Farm to Fork… or Chopsticks? 

I shared previously about visiting a beef farm in Japan. Over the past few days, I’ve enjoyed some great food, visited more farms and warehouses, traveled from the south end of Japan on the Shinkansen, and now I’m in Tokyo as part of the Governor’s Trade Mission. 

Shinkansen – the “bullet train” in Japan

I always look forward to riding the Shinkansen. Comfortable, easy to navigate through the train stations, and it travels 320 km/hour (200 mph) so I can get where I need to go easily and quickly.

I ate at a “Korean BBQ” restaurant. One of my favorites! The table has a grill in the middle, and the meat comes out raw so that you cook it one piece at a time. The pictures below are all Wagyu beef. Presentation is important here in Japan as you can see. 


The next day, I was taken to dinner at a restaurant owned by one of my customers. It’s “French inspired” he says. It was underground, very cozy, and I loved the deer head on the wall! 


This customer was 3rd generation to run his feed business. He began to import feed from other countries 7 years ago (including grass straw from us!), and also added 4 restaurants to their company. Soon he will be adding a cheese-making factory and I’m excited for him and can’t wait to visit it. 

You might be asking why the restaurants and why the cheese factory… that maybe it doesn’t make sense with the animal feed company. Well, he sells feed to local beef and dairy farms and then purchases the beef to use in the restaurants and purchases the cream from the dairy for his cheese factory! Literally “farm to fork” as we would say in America. Although here in Japan, it’s chopsticks! 

After dinner, we visited an amazing place called Wine and Sweets where his cheese was already being used in the best soufflé I’d ever eaten – hand made in front of me by the owner and baked while I was enjoying a Riesling. Yummmm! 


And yes, they have forks as well. Cheers! 

Beef Farming: Japanese Wagyu

I’m no expert in beef farming, or dairy farming for that matter. I’m almost embarrassed to say I visited dairy farms in China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and camel dairies in United Arab Emirates before I toured my first American dairy farm (compliments of Van Beek Dairy with my then second grader). It’s funny really – when one farms, non-farmers kind of expect us to know all about ALL farming. When I was on a radio interview once the year I was Farm Mom, the host kept asking me about chickens. I didn’t know the answers and he couldn’t figure out why I didn’t know! I said we farmed grass seed, not chickens, and he just shook his head. So while I don’t know a lot about how beef is raised, I sure am thankful for those ranchers and farmers who do. 

Ever heard of Kobe Beef? You probably have, and you probably know it’s also very expensive in America. Kobe is a “brand” of Wagyu beef from the Kobe area of Japan. Wagyu cattle is the breed of beef cow – like Angus or Hereford. 


I was able to visit a 3rd generation beef farmer, which was exciting because I’m a 3rd generation grass seed farmer. His grandpa started the farm, his dad didn’t want it, so now he is the 34-year-old CEO of the 1000-head Wagyu beef operation. 


You might be asking why we are selling them grass straw from Oregon. The short answer is Japan is an island with a large population where there isn’t a lot of land for pasture for their animals. What isn’t cities in Japan, is mainly mountains. In fact, the farm that I visited was on multiple levels – basically built on the side of a mountain, because the flat ground is needed for rice fields or houses. Because the cattle can’t graze on pasture land, they have to import their feed. Because Oregon’s grass seed farmers can’t burn their fields anymore, many choose to have the straw baled. So, basically we are able to export an un-needed product out of Oregon to Japan where it is needed. And, one of my dad’s favorite lines: We turn Japanese Yen into American Dollars. Boom! 

They also use their domestic rice straw, pictured below, as a fiber source in their diets. It’s so interesting to see different ways farmers bale their feed. The “bale type” is totally based on what it’s being used for, the transportation needed to get to its final location, and the equipment that is available. As you can see here with this bale, it’s loosely baled, which means it came from a local farm with a cost-effective piece of equipment. The weight packed into the bale doesn’t really matter if it’s close by and you don’t have to worry about transportation cost, and warehousing space doesn’t need to be maximized. A lot to think about when talking about food and how it’s produced. 

Japanese rice straw in small, round bales


And if anyone is interested, here is a rice straw field that is ready for harvest. They are waiting for the field to dry out so they can harvest the crop. Sounds like Oregon this summer!

Japanese rice field

  Farming around the world is pretty amazing. And while there will always be similarities among the way different farmers in different countries farm, we all make decisions based on the resources or constraints we deal with. So basically, whether I’m in America or in Japan, whether it’s Angus or Wagyu… BEEF, its what’s for dinner.

From Farm to the Far East. Literally. 

I started this blog with this theme in mind: “From the truck shop to the Far East… Loving on Oregon’s Ag.” For the next 7 days, these words couldn’t be more true. I’m just arriving to Japan, and from visiting beef farms to dairy farms to warehouses to ports to attending the Governor’s Reception in Tokyo to meeting with the ATO at the US Embassy, this trip will be an accumulation of so many things I’m proud to be a part of – and I’m excited to share it with anyone reading.

