Growing 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.