After serving for three years on the executive committee of Oregon Aglink, Fred Geschwill has begun his year-long term as president of the organization. The board of directors and Oregon Aglink members welcomed him at the Annual Meeting this January.
Geschwill owns and operates F & B Farms in Woodburn with his wife Leigh, brother Bill and sister-in-law Heidi. Fred and Leigh have both been active in industry organizations such as the hop and nursery associations, as well as local fundraisers for schools and the Woodburn community. They had first learned about Oregon Aglink and its mission of educating consumers about agriculture in the late 1990s when they attended one of the first Denim and Diamonds award dinners.
“Oregon Aglink seemed to fit right in with what we were already doing,” says Geschwill.
The new president was thinking about his current term before January, though, as current executive director Mallory Phelan and other Oregon Aglink staff have noted. In anticipation of his year as president, he asked Phelan whether he could have a “theme” for his year.
His idea? “Two-way communication.” Learning that goes both ways as farmers get a chance to expand their worlds while teaching people where their food and fiber come from on the farms, ranches, nurseries, and other agricultural operations in the state.
It’s not that Geschwill believes that people in agriculture have more to learn or need to catch up to the rest of the world. Instead, he sees it more as an opportunity that we shouldn’t miss.
Traditional education has its benefits of course– Geschwill graduated from Woodburn High School and attended Chemeketa Community College and Oregon State to earn a crop science degree. His formal education has been useful in running F & B Farms with his brother and their wives after taking it over in the late 1990s. Still, he talks at greater length and more fondness of an early education on the farm.
Fred was named after his grandfather, but the older German man actually went by Fritz. “Big Fritz and Little Fritz” could often be seen together doing chores around the Woodburn farm that grew hops, row crops, and cattle. Fred’s parents even dressed their son in the same overalls as his grandfather.
“It evolved all the way to the point where he would come and pick me up,” says Geschwill, “he would get in trouble because he wouldn’t tell my mom and I had just disappeared out of the yard.” Thank goodness for everyone that it was a disappearance with a happy ending, as Little Fritz was always found later on with Big Fritz just going about the business of farming.
One thing we can take from those early memories of riding around with “Big Fritz” is that the simple exposure to farming and experience of that daily life can have a big impact in the long run.
It’s on this principle of experience and exposure that Adopt a Farmer does its best to give students multiple chances each year to relate to a farmer or rancher and, at least once, visit their operation to see, touch, smell, taste, and hear what agriculture looks like there. Geschwill is a big believer in the Adopt a Farmer program, and is also interested in working with the adult education program that creates opportunities for people to take an educational field trip even if they are well into their own careers.
As part of opening up more lines of communication within agriculture and between rural and urban groups, Geschwill wants to pursue writing letters and opinion pieces for wider audiences outside of Oregon Aglink. While the Capital Press is a possible destination for guest columns, he doesn’t want to limit himself and miss a chance for readers in Portland and college towns to feel connected to agriculture.
Finally, Geschwill says, “I’m really looking forward to getting out with Mallory [Phelan] and meeting people from the rest of the state. I think it’s really important to reach people in all different parts of Oregon.”
“I want to see it engrained in Oregon Aglink as part of its whole ethos,” says Geschwill. “That’s really the number one thing: if I could get that to happen on some level where it’s always a two-way communication I feel that would be the biggest win.”