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Women leaders seek out Oregon commodity commissions

Oregon’s 23 ag & commercial fishery commissions seeing more interest from females

Oregon’s 23 agricultural and commercial fishery commodity commissions have historically been male dominated. The demographics are shifting a bit as nearly 10 percent of the 211 commission positions are now occupied by women. With applications now being accepted for 60 vacant positions, there’s a good chance that more female commissioners will be providing leadership for the state’s farms, ranches, and fisheries.

“Women have always played a very important role in agriculture, on farms and ranches, and in our fishing industry,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Lisa Hanson. “More and more, we see them in leadership roles. It continues to represent the diversity within our farm and fishing communities. It brings additional perspective to the important conversations taking place.”

ODA Director Katy Coba appoints commissioners to make decisions on how to use producer assessments on projects funded by each commodity commission. Coba is expected to begin making appointments in mid-May.

“If you recruit passionate, engaged, and dynamic people, the commissions will function at a high level and move forward,” says ODA Commodity Commission Program Manager Kris Anderson. “Obviously those desirable characteristics are found in both men and women.”

Commission openings include positions for producers, handlers– those who are the first purchaser of the commodity– and public members. A public member is someone not directly associated with the production or handling of a particular commodity served by the commission in which they are involved.

Commission activities are funded through self-assessments. Those activities and accomplishments vary from commission to commission, but each has the same general mission– to fund projects for research, promotion, or education.

By forming a commodity commission, growers and handlers have agreed to assess themselves in order to accomplish things that can’t be done by individual producers. Pooling financial resources allows them to pursue activities that benefit the entire industry.

ODA Deputy Director Hanson first came to the agency in the late 1990s as the Commodity Commission Program Manager. At the time, only a handful of female commissioners were involved. Currently, there are 19 women appointed to a variety of commissions ranging from the Oregon Strawberry Commission to the Oregon Beef Council.

Reasons for wanting to become a commodity commissioner vary among the women who presently serve. But each felt a strong desire to lend their passion for the good of a particular crop or livestock, and Oregon agriculture in general.

"Twenty-five years ago, I was the mother of three small children, active in the local Cattlewomen, active on our ranch with the production of beef, and frustrated with the assaults beef was taking from the public,” says Susan Doverspike of Burns, who serves on the Beef Council. “I knew we needed more professional expertise in the fields of beef research, beef promotion, and current beef dining experiences. I did what I could locally. I am so pleased that in the last 28 years so much has been done to change the view of beef with the consumer."

The Oregon Beef Council has played a major role in making that happen locally. (Sharon Livingston, right, is also a member of the Oregon Beef Council.)

"I felt I could help raise the awareness of the sheep industry in Oregon," says Clatskanie sheep rancher Margaret Magruder, a member of the Oregon Sheep Commission. “I am also a strong advocate of predator control and wanted the Oregon sheep industry to have a voice in the direction this program would take."

Some female commissioners were drawn by the specific mission of commissions.

“It was a way to put me more in touch with the research of hop growing,” says Gayle Goschie of the Oregon Hops Commission, who resides in Silverton.

For public members of commissions, there may be no better way to help out their commodity of choice.

"As an Oregon native, I've always been an ambassador for the many great products that are grown and raised here," says Ericka Carlson of Portland. "I feel lucky to live in a place that has such diversity and abundance. When I heard about the open position on the Oregon Albacore Commission, I thought it would be a great opportunity to be part of a team promoting something that I love– Oregon Albacore Tuna– and to deepen my knowledge of our Oregon fisheries."

The women currently serving generally feel they have been treated no different from the men.

"I don't perceive of any difference in treatment of women or men on the commission," says Astoria’s Christa Svensson, also of the Oregon Albacore Commission. "Commissioners of both sexes are familiar seeing strong women in the seafood industry. For example, men who are the more traditional fishermen, may have wives, girlfriends, or daughters who fish. Alternately, these same women may stay shore side running the banking, accounting, and purchasing side of the operation. Men and women on the processing side of the equation are also familiar with strong female personalities. In both cases, women who actively participate in the seafood industry are valued for the experience they bring and the difference in opinion they may advocate for."

And what advice do current women commodity commissioners have for those who might be interested?

"Go for it," says Brenda Kirsch Frketich of the Oregon Clover Seed Commission. "Learning more about the crops that you're growing can only strengthen your farm and your marketing skills. Farming is more about just dirt these days, it's a true business and I feel that the more informed you can be on what is going on off the home place, the better off you will be to continue the farming legacies that are so strong here in Oregon."

List of open positions and application

For more information, contact Kris Anderson at (503) 872-6600.

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