International travel is exhausting, but I’m learning to appreciate what I get to see in this world. Our farm was able to bring in 102 6th grade students from Memorial Middle School just this Tuesday and I was able to have a discussion about Trade on a local level, on a domestic (US) level, and on an international level. I’m not sure how much the sixth-graders wanted to hear that, but I don’t think it’s ever too early to teach the effect and importance of America’s agriculture on the rest of the world. Take a look at the Adopt A Farmer program – it’s a great program to be a part of and oh so needed in today’s society of trying to bridge the urban-rural divide. It was very cool and timely to talk about something I would literally be doing that next day. We talked about what happens to our crops in Oregon after they leave the field – and what is involved when selling internationally, including different currency, exchange rates, cultures, language, and time zones. Enjoy pictures from the field trip and hope you stay tuned for more blogs later this week and next about my trip! 

Farm Safety on the Road: Harvest 2017

Across America, all farmers have at least this in common: farm safety is important. It is important year round. And it’s even more important during harvest when farm equipment is on the road. For us grass seed farmers in Oregon, harvest is literally around the corner. In fact, there are a few fields already cut and awaiting harvest as I type this. By this time next week, we’ll be heavy into grass seed harvest.

Windrowers, or swathers, headed to a field to “cut” the grass.

Across Oregon, mostly in rural Oregon, there is farm equipment on the road every day now, and will be for the next few months. We’re harvesting over 220 crops in Oregon and that’s going to take a lot of farm equipment – big and small – to get seed, feed, fiber and food from the field to ultimately your dinner table (or front lawn!).

So this morning was a perfect time to appear on AM Northwest on KATU as part of the Oregon Seed Council. Nick Bowers of KB Seed (@kb_seed) and I talked about why on-the-road-farm-safety is important, why farm equipment is on the road, and when it’s safe to pass. Watch the video here.

Some tips for motorists from the the farming community:

  • Farmers have as much right to use the roads as the rest of the public.
  • Farmers are simply getting from field to field with their equipment.
  • Slow down; a car traveling at 55 MPH takes only 5 seconds to overtake a machine traveling at 15 MPH if the length of a football field is ahead.
  • Don’t pass within 100 feet of an intersection, bridge, corner or overpass because the equipment may be wider than the roadway and need to use both lanes in those areas.
  • Equipment will need the entire road to turn, either right or left, off the highway.
  • Don’t assume the farmer knows you’re around. He/she may not be able to see in all directions, depending on the type of equipment he’s using.
  • Even if the farmer sees you, he/she might not be able to get off the road right away.
  • Farmers do know they hold up traffic and they will try to pull off the road as soon as they can do so safely.
  • Motorists should not pass farm equipment unless they can see clearly ahead of the equipment. Drivers must also be aware that someone from behind may be trying to pass.

Farmers have an important obligation to use safe practices on the road too:

  • Oregon law requires a slow moving vehicle reflector on any machine that travels the road slower than 25 mph.
  • Edges of equipment should be marked with reflective tape and reflectors.
  • When on the road, equipment should have front lights on and rear spotlights off.
  • Avoid using highways during rush hours, bad weather and at night when they can.

Moral of the story? Caution and courtesy goes a long way when dealing with slow moving vehicles on the roads. Pay special attention during the busy travel and farming seasons to make sure everyone stays safe.  We all have a stake in safety around farm vehicles.  Drivers are counting on farmers to be visible and predictable, and we are counting on them to be cautious so we all make it home safe and sound.

Happy Harvest!

For more information on Oregon grass seed, see here.

For rural road safety from the Oregon Farm Bureau, see here.

For more pictures of farm equipment of the road, see below:

Earth Day from the Farm 

We celebrated Earth Day yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. Oh, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. You get the picture, right? Every day is earth day on the farm. Literally every decision made has the next year, and the next decade, in mind. Every pesticide sprayed, every crop planted, all matter not just for next crop’s (hopeful) high yield and profit per acre, but what’s next to plant. 

As I took some pictures yesterday, my focus was grabbing a cute shot of Uncle Amos and baby Jude. But as I look at it today on Earth Day, it’s amazing to see all that is happening in this one picture. 


Water! Drip line irrigation saves water resources by pinpointing exactly where and when the trees need it. 

Planting alfalfa in between the rows:

  • Prevents topsoil erosion
  • Increases organic matter in the soil
  • Prevents soil compaction
  • Provides a return on investment for us while we wait for the trees to produce hazelnuts as we sell the alfalfa to a local dairy. 

And the trees! As trees grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the air, store carbon in the trees and soil, and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

Farmers, ranchers and foresters are the original environmentalists and live off of the land literally – believe me when I say our top priority is taking care of our most precious resources. 

Happy Earth Day from farmers, ranchers and foresters all over working to provide food and fiber for us all! 

Check out the below for more Earth Day fun! 

Goat Yoga 

Over the past few months there has been many Facebook posts and articles about Goat Yoga. Yes, Goat Yoga. Those from Oregon have probably heard of it as it’s a “thing” now here. And those outside Oregon probably already think we’re crazy… and seriously I’m right there with you with some of the things this state comes up with. But then this weekend Goat Yoga is front page on our local Albany Democrat Herald! At first I laughed. Then I started thinking “this is a bit ridiculous.” And THEN someone told me there was over a 1500 person wait list and was charging $30 per class – $50 with wine! So I posted this:


Lots of comments to this post – most people were just laughing along with me. Why are we laughing? Probably the same reason someone doesn’t understand why I don’t go camping during harvest, or why in the world do I have more pairs of cowboy boots than I do heels, or that I learned to drive tractor way before driving a car. In the most simplest explanation – those of us that grew up with or around farm animals, the idea that one would merge animals and yoga is simply funny.

Then my friend and fellow grass seed farmer in the Willamette Valley, Lisa Goracke, calls me and says this and it struck me: “Shelly, I think we are missing the point. We have an urban/rural divide and this is an opportunity for us to showcase what we already know and love. People are willing to pay to experience what we experience every day.”

And she’s totally right.

We have a few incredible programs in Oregon that are trying to bridge that rural/urban gap – all of them our farm is personally involved in:
Oregon AgLink
Oregon Women for Agriculture
Oregon Ag in the Classroom Foundation
Each one of these works hard to educate others about farming and agriculture and how much it means to our state in terms of economic vitality and jobs. We bring middle schoolers, high schoolers, legislators, basically anyone who wants to, out to our farm and show them around. We love it! We literally love being part of educating others about Ag.

Back to Goat Yoga… Here’s the deal, and I missed it at first – I love my goats, my chickens, the bunnies, and our beef steer. Soon joining our funny farm is a dairy heifer and my 14 year old is beyond excited. Why wouldn’t an urbanite, or someone who hasn’t experienced farm life, jump at the chance to hang out with cute goats?

As much as I’d like to jump on this money-making opportunity, I simply don’t have the time. And truly I probably would have a lot of fun with it! You won’t see me offering Goat Yoga classes  in our barn, but you WILL see me smile when someone brings up Goat Yoga and quote my yogi friend Melinda: “Hey whatever floats your downward dog.”

Gotta love friends that speak truth.

Try talking me into Goat Yoga in the comments – maybe you will! And don’t think I won’t take up an opportunity for a fundraiser – anything to bridge that urban/rural gap and get more people involved in farming, agriculture and Oregon’s incredible rural community.

Here’s a bunch of goat pictures for your viewing pleasure! And come on out, you can help scoop poop and clean pens, we’ll call it “cardio”. But really, it’s great to see anyone interested in ag, and no one ever said Yoga is bad for you. Win-win. Cheers to that!

 

 

 

Transportation and Oregon – a love/hate relationship – Part 2

In January, I wrote “Part 1” talking about congestion and truck traffic.

Part 2 will focus on an upcoming Bad Bill: Senate Bill 1008.

There’s a lot in the bill that I’d love to take the time to research and discredit. As I’m not a scientist, or a public health official, it would be hard to do so. What I can speak to is this specifically in the first part of the bill, page 2:

Whereas the attrition rate of older, dirty diesel engines that are not retrofitted is too slow to adequately curb emissions in a timely manner and protect public health; and Whereas a strategy to shorten the timeline for conversion to the use of new diesel engines and older diesel engines retrofitted with particulate filters requires a combination of regulations and incentives; and Whereas the incorporation of California’s emission standards for nonroad diesel engines into the Department of Environmental Quality’s existing air quality regulations will benefit public health;

If you don’t want to read my testimony, here’s my point: the diesel-dependent trucking industry is fixing whatever emission problem that may or may not exist. The attrition rate is not too slow. The amount of time and effort the Oregon legislature is putting into this perceived problem will make almost zero difference in any emission standards that wouldn’t have already happened in the course of regular trucking industry’s business decisions over the course of the next few years. An absolute waste of time – at a time that Oregon has many problems it needs to focus on.

If you want to read more in-depth, here is my testimony:


 

Before the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources

Testimony of Shelly Boshart Davis

Vice President

Boshart Trucking, Inc.

Senate Bill 1008 ~ March 7, 2017

 

Chair Dembrow and Committee – my name is Shelly Boshart Davis. Thank you for allowing me to submit testimony on behalf of our family farm and trucking company. We are a custom farming and trucking business that provides jobs to almost 50 employees. We also export over 2200 containers of Ag exports overseas.

