Oregon Aglink Blog

“They Don’t Get It”

Posted on January 13, 2020


When was the last time you changed your mind?

I’m not talking about ordering a salad instead of the cheeseburger you wanted or deciding not to attend that social function you were invited to; I’m interested in the last time you shifted your view or perspective.

It’s important to reflect on that question because it’s ultimately what we’re after as an industry from those removed from it: a shift in understanding regarding the practices and methods of Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, fishers, and foresters. 

The number of times I’ve heard some variation of “they don’t get it” from someone in Oregon’s natural resource industry referring to people who live in Portland or Eugene rivals the number I’ve heard (or read) people living in Oregon’s urban areas saying the same thing about their rural counterparts. It’s frustrating for everyone, but what are we doing about it? This disconnect can lessen when we work to better understand one another beyond labels of any affiliations, allegiances, or beliefs. I’d argue both sides are “right” about the other “not getting it.”

We’ve lived in different environments, some for generations, and keep wondering why “the other” doesn’t get it. 

As the years pass, changing our perspective is certainly not something we do with much frequency for many reasons. How often children and adolescents change their mind about their view of the world is in stark contrast with adults. Generally speaking, they are more open to possibility, risk, and accepting of new information to form their worldview.

It’s one reason why the Oregon Aglink board of directors decided to focus our educational outreach efforts through the Adopt a Farmer program specifically in middle school classrooms nearly a decade ago. It’s the long game – these students will eventually be leaders, consumers, and voters in our society and positive experiences on the farm will help shape their understanding.

One of the most effective ways to help people widen their perspective on what agriculture is (or isn’t) happens by giving them a first-hand experience on farming, ranching, and forestry operations. Observing day-to-day activities are unique, foreign, exciting, and impactful for someone who doesn’t live or work in our industry.

If we know tours help people better understand agriculture operations by seeing it firsthand, maybe there’s perspective to gain by visiting Portland or Eugene for a reason beyond a concert, flight, or delivery to the port.

Have you spent time in the city with the intent of better understanding the people – and do so without dreading the traffic, parking, or plethora of bike lanes?

What if the gap in understanding between farm and fork could be lessened by learning more about what our urban neighbors do, where they’re from, and what challenges they face by meeting them where they live and work?

As short session begins in the Oregon legislature, the national presidential election ramps up, and simply in your everyday life, I encourage you to pause and truly consider where someone else is coming from – not make assumptions based on labels but seek to learn what experiences, circumstances, and influences have shaped their perspectives today. Ask questions. Meet up for coffee instead of behind the keyboard. Reflect on how you arrived at your own views and you’ll learn to recognize what plays into how others do the same. While this work can be nuanced and slow, it’s also rewarding and helps build a common ground beyond the silos we so easily operate in. 


Mallory Phelan

Oregon Aglink Executive Director