Tag: ag education

Oregon Agriculture Needs to Be More Proactive

geoff horningWhen it comes to being a fan of sports, I’m a pessimist. After 44 years of second place finishes, I expect my heart to be broken. I tend to live the rest of my life, though, as an optimist. A belief that common sense will rule the day. Listening to the political debates and testimony on the 400+ bills in Salem’s “short” session, I’m starting to think that common sense is being thrown out with the baby and the bath water.

Many of the issues have no impact on your ability to produce the food and fiber that are basic needs of everybody, but so many of them have unintended consequences that I fear we’re driving the family farmer out of business.

Oregon Aglink has taken great strides over the past several years to tell your story. Others, such as Oregon Women for Ag, Oregon Ag Fest, Farmers Ending Hunger, to name just a few, are doing a magnificent job of telling your story as well. It’s not hard to find positive publicity for an industry that is still the very foundation of this State.

Are we making progress? Absolutely. If you sit down and have a conversation with the majority of Oregonians I think you’ll find most are very respectful, almost reverent about the lifestyle and important role of local producers.

But (there’s always a but), those same Oregonians typically shrug their shoulders at the issues and challenges facing our industry. It’s not because they are mean spirited or even ignorant. They truly do trust you to feed their family. It has much more to do with the fact that they are so consumed with their busy lives that they don’t take the time to know what’s going on outside of their small community. They don’t care about the things that impact your ability to produce their food and fiber.

What they do learn comes from sound bites and social media. And, guess who has the funding resources and the loudest megaphone to dictate that message in Oregon? It’s definitely not the natural resources community. That leads to poor legislation and a constituency that thinks good things are happening because “it feels like the right thing to do.”

Research conducted by Oregon Aglink is very clear. The general public trusts the farmer more than anybody in the food chain. If I’m out telling your story by myself, you might as well hire a used car salesman to do my job. My credibility with the general public isn’t much better. Why? Because it’s perceived that I’m a hired gun only out for a paycheck. That’s not true, but perception is reality.

The good news is that Oregon Aglink is focused on making you the face of Oregon agriculture. Throughout 2016 we’ll be running a series of television commercials in Portland, Eugene and Medford. The entire focus of the “I am Oregon Agriculture” campaign will be about making a connection with Oregonians that local agriculture is made up of 98 percent family farms. With farm families telling that story.

The Adopt a Farmer Program, now in 47 schools and reaching almost 5,000 middle school students throughout Oregon, was specifically designed with the idea of connecting those students with one particular farmer throughout the school year. An emphasis of the program is putting a focus on the people and families who make up the farm.

Will these programs have instant impact? Probably not. We’ve got to play the long game, but to do that we need all of you to become more proactive. Get involved. Tell your story through us, or through one of the other great organizations that represents you. We have to make you the face of our industry before the family farm becomes extinct.

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.

Molly McCargar's Signature - Cropped

 

 

 

Molly McCargar

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