While we often point out the important relationship between farmers and teachers in our Adopt a Farmer matches, one of the other important dynamics in the early years was the relationship between farmers and program sponsors.
The field trips and classroom visits at the center of Adopt a Farmer programming couldn’t happen without the farmers who contribute their time and space to middle school classes. However many of the elements that also keep the program running, such as bus funding, activity supplies, and funds for Oregon Aglink staff hours, couldn’t happen without the contribution of sponsors who are willing to ante up for agricultural education.
How do the sponsors hear about Adopt a Farmer? In many cases, it’s the farmers themselves.
Two of our farm matches from the first year, led by Amy Doerfler of Doerfler Farms and Molly McCargar of Pearmine Farms, set up connections with our earliest and now longest-running sponsors of Adopt a Farmer programming. Doerfler helped bring Northwest Farm Credit Services to the table, and McCargar brought the program to Doug Hoffman, then-president and CEO of Wilco.
The long-term relationship between farmers and their financial institutions or cooperatives mean that opinions of one often carry more credibility for the other. In the words of Oregon Aglink executive director Mallory Phelan, “companies end up believing in the programs because their customers are participating.” The willingness of a busy farm to open its gates to a middle school classroom shows that a program like Adopt a Farmer is worth the investment. In the case of NWFCS and Wilco, that’s become a long-term investment that spans more than simply paying for bus trips.
While many fundraising efforts focus on tangible results like the number of buses or activity packages going to students, an essential element of the Adopt a Farmer program is staff guidance and program development. The funding from partners like Wilco or NWFCS helps pay for Oregon Aglink staff to make the farm and school matches work. Pairing a farmer and teacher is only one part of the formula: staff take the time to match activities, coordinate busy schedules, meet the special needs of classrooms and their students, and ensure that farmers have all the support necessary to showcase their operations.
A central message of Adopt a Farmer in recent years is that “farming is a team sport.” There might be one person in the cab of a tractor or combine, but an entire network of people from family, to colleagues, to suppliers, finance specialists, and processors help keep that farm or ranch running. Adopt a Farmer, like Oregon agriculture itself, functions best when those investments of people hours and money reflect, in the words of Phelan, “flexibility and a respect for the people doing the work.”
Whether preparing the ground for planting or spending hours cultivating a new relationship between a farmer and local teacher, the participants of Adopt a Farmer are grateful for the sponsors that keep this unique piece of agricultural education rolling year after year.