By Allison Cloo
Seeking to expand upon the successful outreach model of Adopt a Farmer, Oregon Aglink began partnering with other groups in 2017 to create field trip experiences for adults to visit farms, meet professionals, and get answers outside of online echo chambers.
An initial partnership with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) became “Behind the Seeds”: two field trips funded by OMSI and organized by Oregon Aglink. Portlanders who might normally attend OMSI or its science-centered events could relive the “field trip” experience of their school days and get behind-the-scenes access to the farms growing some of their favorite products. Two trips, one to Sauvie Island and another to a hop farm in Mt. Angel, were a chance for farmers to field some tough questions they might not normally hear during a middle school field trip.
Pesticides? Organics? Pollinators? Genetic engineering? If participants came with buzzwords from blogs and advertising, the farmers were prepared—in large part because the daily experience of farming is a wealth of information to which the average consumer has little access.
Regarding the tough questions, Jeff Kuhn of JD Ranch knew that some participants may have been trying for a “gotcha” moment. “But they have to try pretty hard to get me,” says Kuhn. “Even if they’ve read a book or two, I’m out on a tractor every day.”
Yet the field trips showed one thing quite clearly: differences in knowledge don’t have to provoke a conflict.
The farmers have approached that knowledge gap with a sense of filling in the missing pieces for participants. Rather than a black and white world of simplified advertising or blogging, farmers presented their expertise in weighing risks and rewards. These trips offered up-close perspectives on why a farmer might need to spray a crop or amend their soil. Participants arrived with at least as many questions as opinions, and the knowledge they took away may be put to good use as they share their information with friends and family.
Seeking to replicate this “ripple effect” of spreading information, a second partnership with Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council (ODNC) has led to Oregon Aglink-organized field trips for adults training in nutrition and dietetics. Beginning with a trip for students last August and one for interns this June, the ODNC-Aglink partnership aims to help the future professionals understand how food production occurs and varies throughout Oregon.
“Connecting future dietitians with farmers makes a lot of sense because their reach will go so far in terms of disseminating information about food,” says Oregon Aglink executive director Mallory Phelan. “Since they are considered experts in nutrition and reach consumers who are conscious of their choices, it just makes sense to help them understand the full story of how food is grown in Oregon.”
Are there plans for future field trips? Phelan says yes. Outreach—to the public, the city, the consumer—has always been a core mission for Oregon Aglink. Field trips with adults and especially professionals whose network of influence extends from family to customer or patient can have an enormous impact on knowledge about food production and attitudes toward farming.