Tag: adopt a farmer

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.”
 

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Oregon Aglink

geoff horningEven simple change can be difficult. I had a friend in college who simply couldn’t function if she didn’t have a specific type of pen to write with. Perhaps she was onto something, as today she’s one of the most successful persons I know both professionally and personally.

How difficult is change? I just texted her to inquire about her pen of choice. She sent me back a photo of her holding that same pen. Some things change, and some things stay the same. I can’t help but laugh at this little idiosyncrasy even today.

Now imagine changing a brand that is 50-years-old and has name recognition throughout the industry. It’s not a decision that comes lightly, or without more than a few conversations. It took us nine years of discussions before we pulled the trigger, but times are changing, and so are we.

At Denim & Diamonds, ABC President Molly McCargar announced to the more than 550 present that the Agri-Business Council of Oregon is now officially doing business as Oregon Aglink.

Why? While the decision is complex, the answer is fairly simple.

When the Agri-Business Council of Oregon was founded in 1966, our industry was still revered by most people, even those who live in Portland, Eugene and Salem. They may not have understood natural resources, but they appreciated and respected the work that was being done. Even in urban settings, being a farmer or rancher was a very noble profession. Agri-business was a term universally respected.

Today? Outside of natural resource circles, not so much.

Agri-business is looked at through a lens of distrust by most Oregonians. Research conducted a couple years ago by the Agri-Business Council of Oregon showed that those in urban centers trusted the individual farmer, but agri-business was not trustworthy, and in fact was deemed as corrupt and almost evil.

Now imagine being members of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. Our spokespeople are the very farmers and ranchers who are universally beloved and respected. Yet, when representing a link between producers and the consumers – the name of the organization was getting in the way of the message.

The Adopt a Farmer program provides our industry with an awesome opportunity to have in-depth conversations with students, teachers and parents. Many of the conversations revolve around pesticide application, the debate surrounding GMO technology and the safety of our food. The depth of their questions are sincere. Rarely with a hint of malice. They just want to be informed.

More and more people want to know where their food and fiber comes from, how it was produced, and even the famous Portlandia skit isn’t too far off. Some do want to know what the name of their chicken is that they’re about to eat. When having that conversation the board of directors decided it’s time to soften our presentation. We want to be that trusted link for the consumer to come to. We want to be that comfortable pen that you can’t live without.

We are the Oregon Aglink.

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Keeping Pace with a Changing World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a BIG Chicago Cubs fan. For those who don’t know much about them, they are the loveable losers of Major League Baseball. The history of the Cubs rivals few others in professional sports. Wrigley Field celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, and I got to visit the iconic field for the first time that same year. Wrigley hasn’t changed much at all in the past 100 years, some minor upgrades, but the walls of the Friendly Confines have remained much the same. At the end of the season in 2014, they began remodeling those historic walls, much to the dismay of die-hard Cubs fans. The new owners had decided it was time for a facelift, they needed something to attract new players and fans with the hopes of finding the right formula for a winning team. Folks in Chicago’s North Side were NOT happy, resisting it in many ways. You just can’t mess with the nostalgia and history of Wrigley Field.

Yet, as fans entered the stadium this spring and as the season went on, die-hard fans, many of them generational season ticket holders, warmed up to the change and began to embrace it. It also helped that the team had a great season, making it to the October playoffs. The Cubs won their first EVER division pennant at home. It took over 100 years of baseball for this new historical event to occur, and it happened within the NEW walls of the Friendly Confines. The second phase of Wrigley’s upgrade began at the end of the 2015 season, and fans couldn’t be more excited. They realized the change isn’t drastic, the Cubs and its history will still remain, all while moving the team forward to the future. (It’s just too bad that Doc didn’t get his prediction right in “Back to the Future,” maybe he meant Cubs win in 2016!)

