Tag: ORag (page 2 of 3)

Labels Matter. Unless They Don’t.

geoff horning oregon aglinkMy first reaction was one of relief. Then it was the fear of the unknown and then even a little bit of depression. Of course, the depression may have been a result of the lackluster performance of the Oregon Ducks on the gridiron.

My life changed forever on September 8, 2015. During the previous two weeks I had lost nearly 20 pounds of muscle mass. I felt fine, or so I thought. But, I was shrinking and it was starting to scare me. I was convinced I was dying of cancer. At the urging of friends I decided denial was the incorrect path and went to the doctor.

Good news. It wasn’t cancer. The diagnosis, however, shocked me. I was active, ate modestly healthy and certainly wasn’t obese by any definition. Still, my blood sugar was so high my doctor suspects that if I had remained in denial, they would have found me in a coma within a couple of weeks. The diagnosis: type 2 diabetes, likely triggered by an allergic reaction I had earlier in the year to an antibiotic for a sinus infection.

Though I knew a few people with diabetes, I really didn’t know anything about the disease other than “don’t eat sweets.” Oh, how simplistic and incorrect that statement is.

I’ll be honest. I’d never paid attention to labels before. To me they were all just a marketing ploy. Now, before I purchase anything I’m looking for specific things such as carbohydrates, fiber and sodium. Is it really whole grain, or has it been processed and simply labeled as a wheat product? What’s the serving size? Does it have good fat or bad fat?

I’m lucky. In a very short amount of time I was able to get my diabetes under control through diet and exercise. Still, every single time I eat or drink something I have to pay attention and know these answers. My life literally depends upon it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I’m not alone. There are hundreds of legitimate health reasons why people need to pay attention to the food they consume. The label is an important tool that helps us live healthy and productive lives.

Labels matter. Unless they don’t.

Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent throughout the United States in an effort to ensure our food is labeled if GMO technology is being used. Huh? What? I’m perplexed. Other than fear of not understanding, am I missing something?

In fact, I’m insulted. I need accurate food labels to maintain my health. Telling me it’s a Genetically Modified Organism literally tells me nothing at all. GMO is a term used for a process and not a specific product. It has multiple applications. If I wasn’t informed, I would think that it’s a specific product that I need to watch for. An unscientific study on my Facebook page indicated exactly that. Or worse.

Consumers who don’t want to eat genetically modified foods can already buy non-GMO food, which is clearly labeled and has become a thriving niche industry. Heck, on a recent trip through my local Fred Meyer garden center I stumbled across their marketing of GMO free herbs. Seriously? But a growing chorus says that’s not enough: Critics of GMOs want all food that uses genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as well, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the distinction carries any difference.

In recent weeks, in order to comply with a Vermont law that requires labeling by July 1, major food manufacturers like ConAgra Foods, General Mills and Kellogg’s amongst others announced plans to label food items that have GMOs, despite being opposed to the Vermont legislation. They argue that a federal standard, not a patchwork of state laws, should be the norm.

While I can understand their decision, I disagree wholeheartedly. As somebody who now understands the importance of knowing what’s in his food, a GMO label of any kind is not providing me with any beneficial information and is simply creating an atmosphere of fear at a time when we’re going to need science more than ever to feed the world. The epidemic of scaring people about their food may have larger consequences than the diabetes epidemic sweeping across America.

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Geoff Horning, Executive Director

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.

Farmers and Ranchers: The Eternal Optimists

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m a glass is half full kind of person, the eternal optimist. I will look for the upside of life even at the worst of times. I’ll admit, there have been times where cynicism has snuck into my thinking, and most recently during our current legislative session. It always seems easier to be cynical; reasons are abundant for why one could become a bona fide pessimist. I mean really, why should one really care about finding the good in challenging times? Because the fact is, optimism can create opportunity.

