By Mallory Phelan, Oregon Aglink Executive Director
After listening to stories from my grandma on a 1,300+ mile road trip to Monterey, California recently, I became intrigued about my ancestry. Upon returning to Oregon, I hopped online and started cross checking websites, clicking through generations of my relatives. Come to find out, I am related to one of the founding fathers of the United States! The journey has been one of discovery and surprises, with bits of confusion, and continuing curiosity as I’m eager to know more about the stories of the people who paved the way before me.
The outcomes of my personal genealogical sleuthing have been similar to the work being done in the Oregon Aglink office of unpacking our 300 square foot storage unit with five decades worth of history in many nooks and crannies.
Prior to doing my familial research, I had knowledge of my grandmothers’ maiden names, my paternal grandparents’ roots in the southern United States and of my maternal grandmother’s immigration across the Atlantic at age fourteen. Similarly, the collective memory of the staff at Oregon Aglink knows we were founded in 1966 by Marion T. Weatherford as the Agri-Business Council of Oregon. Beyond that beginning up through about a decade ago, it’s more of a haphazard understanding of the who, where, when and how.
Finding birth and death dates, marriages, and names in my family tree has been similar to learning when various projects the council took on began and ended, how relationships with different organizations around the state were formed, and of course identifying all the people who kept the organization rolling with its mission to grow Oregon agriculture through education and promotion. We’ve discovered that Oregon Aglink has spearheaded promotion for the industry using Portland ad agencies, facilitated grocery store taste testing, appeared on morning news segments, and more. Flash forward to today, when much of our programming is centered on education—Adopt a Farmer, strategic partnerships for adult education, road crop signs, and supporting other organizations with similar end goals.
Another way in which we reflect on the past contributions to Oregon agriculture is through our annual awards presented in November at Denim and Diamonds. We will hear from our Agriculturist of the Year, Marion Ag’s Tom Wimmer about his own history and career, as well as from our Ag Connection award winner, the many voices of the Oregon Dairy Women and their nearly 60 year history! Memory lane can be a place of inspiration—such as the hard work of these award recipients—as well as motivation, such as comes with the unearthing of decades of dedication to our cause.
As we continue to piece together where we came from and who we were as an organization, we are also working on streamlining our current processes and documenting our practices so that future generations can learn from our challenges while building upon our successes. Just like family history can be murky and become clearer with a little digging, so can our understanding of past outreach efforts that may be improved upon or spur new ideas.
Our summer project of moving out of our big storage unit has been completed, albeit with dozens of boxes to still sort through. A huge thank you to Oregon Aglink members Northwest Transplants for helping us shred documents and to Victor Point Farms for the use of their disposal bin! In addition, we would love the input of any members, past or present, to share stories, photos, or documents with us to help fill in the gaps of our organization’s history. We look forward to better serving our membership with a deep gratitude for those who paved the way before us, those who have sustained our efforts, and those currently giving their time, energy, and resources to growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion!