After two years with Oregon Aglink president Fred Geschwill, the office will pass to Abisha Stone through the next year. Her work with the executive committee has included some strategic planning sessions and the updated vision and mission statement on the Oregon Aglink website.
Stone is the economic development manager for Yamhill county at SEDCOR, the Strategic Economic Development Corporation, which also serves Marion and Polk counties. SEDCOR contracts with the counties and some towns in them to support traded sector business and keep them healthy and growing. That can look like connecting them with resources at a city, state, or county level, whether that means helping a business access a rural tax abatement program for industrial development or energy incentives through PGE to help pay for new equipment.
“Most partners don’t know [these resources] exist or how to access them,” says Stone.
The complex network of funding and savings can help businesses stay afloat, but only if they’re able to navigate the system. That’s where Stone comes in.
She enjoys helping business owners like farmers or processors bridge the gap between their current business and available resources, including business-to-business connections. For example, the Yamasa soy sauce company in Salem had come to SEDCOR about finding hard red wheat to use in their product. Stone helped connect Yamasa with a local farmer who found a strain that could grow well in the valley. The company now has a local contract with that farm to grow the wheat, creating a reliable local source where they can also work out a better price.
Stone grew up surrounded by citrus, avocado, and strawberry farms in Southern California: “I was surrounded by it my whole life and saw it as part of the world around me.” In her twenties she first encountered the food manufacturing side of agriculture at Truitt Brothers, and later she served as the vice president of operations at Marion-Polk Foodshare.
Her time with Marion-Polk Food Share and collaborating with the Oregon Food Bank meant a deep dive into the local food supply, working directly with growers and distributors to figure out how to manage large donations like a million pounds of frozen corn from NORPAC. Through her work with the food bank she met Molly McCargar of Pearmine Farms, who got her involved with the Oregon Aglink board of directors.
So far, Stone’s favorite part of working with Oregon Aglink has been that same sort of big picture thinking.
For instance, she’s enjoyed “being part of developing the future structure of the organization, identifying what direction that we’re going to take.” This has led to some key questions for Stone: “What messaging are we providing? How do we provide support to our members? How do we stay structurally sound?”
She’s also a big fan of broad-reaching educational campaigns like the Crop ID signs that Oregon Aglink helps distribute every year. “It reaches everyone so easily,” says Stone, “It’s accessible by everyone and it provides such a quick education that doesn’t complicate things. It just is, and that’s really beautiful.”
Along with these programs, Stone hopes to bring her current approach at SEDCOR to the members of Oregon Aglink. Speaking of those state and federal programs for managing current crises like the pandemic and wildfire recovery, Stone says “we’re seeing short-term funding that has the ability to make a long-term impact.”
“When you have large opportunities in front of you, and we don’t come together and identify ways to use those to our greatest deepest benefit, it’s a huge loss,” she says.
“We can rise together, support one another, become more engaged with our local supply chains, and ultimately have a deeper strength in our local economy when we’re faced with disasters like this in the future.”
By Allison Cloo