I’m not a scientist, or a statistician, or like collecting or interpreting massive amounts of data. So I’m not going to try to discredit how not-clean or clean our air is. Here’s what I did find:

According to the DEQ, “Overall, air pollution in the Portland area has decreased dramatically over the last 30 years.” CEO of the American Lung Association said, “We are happy to report that the state of our air is much cleaner today than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago.”

And I can tell you about trucks. And our trucking industry is pretty impressive – and just getting better. Diesel-dependent industries are improving on their own. For example, within the last few years, we have upgraded 25% of our port-destination portion of our truck fleet to have the new standard of engines: 2014 Peterbilt and Freightliner trucks. By 2020, we will have had most of our fleet upgraded to new or newer trucks because that’s what businesses and farms and people do – they upgrade over time. Whatever problem or perceived problem exists, it will be rectified. Why burden businesses with extensive costs to implement? Every dollar invested into retrofitting or buying new equipment is one less dollar that I can spend on my employees, that I can spend on garnering new business – that I can help the economy, the families that I employ, and providing food and feed for neighbors, Oregonians and the world.

I had previously testified in opposition to HB 3310 and SB 824 both in 2015, and pulled up these slides from the Department of Environmental Quality found in SB 824’s “meeting materials” in OLIS. Note the extreme low amount of trucks that you are ultimately concerned about. All of this legislation for only 36,537 trucks that are being used in Oregon? And this was from at least 2015 if not older information. The amount shown in the multi-state graph on the left can’t be regulated by the Oregon Legislature anyway. Even if you could, these trucks would have been updated in the next few years by normal business practices. And look at the small piece of the pie that includes Oregon based trucks…

This leads me back to my point: whatever problem we may or may not have – it’s already fixing itself.

 Take a look at how far diesel engines have come and I question why we need the mandates and regulation and legislation. 2010 is a tiny box. What does 2017’s box look like? When is enough, enough?

DEQ 3

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago posted this in 2014:

ACT Research defines the active population of trucks as those trucks still in service that are 15 years of age or younger. The reason for this distinction is that once a vehicle reaches 15 years of age, it becomes much less likely to be used for hauling meaningful amounts of freight over long distances.

Another factor affecting freight rates has been the significant increase in truck prices. Truck prices started increasing in 2002 because of federally mandated diesel emission standards that required the costly development of new engine technologies. ACT Research analysts contend that since 2002 the cost of meeting these standards has added an estimated $30,000 to the cost of a new truck—a price increase of about 31%.

There is yet another factor that is likely to drive up costs for the trucking industry: the projection for a severe shortage of qualified truck drivers. The effects of the shortage, which has been in the making for some time, were somewhat mitigated during the most recent economic downturn. Since then, as freight activity has recovered, the driver shortage has become a more serious problem.

Committee – Currently, the average age of Heavy Trucks is 6 years old. If this trend continues, by 2020, the average age of trucks will be on average 2014 trucks – this is great news! This means that trucking companies are constantly purchasing new equipment because they need reliability (i.e. no breakdowns on the road). We aren’t doing this because of mandates, we are doing this because it’s good business.

Graph - average age of Class 8 vehicles.png

Average age of active population of US Class 8 (Heavy Truck) vehicles

Labor and Fuel are trucking industries two largest costs. Labor is going up as truck drivers are harder and harder to find. According to the Journal of Commerce: Truckload carriers will need to raise driver pay substantially to attract the type of qualified candidates needed to haul freight. On top of that, a host of new driver-related regulations will make hiring truck drivers harder, and more expensive. Because Low Carbon Fuel Standards was recently signed into law, the fuel costs will be going up. I testified in opposition to the LCFS based on the fact that the increase in fuel costs was undetermined. Equipment is always a concern as is cost of doing business and providing a cost-effective service to customers. Mandated equipment upgrades or new purchases cannot be simply absorbed. What will this cost be to small business across the state?

Committee, this hits home to me. I urge you, do not pass this regulation on an industry that the Oregon Legislature recently passed to increase fuel costs (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) to, we’re looking at a possible gas tax in an upcoming transportation package, and who is already struggling with labor force – not to mention our recent and current port struggles… We are not California, we do not have their problems, and our diesel-dependent trucking industry is getting better. Because trucking companies are continuously upgrading their fleets/trucks with stricter emissions controls, older trucks are already being phased out and replaced by the cleaner burning trucks as companies can afford to do so.  Disrupting this process by mandating a costly upgrade is an added burden to businesses and commerce – and more importantly, completely unnecessary.

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Bill Crushed: HB2859, a Win for Farmers, Ranchers and Foresters 

Today, over 100 farmers, ranchers and foresters showed up at the Oregon State Capitol for a public hearing for House Bill 2859. Irony would have it that we just finished the wettest month in record in February and then today, March 1st, was beautiful and sunny. Guaranteed had it been rainy, we would have had twice that many at the hearing.

img_7940
And in overflow outside the hearing room because it was packed!