Summer is here and life on the farm is even busier than normal. The spring has been filled with dry weather, early crops and the continued challenge of finding labor to get all the jobs done. While we are all gearing up to harvest, the legislative session is winding down. Many bills are being debated and some are being passed, several of which appear to make doing business, especially farming, an even bigger challenge in Oregon.

I could begin to ramble off the long list of bills making their way to the governor’s desk, but I’d rather not. What I’d rather do is share with you some of why I think our industry continues to survive. Farmers and ranchers, whether they believe it themselves or not, have always been optimists, even when they don’t sound like it. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t still be taking on the challenge each day, season and year. We go to bed each night, expecting good things to happen. We wake up and set our intentions for the day. Some of those intentions are little things, others are much larger. Some days my intention is just to make through the day and I’ll be honest, if I can get the day’s work done and get my kids fed and in bed before 10pm on a summer night, it’s a success. When you read stories about agriculture or press releases about new rules and regulations, ones that make it seem like our jobs just got harder or that what we do doesn’t matter, it’s easy to become cynical. To feel sorry for ourselves. Nobody wants farmers to succeed. Right? We’ve all had the occasional thought. But guess what? People want to be us.

Farmers and ranchers are like rock stars. You’re laughing, but it’s true. We carry ourselves in a different way, one that appears to others as strong and courageous. We stand up tall, smile and engage with people, which makes us appear as confident, optimistic people and others aspire to be like us. Everyone wants to be a farmer. Think about it for a minute. Think about the conversations you have with your urban friends. They probably like to talk about their gardens or chickens with you, wanting to relate, trying to be a farmer. Why do I mention this? Because these are the opportunities, to listen and engage, to share what you do and your love for doing it. These opportunities may seem small and meaningless, but they are far from it.

Like I mentioned earlier, farmers and ranchers set their intentions or expectations every day on the farm. Being intentional helps guide what we bring to the day and the jobs we set out to get done, it helps us focus our time and energy to accomplish the most. There are always setbacks and that’s often when farmers thrive. We are masters of reframing a problem into an opportunity. Problems aren’t solved by complaining about them, so we gather information and data, analyze, create plans A, B and C, and then put one of these new plans into action.

We take an approach from a new angle and get the job done. Even if it means stepping outside of our comfort zone, farmers get it done. Folks in our industry are capable of doing more than we realize, we just take for granted our innate ability to survive, all by just reframing the challenge in front of us. Where pessimists see problems, optimists find opportunities. If you change the way you look at your problems, your problems will change into opportunities to grow. Optimism is contagious, so too is pessimism, which would you rather see grow?

Albert Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking they were created.” Farmers and ranchers are resilient, and I believe it is because we start out our days with the glass half full, the eternal optimists. Hey, and if all else fails, find the humor in any of the most unfunny situations and laugh. Humor can be the antidote to almost every ailment or adversity, it’s either that or exercise. And let’s be honest, I think we all get enough of that every day at work. As the season goes on don’t forget to lighten up and laugh a little, because our optimism will keep Oregon rooted, green and vital!

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Molly McCargar

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.

 

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.

 

Doing More With Less: The Future of Oregon Ag

By Heather Burson

Oregon’s economy, Mexico’s declining farm labor supply and issues at the port all have significant bearing on the future of Oregon agriculture. These issues were the focus at the Agri-Business Council of Oregon’s annual meeting January 22 at the Silverton Wellsprings Conference Center in Woodburn. Three speakers were invited to present their findings, Andres Bergero, VP of Global Trade & FX Solutions at Bank of the West, Diane Charlton, researcher at UC Davis, and Curtis Robinhold, Deputy Executive Director for Port of Portland. Together, they touched on what Oregon agriculture must do to continue to thrive now and into the future.

Their main prognosis calls for several adjustments based on a variety of factors at hand. The current and future state of the U.S. economy being one of them. Bergero shared that overall, the year ahead looks promising. Our unemployment rate is decreasing, consumer debt is lower, the housing market is starting to come back and consumers are getting a boost from lower oil prices. “Consumers have more money to spend, so you can expand what you do,” says Bergero. All of these factors bode well, but the current economic climate is not without its challenges.