What’s my point you ask? How does this pertain to ABC? Well friends, in November I had the privilege of announcing a new change for our organization. After 50 years as The Agri-Business Council of Oregon, we will now be doing business as Oregon Aglink! Why the change? As the Agri-Business Council of Oregon has continued its mission – through Road Crop Signs, television and web campaigns, and our most popular Adopt a Farmer program – one thing has become clear. The term Agri-Business raises eyebrows, and creates confusion and misconceptions among many who are unfamiliar with the term and the industry. Agri-Business Council of Oregon is still who we are and, while our history as an organization is rich and full of nostalgia, it’s time for a facelift and a bit of an update. We need to keep pace with our ever-changing world. Our priorities and our mission will continue to be the same. The only change will be our new name and logo. It is our hope that these changes will help us continue our efforts to unite all of Oregon agriculture and positively connect with our urban neighbors.

Change is challenging, those with long history often have the hardest time adjusting, and that’s OK. While it may be difficult at first for the diehard fans, it’s what’s important and necessary to attract new players and grow our support across the state, in both our urban and rural communities. We appreciate all of our members, and we hope that you will continue to support us in the years to come. So join us, embrace the change and let’s all help keep Oregon Rooted, Green and Vital!!

Molly McCargar's Signature - Cropped

 

 

 

 

Molly McCarger, Pearmine Farms

Member Q&A: Keith Nantz of Dillon Land and Cattle Co.

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1) How did you get involved with the Adopt a Farmer program?

I got involved with the Adopt a Farmer program during the 2013-2014 school year. It actually started through the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and other groups that partnered together for the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” assembly at Yamhill-Carlton Middle School last year. I was one of the speakers, and one thing led to another and I had the school out for a field trip. It was really fun to be involved with.

2) What was your first impression of the program and how has that evolved?

The biggest thing I got out of it was the ability to tie into what they were learning in school and apply that to real life. I’m an avid reader, but applying it to real life is big. Being able to tie agriculture to economics and the business side is important. . I’ve talked about cows, nutrition and diet with my current class, and that led back to math and biology. It was perfect, you could really see the proverbial light bulb go off.

3) Who have you been paired with and what has it been like?

I was paired with Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School in Yamhill last year, and this year I was paired with Harvey Scott School in Northeast Portland. Coming to a ranch was different than what they’d seen. There’s a disconnect from the east side of the state to the west. For those in an urban environment, to come to where the closest neighbor is a mile away, that’s pretty daunting for them. Their demographic is very, very urban and most haven’t been out of the city before so that’s been a big change. Also they have no basis (for agriculture), whereas some at Yamhill-Carlton did. Yamhill-Carlton is closer to ag even though they’re still relatively urban. My Northeast Portland class has asked lots of questions, and I’ve been involved with them in a different way. It’s fun to have that interaction.

4) When did you know you wanted to keep participating?

There was an ‘aha’ moment on the field trip last year. I was talking to the kids about the cow in the chute, and talking about its nutrition and diet, and one kid says ‘we’ve been talking about that in my math and biology class.’ That intrigued me so much, you could see them putting the puzzle pieces together. That’s when I saw it was making an impact.

5) How has your second year been different than your first year?

It’s a different audience. With Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School, some had exposure to agriculture and some didn’t. This year’s class, Harvey Scott School, they are very, very removed from it and questions from them are quite a bit different than ones from Yamhill-Carlton. It’s also been more one-on-one with this teacher. Carlos brings a lot of excitement to the program, and that’s been a lot of fun for me as well. He seems to be more engaged and it’s been a very fun process.

6) How important is it to educate others about Oregon agriculture and how has this program helped?

The education piece is pivotal, I think that’s the one piece we’re lacking in this industry. Especially with this age group, because they’re vulnerable and open to ideas. It’s absolutely vital to show where our food comes from, and that as agriculturists we’re the first environmentalists. If we don’t sustain our land, we go out of business. Telling our story is the education piece and, since we’re busy 24/7 and 365 days a year, this program opens that door. It’s a forum to allow that process to happen, instead of someone like me having to design and put it together. It’s a platform we have built and continue to grow, and that is absolutely incredible and very crucial from the producer side, and it’s very, very important.