Brenda Frketich did a great write up about the bill earlier this week if you want to learn more about it: read it here. Or you could find it here on OLIS. With the sharing by many people on Social Media and with Oregon Farm Bureau doing a great job gathering grassroots, the natural resource community showed up!

Why? Honestly it’s simple: our way of life and livelihood was being threatened.

After over 30 farmers, foresters and ranchers testified to the Revenue Committee what this bill would do to their operation, Chair Barnhart literally said, “In other words, you win.” Because of the overwhelmingly response from the natural resource community, the committee understood the ramifications. It was the first time I had ever heard a round of applause in a committee hearing! It was fantastic!

Farmers, ranchers and foresters: great job, way to show up and make your voice and your story heard!

For a summary, see some Tweets from the day.


And for pictures of some that testified and attended, see here:


There’s a lot more to fight this legislative session unfortunately, but today I’m happy for the win.

 

To see submitted testimony on OLIS, see here

 

Our Ag Story, What’s Yours? A Keynote Address.

One week ago, I had the opportunity to give the keynote address at the 2017 Dunn Carney Ag Summit with fellow agvocate and friend, Brenda Frketich. While there were some unintended laughs (see Brenda’s Nuttygrass blog here), the theme was certain: thank you for listening to our story, but what’s yours and are you willing to share it?

Our hope is that we inspired people to share their story. The agricultural community needs more that do. If you’d like, please read the transcript of our keynote. We’d love to hear your story.

Keynote address follows… thanks for reading!

Shelly: Is that Brenda Frketich? Haven’t I seen you somewhere?

Brenda: Well maybe if you’ve had your TV on in the past few voting cycles…you know a lot of Trump, Hillary…and then there’s farmer Brenda talking about measure 97, a gross receipts sales tax, measure 92,  GMO labeling, measure 84, repealing the Oregon estate tax…you get the drift here.  My name is Brenda Frketich and I’m a third generation farmer from St. Paul.  I grew up farming and after a short hiatus down in Los Angeles to get a business degree from Loyola Marymount University, I found myself wanting to get back on the farm.  In 2006 my dad offered me a position as an intern, and I haven’t looked back.  Today I am the owner operator of Kirsch Family Farms.  I farm 1000 acres alongside my husband Matt, and a team of very dedicated employees.  We farm a variety of crops including hazelnuts, grass seed, wheat, clover, vegetables and vegetable seeds.  Beyond crops we are also raising a few kids, we have two sons, Hoot who is 2, and Davor who is 1. Up here with me today is Shelly Davis.  Shelly, I feel like I see YOUR face everywhere.

Shelly: Sometimes it feels like that! Most likely you would have first seen it when I won America’s Farmers Farm Mom of the Year given by American Agri Women and Monsanto in 2015. Since then I started blogging, and have become more outspoken about the current situation of farming and transportation here in Oregon. I’m at the state capitol too much – as are you – and tend to be involved in different organizations. My name is Shelly Davis, and I’m a third generation farmer from Tangent. Along with two of my siblings, parents and close to 50 employees, we help manage about 1000 acres of grass seed, hazelnuts and wheat. We also run a 34 truck trucking operation hauling agricultural products and bale about 23,000 acres of grass straw that we compress, containerize, and export to Asia as feed for dairy and beef farms. My husband Geoff and I are raising 3 girls, 14, 11 and 9. He manages his family business and he’s a 3rd generation glazer. Running our separate family businesses and raising a family sure keeps us hopping. I mentioned I blog.. you blog too Brenda, called Nuttygrass. Where did you get that name?

Brenda: Well back in 2012 I was at a conference about how to be an advocate for our industry.  I was talking about how I really enjoy writing and how I was already telling stories about farm life, mostly to many of my college friends who grew up in places like Southern California, pretty removed from the farm.  A blog seemed like a great fit, and the speaker, agvocate in her own right, Michele Payn said, “Well you’re a nut and grass farmer, why not call it NuttyGrass?”, and here we are today.  When I started it really was just as simple as telling stories and letting friends keep up with me on my farming adventures, but it has evolved into much more.  

The content that I produce at times can seem fluffy, like just a cute photo, or something very non-controversial, but there are also times that I challenge my readers to take a step back and look at the bigger picture as to why we are really doing what we are to grow our crops.  And that also requires me to take that step back and ask myself, “Why do we do this on our farm?”

From the beginning I decided that I was going to be transparent and that is what I have done.  It’s not always pretty, I have posted some pretty sad and honest posts, but people need to hear that we aren’t just always standing in our fields smiling in the sunshine, there is a reality out there that needs to be understood.  And on our farm it comes with spraying, it comes with pesticides, it comes with risk, losses of crops, and stress.  But also it comes with a great life, hopefully a living, joy at what you can accomplish, and yes even some wins.   

Shelly, your blog is called Daughter of a Trucker – doesn’t sound too farming focused, can you talk more about that?