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One effect producers will have to contend with is a higher GDP. According to Bergero, this puts importers “in the driver seat,” but leaves exporters scrambling to find techniques to overcome a strong dollar and stay competitive. While importers can expect more from a strong dollar than they could in years past, especially if they’re invoiced in that country’s currency, exporter’s products don’t look as attractive with a strong dollar. Bergero advises reducing costs, considering different terms, and renegotiating. All things that will need to be considered as available labor continues to decline.

Job trends show that labor will continue to be a huge factor and will require an intensified response. Bergero shared a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics graph showing waged agriculture will remain flat while self-employed agriculture continues to decrease. A large part of this trend can be attributed to U.S. agriculture’s dependence on an imported labor force. Charlton and her colleagues analyzed 30 years of data that points to this very conclusion and the need for a change.

“In the 1950’s the farm labor force in the U.S. declined rapidly, and the measure they took in the 50s and 60s was to import (labor) from Mexico,” says Charlton.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, research shows that only two percent of California’s agricultural workforce comes from the U.S. This means the remaining 98 percent is made up of workers from a variety of other countries, predominately Mexico. A fact that presents an alarming situation. According to Charlton’s research, Mexico’s agricultural labor supply is in decline and several trends are responsible. The country itself is plagued by a falling birthrate, an increase in non-ag GDP, more secondary schools, and an increase in border control. With demand for farm labor in Mexico growing, Mexico finds itself in a transition stage, simultaneously exporting and importing farm labor. “Mexico is importing workers from Guatemala at the same time they are exporting workers to the U.S.,” Charlton says. Thus, the U.S. and Mexico are competing for a dwindling supply of available farm labor.

One solution would be to import agricultural workers from other countries not as far along in transition. Yet, Charlton points out that those other countries may reach transition and then we’d find ourselves with the same problem. She notes a few other viable solutions instead, changing cropping patterns, growing less labor-intensive crops, and adapting ag education. The ultimate solution will require a combination of all three.

Changing cropping patterns to grow less labor-intensive crops goes hand-in-hand with increasing the mechanization of agriculture. Both could help fill the void left by a declining agricultural labor supply. Another practice Charlton recommends to help ag do more with less is changing ag education, “looking at different skill sets that we can bring into this industry to help it grow.” Bergero’s presentation points to job sectors that are on the rise, and one of those is technology. Bringing skill sets from these kinds of industries into the mix could be a huge asset to agriculture and its prosperity in years to come. “If we can match those skills to the work, perhaps make them more technical, match them with technologies to make those workers more productive, that can really keep more people in the sector,” says Charlton.

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These recommendations could be what maintains international trade through West Coast ports, now facing issues and shortages of their own in the wake of recent labor strife. Most notably, the loss of Hanjin. “The loss of container service from Hanjin will reduce one of the lower cost avenues for Oregon agricultural producers to get their products to international markets,” says Robinhold. For some Oregon producers, an increase in costs will become the new norm. “They will still be able to export and import, but by container it could require shipping through Seattle, Tacoma, San Francisco and Oakland, and that increases costs to farmers and producers,” Robinhold says. Methods that require less labor and add different skill sets, like those suggested by Charlton, could help make shipping through other ports more affordable. These are the kinds of tools we need to consider as we move forward.

Although challenges like these lie ahead, Oregon agriculture will continue to persevere as it has always done. Making adjustments is just part of the process. Strong dollar or weak dollar, Oregon’s importers and exporters have the tools to weather the storm and stay profitable. Adapting labor and adding new skill sets will be part of this, as will exploring new avenues so Oregon agriculture can continue to thrive. It all boils down to doing more with less, and Oregon agriculture is ready for the challenge.

 

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.

Molly McCargar's Signature - Cropped

 

 

 

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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