7) Where have you seen the most growth in attitudes and impressions of Oregon agriculture?

With Oregon cattlemen’s associations. Cattle are now the number one agricultural impact, and there are a lot of gaps. We need to educate the public, we need to be involved more and by doing that it has been very rewarding. With programs like the Adopt a Farmer program, we have started to see more forward progress.

8) What has been the most rewarding aspect of participating in this program?

I think sharing information with the kids has been the most rewarding. Listening to the kids and forming an answer they’ll understand has been very challenging but very fun. I enjoy the one-on-one conversations and opening their eyes to a whole different world.

9) What impact do you hope these relationships will have on the future?

The biggest impact I’d like to see is on the political side. For our society to see how important agriculture is, so that they’ll dig deeper and help us produce more quality food for our society.

One of the biggest things is the education piece. Ag is very labor intensive and we don’t have a lot of time, so then we find ourselves battling politicians who are making laws who don’t understand the importance of what we do and how we do it. Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now when kids become voters, hopefully they’ll understand how important agriculture is and how they can continue to have cheap food that’s sustainable across the board. Most are four, five, and six generations removed, and don’t understand the basis of that reality. It’s not an overnight thing, but it can happen in the long run.

10) Would you recommend this program? Why?

I absolutely recommend this to all Ag producers from all commodities. With the generational gap and the importance of education, there’s a huge gap between where food comes from and how it’s raised. It’s about being transparent and showing the world we’re doing things right. This program gives us a platform to share our story that isn’t always available. It’s very important to jump in and be involved.

 

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.”

 

War of the Words

geoff horning“You should be ashamed of yourself for caring more about the cows in Asia than the hardworking people in Portland.”

That is the PG version of an anonymous voicemail I recently received from somebody who was upset with my benign quote in an NPR interview. The focus of the interview was the impact of the labor strife at West Coast ports on agriculture. My sin, verbatim: “The problem with the hay component is that the dairies or the beef producers or whoever wants that hay and straw in the Asian market – they have animals they need to feed. And if their customers are not receiving their product, they’re going to start looking for other avenues to get that product.”

I suspect that the person who took the time out of their day to look up my phone number and place the call was less concerned about agricultural practices, and more concerned with her job, or that of somebody close to her. But, that’s not always the case.

Molly McCargar, current ABC president, was asked to be a farmer’s voice in the most recent GMO labeling initiative that was voted down in November. During the campaign, her credibility was repeatedly chastised by opponents despite the fact that she is a multi-generation farmer. Late night hang ups and death threats were popular ploys as well.

Whether it’s a labor strife, GMO legislation or numerous other issues facing Oregon agriculture, the common thread with the heightened level of anxiety is the response to a reactionary discussion. Rarely does this level of vitriol come from a proactive engagement. That’s why as an industry, it’s imperative that we have ongoing conversations with our urban neighbors.

Every industry is vulnerable to crisis, but few generate the passion that agriculture does. Everybody eats and more people every day want to know where their food comes from and the measures taken by the producer to ensure that the food is safe.

The advent of the internet has made it easy for everybody to find information that fits their preconceived notions. The days of playing ostrich are gone. We are an industry in crisis. Without a proactive crisis communication plan Oregon’s producers risk more than just a damaged reputation, but urban-based legislation that will negatively impact their bottom line.

The basic steps of effective crisis communication are not difficult, but they require advance work to minimize damage. The slower the response, the more damage is incurred.

The Agri-Business Council of Oregon is trying to do its part. We communicate with our urban neighbors on several different platforms, but our most effective conversation with long-term results lies within the Adopt a Farmer program.