Shelly: That’s a great question. Our friend Marie Bowers has had her blog since 2011 called Oregon Green and she writes mostly about farming, and you have your blog that also mostly talks about farming. I’ve always been extremely proud of my family’s trucking background on top of our farming history, and it turns out that trucking and transportation in Oregon needed a voice! I started Daughter of a Trucker literally days after the port slowdown started in November of 2014. I found that the general public didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t understand how international container shipping ports worked and why this was such a big problem.

I found my blog to be my voice.

In addition to transportation, I also write about our farm, happenings at the legislature, and items of concern in Oregon in general like the Owyhee Monument talks, which considering today is inauguration day and President Obama did not designate the Owyhee Canyonlands for a monument, I’m going to call that a win for the Natural Resource Community! I mentioned America’s Farmers Farm Mom earlier… Farm Mom is in it’s 8th year, it’s a national program that recognizes women who balances life at home and on the farm with a passion for community and agriculture. I was nominated by someone outside the agricultural and farming community and I would say that connecting with those outside the agricultural audience has been my biggest success in blogging.

I think that’s probably both a struggle and focus for all of us: reaching that outside audience. We can preach to the choir all day long, and I will continue to do that in order to inspire others to do the same, but our goal is to explain our story to those that don’t understand it.

I was absolutely inspired after meeting these other “Farm Mom” nominees from different parts of the country and learning about their struggles and their successes. There’s so many people I’ve met through the country that have literally said “There’s farming in Oregon?” Uh, ya, there is. It’s given me a platform to talk about farming that isn’t corn, soybeans and cotton. That of course is no offense to our new ODA director who has come from Iowa! But like she said, Oregon is diverse and that makes it exciting. It also makes it challenging. Farm Mom gave me the final prompting to get my voice out there as much as possible whether that’s radio, speaking, or blogging. You know, one thing I really struggle with is consistency. I’m more of a passion blogger – when something hits, I write about it. But, you are a consistent blogger, and I think that’s amazing. It takes quite a commitment doesn’t it?

Brenda: It does take a lot.  Being consistent while connecting with all types of people is the balance that I try to achieve.  I want those who, I like to say wear all kinds of shoes to find value in what I share.  I say that because my non-farmer friends and I often joke about how different our lives are.  While I am wearing muck boots out in a field many of them are wearing heels and working behind a computer everyday.  Then some days we are just moms and have our tennis shoes on because quite frankly our kids are becoming increasingly faster than we are.  I want to hit on all of that, on the life of a working woman, the life of a farmer, and the life of a mom.  


Because of that I can go from posting a photo of my kiddos playing out in the field, to writing about GMO’s and people still come back to read even if they really only liked the photo of my kids.  I want to bridge the gap that exists where people connect to me in one way but then assume things about my profession as a “farmer” and how I farm.  I want my readers to know that yes, I’m a mom, yes, I go grocery shopping, yes, I have to make healthy food decisions for my family, of course, I don’t like the idea of being poisoned, of course I want to take care of the environment.  Then I go to work as a farmer, and I take on the responsibility of growing safe & healthy food and of taking care of the land.  I want people to see that regardless of the shoes that I wear throughout my day, none of my basic beliefs change.  After I have gained their trust and some understanding, I can then hit on some of those bigger issues.

Shelly: What kind of bigger issues are you talking about?

Brenda: These days it seems like I get a lot of people sending me articles asking what I think about everything from GMO’s and pesticide, to water quality and organic farming.  Many times I can use this as blog content, instance when a friend of ours, Anna Scharf, tagged us in a photo on Facebook about herbs at Fred Meyer that were labeled, “non-GMO”.  We saw it as an opportunity to connect with our local grocers and let them know that there are actually no GMO herbs, so really there is no need to label them!  

Or when people became unglued because there was a blog on why wheat is now toxic and is slowly killing all of us because we are all spraying it with Roundup right before harvest.  I wrote on how we treat our wheat, when we spray roundup, and why it’s a good tool for us.  

Those are just two examples.  Shelly, what are some of the bigger issues you have covered in your advocacy work?

Shelly: It seems my pieces on the ports and labor slowdowns garnered a lot of national attention and led to being able to talk to big publications like The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. I say this not to ask for kudos but because it goes to show that what I know – what you know – is not only valuable, but the information that you and I might take for granted because we grew up doing it, is so necessary to be heard on a much greater stage. Oregon agriculture, our economy, and transportation both locally and internationally is more entwined than we thought, and now we’re realizing. It. You mentioned your response to the Toxic Wheat blog post. That blog that you wrote made it onto the Huffington Post, which is crazy! But, isn’t that what we want? Our story to be shared in hopes that it gives the outside world a different perspective, a farmers perspective. 


One thing I’ve noticed by putting myself out there… I’ve learned a lot. Because I need to know my stuff if I’m going to write about it! I’m sure you’re the same. Do you get contacted a lot because of your blogs and topics you write about or the fact that you’ve been a face to campaigns?

