start thinking a bit differently about our approach to connecting the urban and rural populations. We need to stop telling them WHAT and HOW we do it and instead start with WHY we do it. Inspire them to believe in what we believe in. Perhaps if we took the approach and started with WHY we are and love Oregon agriculture, followed by HOW we do it, then maybe folks will understand the WHAT of it all.
With this model, those who are driven by WHY now have a cause, purpose or a belief and will join for themselves and their beliefs. As they believe in us and our stories, we will continue to succeed as an industry. Are you confused yet? Just remember the why. Why you fell in love with farming, why you stay awake at nights worried about the animals, why you worry about the weather, why you’re at work before dawn and come home after dark, why you get up each and every day hoping to inspire the next generation with your love for what you do.
There are three quotes I have heard repeatedly over my educational career. They are from well-known, very different, yet all very influential, inspiring leaders. I hope they inspire you a little.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. “ –Nelson Mandela
“Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” –Albert Einstein
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” –John F. Kennedy
As students head back to school for another year of learning, I would like to encourage you to also keep learning, to lead, to inspire, or be inspired.
For those participating in the Adopt a Farmer program or those who are sharing their farm in other ways, know you are all great leaders of our industry and are a key instrument to the success of keeping Oregon agriculture Rooted, Green and Vital.