While the focus of the program is to emphasize the critical scientific components that allow producers, regardless of production method, to feed the world, the ancillary benefits of the program are the relationships forged with an impressionable audience. It’s much easier to have a conversation with students open to learning than it is with adults who have preconceived opinions that are often inaccurate. The program is being received in such a positive light that Susan Duncan, a recently retired Beaverton science teacher of more than 30 years wrote us in a letter:

“The Adopt a Farmer Program has been the highlight of my career, both in the experience of teaching and the years I spent providing environmental education. It is a partnership between teachers and farmers who understand how important it is that students learn observation skills and economics, as well as problem solving and engineering.”

The Adopt a Farmer program is touching lives and leaving an impression. Each spring we start recruiting producers who would be interested in being “adopted.” To learn more about the program feel free to contact me, and also take a moment to watch this video: http://oregonfresh.net/videos/adopt-a-farmer/. As an industry we have to become more proactive in telling our story. We represent the most important industry to the human race and the best people in the world. It’s time that got more recognition. Please help me by speaking up and telling your story.

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Geoff Horning

President’s Journal: Oregon Agriculture is About Teaching

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrowing up on the farm I worked every summer starting around age 12, doing things like driving combine, tractors, moving irrigation pipe, or dumping cherry buckets; growing a variety of crops and being a part of the process. I never knew anything different. To me, it was not just a way of life but common knowledge. I could tell the difference between a perennial ryegrass field and tall fescue while flying by at 65 mph on the freeway, without needing a sign to identify it. To those of us in agriculture, these kinds of things seem like obvious common knowledge. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that there’s no such thing. Unless it’s a shared experience, it’s not common at all.

With less than two percent of the U.S. population farming, it’s no wonder it gets harder to have conversations about the production of these products. The more people are removed from what was once a shared experience, the larger the disconnect gets with each new generation. My first glimpse of disconnect, or the lack of common knowledge between urbanites and food production, was when I was about 21 years old. While visiting my sister in California her friends were asking about the farm. As I was telling them about what we grow, one young man asked if the broccoli grew on trees. It seemed like such an odd question, I blurted out such an obvious “Duh, no” kind of response that I felt was required. How could this guy not know how broccoli is grown? For him, it just appeared in the store with no story or explanation behind it. This was 20 years ago and if I knew then what I know now, I would have taken a much different approach to my response.

As I moved through college I bumped into this disconnect over and over again. And each time I was surprised at how little people knew about where or how their food and fiber was produced. I never took the time or opportunity to teach at each of these occurrences, oftentimes I felt myself defending false stories instead. After graduating from college with a health education degree I was ready to head off and change the world teaching and coaching. I knew how to teach about health and coach volleyball. So how was it that I didn’t do the same for the lifestyle I grew up with? Looking back I guess I always thought I didn’t need to. Someone else was there to do it for me. I never intended to end up where I am today.

After several years of coaching and teaching middle and high school age kids I decided to “retire” so I could stay at home with my (at the time) two girls. My dad asked me if I’d be interested in doing the books for the farm part time. Now, 10 years later, my part-time bookkeeping has become full-time farmer with the unique opportunity to continue teaching. Today, rather than blurt out responses making someone look stupid or getting defensive the way I used to, I teach. I share everything about the farm and all that goes into it, hiding nothing. I know that if it’s not me telling our story then it’s someone else trying to tell it for us, and a lot of good information can get lost along the way.

There are many opportunities to get involved and share your story. One of the easiest is by participating in Oregon Aglink’s Adopt a Farmer program. This program is especially important to all of our farms and their future because these kids ARE the future. The future consumer, policy maker, engineer, plant breeder, accountant, banker, truck driver, restaurant owner and the list goes on. These are just a few of the types of careers that we depend on. And we hope that what they learn about our operations, what it takes to get food to people’s plates and that it doesn’t just magically appear in the grocery store, will stay with them for a lifetime. This is why they, and this program, are critical to each farm’s future success. If we all do our part, share our story and teach at every moment provided, hopefully our stories won’t be so critical in the future because we’ve taken the time to make a difference now.

So please join Oregon Aglink and myself in continuing to promote Oregon agriculture and all that it has to offer.

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Molly McCargar

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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