Brenda: I do get contacted pretty regularly for many different opportunities.  And I often get asked how I was found, especially with some of the very public media campaigns I’ve been a part of.  A large piece of that comes down simply to just being a good source for the media.  Now I realize the media can be tricky because as much as we love to hate them, they are necessary and do play an important role in how we are viewed by the public.  So if I’m contacted I always try to get a certain amount of information before answering any questions.  Who are they, who do they work for, what is the story about, who else are they interviewing, what is their deadline.  Then before I answer anything I pull up google and make sure this is someone I want to talk to.  Make very sure that this article doesn’t have a chance to misinterpret myself, my farm, or agriculture as a whole.  Obviously there will be mistakes that happen, I have been misquoted at times, but having those relationships is important.  And being a good source does not go unnoticed.

Beyond media work however, I always take advantage of any outreach I can.  For instance I try to take every opportunity to invite people to come and tour our farm.  When I give presentations I never hesitate to mention that we have an open door policy at Kirsch Family Farms.  I have given a fair amount of tours just because someone called me up, sometimes even years after they heard me speak, and asked to bring a group out to see what we are up to.  I know Shelly does the same, and we extend that same invite to all of you here today.  

Testifying at the legislature and having that type of involvement is no different.  If you want to know what’s going on, if you want to have the opportunity, then join the organizations who support us.  Not unlike the media looking for a good source, groups in agriculture are always looking for people to come and help support their efforts.  Let people know you’re interested and they will come knocking at your door, at times almost knocking down your door to help them out.

The end result of this, thanks to social media and our level of connectivity in today’s world, we are all able to go beyond the one facebook meme, the one tweet about harvest, the one blog post about growing up on a farm and share online to extend agriculture’s reach.  We want to be telling our story, we don’t want anyone else to do it, because they will inevitably get it wrong.     

Shelly, what do you think?  How do you feel about being contacted?

Shelly: You know the saying, “ignorance is bliss”, well it’s true. I wouldn’t say it bothers me. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship. I’ve also learned that I can say no if it doesn’t fit within my time that is needed for family and work. Recently I learned from Senator Betsy Johnson that you have to keep going and talk to both sides of the aisle, and to be that person your legislator knows they can go to for information. I’m always honored to be someone a person trusts for good information. And this cliché also rings true: “If I don’t do it, then who?” The farming community has an incredible story to tell and some are better storytellers than others. But that doesn’t mean that every story isn’t valuable, and like Brenda said, you are the best person at telling your story. The more voices that are out there, the stronger the farming, ranching and timber industries can be! If we doubled or tripled our presence on Social Media, in the Capitol, or in the newspaper, think how strong the Natural Resource Community can be!

I know there are a few college-age attendees here today, and possibly some younger or beginning farmers. To you, I want to speak directly and I say this to FFA and 4-H kids all the time. Join us, you are more than welcome to this big group called Agriculture. I want you to know that we are your biggest cheerleaders. We want you to try, knowing you will fail at times, but that we are here to help you along. Maybe it’s getting up in front to speak somewhere, maybe it’s trying to figure out what crop to plant next year, or it’s working towards your degree in vet medicine. Whatever it is, I believe you’ll find encouragement wherever you look in this community.

Brenda –  Alright so…here’s a question that I know both Shelly and I hear all the time, “Shelly, what is it like being a women in ag?”

Shelly: Well, our friend Marie states it best: probably feels a lot like a man in Ag. Which is true, but I’d be remiss to not acknowledge some challenges. Those being children, trying to fit it all in, and not being the traditional face of a farmer. I would also suggest that being a woman in Ag is similar to being a woman in any traditionally male-dominated industry, namely trucking, military, construction and others. Our story isn’t that different than theirs. I’ve been known to say I’m always excited to see women in Ag do great things, but I look forward to the day it’s not a headline.
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I read a blog called The Dirt this week and the author wrote about this topic, she says: “The conversation should no longer be about being a woman in ag. It’s about being in agriculture PERIOD.” Kudos to Oregon, but I think we’ve been at this point for a while now, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. I’m grateful for the hard working women that came before us and recognize that everyone has a different story. Mine is different than Brenda’s and our roles are different on our farms. But don’t you think Brenda, there are a many of us that have similar stories, and it typically starts with “my dad treated me like any other boy on the farm.” I can say that is true for me and my 3 sisters, and I have girlfriends that will say the same. Our former First Lady Michelle Obama has said: “Change happens when a father realizes the potential of his daughter.” I applaud the ag community for that. I also think that women have some natural traits that make us very valuable in the natural resource community – many of those are the same reason Farmer Brenda has been the face of campaigns, simply put, she’s a mom.

And Brenda, maybe you should point out the obvious?

Brenda: What? That there are two women up here right now?  

It’s true, being a woman is different in many respects but many of our challenges aren’t because we’re women, they are because we are working in a state that continues to be so unfriendly to businesses.  

Personally yes, I’m a mom, but I’m also a business owner. Not only am I the HR department, I’m the secretary, I’m the safety trainer, I am the tractor driver, sprayer operator.  I’m who my employees come to when if they get hurt on the job, it’s my name on the operating line, but I’m also the one they come to when they need more toilet paper in the bathroom or pop in the pop machine.  One of the biggest challenges I face to be honest, is wearing all those hats.

Legislators and agencies think it’s just one more form to fill out, one more thing to track such as unpaid sick time, or they say to me, “well there’s only three different ways we count employees in this state so that shouldn’t be so hard.  Right?!”  And maybe it’s not hard for that one thing, but it’s the one thing on top of a million things that is asked of us as employers here in Oregon.  Not to mention that at times it also lacks the common sense that we have built our businesses on for generations.  Which makes it an even tougher pill to swallow.

But then there is always the hat of being a mom that we have hit on already, and that just adds a whole other layer to the balancing act that Shelly and I sometimes struggle with, but have found that by working together, some days we can hit it out of the park!

Shelly: Remember the time you needed to speak to the legislature on behalf of Farm Bureau regarding pesticide usage a few years back? You were pregnant and Hoot was 1. You had no childcare that day, but knew how important it was to testify. I’m pretty sure Kathy Hadley and I took care of Hoot while you testified. You were tired, you were busy, and you needed help. But you did it because we all needed you to. And one of the reasons you were able to do it is because you had people supporting you and friends to help you out. The point is, advocating on behalf of the entire agriculture industry can be exhausting and take up too much time. You do it, I do it, we do it, because it benefits us, our farm, and even more importantly our future farm.


Brenda: Thank you Shelly for saying that – and as a woman, as a mom, as an advocate I would like to thank you all for your support.  It’s truly an honor to be up here in front of an audience of farmers, those who are working in our industry, and those of you who support us day in and day out.  Farming is not just a job but a way of life.  It’s a way of life that is hard to explain, exhausting in its ability to encompass your whole outlook, and also rewarding as hell at the end of the day.   I wish I could come up here after all of these speakers today and have Shelly and I list off the reasons why it’s going to be so easy to farm in Oregon moving forward, but business wise, I don’t think that is our reality.  I think our fight is always just beginning, always changing, and always being challenged.  

My story started with coming back to the farm after living in Los Angeles and getting a much different look at a life away from St. Paul, town of 322.  It continued with my passion for an industry that seemed to the public to have a lack of transparency.  And has continued to evolve as I became a mom, as I grew as a farmer and as a business woman.

So what is your story?  To the farmers in the room today, as only 2% of the population, your life is a story within itself!  Every day that you head out into your fields is an opportunity that you can use to do something as simple as taking a photo and sharing it.  I can promise you, that photo of your everyday will look like heaven on earth to those folks stuck behind a desk browsing their facebook page.  And for all of you who aren’t farmers, but I know work hard for our industry, you’re not off the hook.  We need you to share our story, we need you to help us get our message across.  We need your reach.

The challenges that we face sometimes seem to be incredibly daunting.  But I also know that my grandpa, the first generation on our farm had challenges ahead of him every day that his feet hit the soil, as did my dad, and they were both resilient.  My only hope, is for a future here, where my two boys as the fourth generation will have the opportunity to be just as dirty with the dust from our fields as I did.  But we need an industry that is willing to work, not just for their own farm, but for their industry.  

Shelly: I’m glad Brenda mentions her grandpa, because my story almost always includes my grandpa too on so many levels. My dad has said to me many times: “Shelly, Grandpa Merrill worked hard, I worked hard, and we just kept our heads down and kept to ourselves. We thought working hard was enough and that our elected officials and the community around us were grateful for our work and were like minded.” I’m standing here today to say that is not the case any longer. If my past generations had been more outspoken, would we be where we are today? I can’t say. But I do know this is where we are and I have a simple, yet great ask: Please – will you get involved? We need you. Every person out there – each and every one of you – has a passion for agriculture in some form, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.

You are smart, you are passionate, and we need you.

You might not want to speak in front of people, I get that. But maybe you can write a letter, maybe you can make a phone call, maybe you can join a local commission, a county farm bureau. Brenda and I know a lot about what we do, but Oregon Agriculture is so much bigger than that.

I have an action item for you: I want each and every one of you to do at least one thing that you didn’t do last year. Go to a county farm bureau meeting, go to the capitol and watch a public hearing with someone you know, submit testimony during the upcoming legislative session, read about the Adopt A Farmer program and maybe sign up for it!, join your local Oregon Women for Ag chapter, start a Twitter account and show your farm story – the opportunities are endless.        

We both appreciate you listening to our story today, and our great hope is that it inspires you to tell yours.