|Celebrating National Agriculture Week 2011
March 14, 2011: Director Coba delivers a message to all Oregonians for National Agriculture Week in this interview with ODA Director of Communications, Bruce Pokarney:
What messages do you want the public to hear during National Agriculture Week 2011?
When you think back over the course of the year, I think one thing that jumps out to me is Oregon agriculture's resiliency. It has been a tough economy for everyone, including farmers and ranchers. But our producers have done such a good job managing through these difficult times and I think we're coming out of the toughest part. And it's really a time for us all to, again, thank farmers and ranchers for what they produce. Also, I'd like to challenge Oregonians to take the opportunity to get to know agriculture better."
There are so many facets to agriculture that I think people don't realize. We know that farmers and ranchers are out there raising food. But when you think about all the things that go into getting a product from the farm to the fork- which includes, obviously harvesting, but also management, research, marketing, transportation, finance. When I say, marketing, I mean local marketing, domestic marketing, getting product into international markets, and global competition. There are so many career opportunities in the field of agriculture for our young people to take advantage of. I think a lot of people, when they think about a career in agriculture, they think, I don't want to be a farmer or rancher. I don't have access to land. But there are so many other things that young people in this day and age can take advantage of when it comes to agriculture- endless opportunities.
I would just encourage all Oregonians to not only thank your neighbor farmer and rancher for the food they produce, but think about encouraging our young people to get involved in agriculture- the variety of career opportunities that are available and supporting this magnificent industry that we have.
When you think about all the courses we took in school, all of them have relevance to agriculture, don't they?
They absolutely do. I think most people don't stop and think about this at all, but you don't just raise a bushel of wheat and it automatically turns into food on someone's plate. There are so many things that go into it. These are basic courses that we all take in school, but there are so many opportunities to then get somehow involved with agriculture from those venues.
It's a growing part of Oregon's economy, it's a growing part of the world's economy. Agriculture is not going away. And I think it's going to become more and more important as an economic engine as we look into the future.
The tagline for this year's National Agriculture Week is "Agriculture is Amazing." What makes Oregon agriculture perhaps even more amazing than agriculture in some other states?
It's an easy answer for me, and that is the diversity of Oregon agriculture and when you consider the fact that Oregon farmers and ranchers produce over 220 different commodities. We are not Midwest agriculture, where you grow maybe four or five crops that everyone knows- corn, soybeans, hogs, wheat- we grow everything in Oregon. So the expertise you need to do that variety is also a big challenge. Growing wheat is not the same as growing cranberries is not the same as growing a Christmas tree. There are different talents that it takes to actually raise that crop, different research demands, different kinds of inputs, different challenges in moving product to market, and certainly different challenges in educating consumers about those different products we grow. But I think Oregonians recognize the amazingness of Oregon agriculture.
We know it from polls that have been done. Oregonians support their farmers and ranchers. They want to keep them in business. They want this part of Oregon's culture and lifestyle to remain viable in Oregon. We need their help to do that.
The challenge of educating Oregonians about agriculture, is it made easier because every farmer has a story that just needs to be told?
It is and I think we are seeing inroads into education from a variety of venues. We've had Ag in the Classroom for many years. But I think there is more and more interest from teachers and students to take advantage of that curriculum. Part of it is being driven by this consciousness of diet and nutrtition. We also see it when we talk about our farm to school programs. It's an opportunity to educate students about agriculture and educate students about the value of food, and education students about good nutritious food. Oregon agriculture can do all of those things.
We are getting close the farmers' market season and the opportunity for urban folks to see the person who grows the food and get into a conversation with them. You encourage that conversation, don't you?
Absolutely. It's hugely popular. We know it from the explosion in the number of farmers' markets, the number of vendors at each of those markets, and the number of consumers that go to farmers' markets. When you go to a farmers' market, that's exactly what is happening. It's not just the grocery store experience where you have your shopping cart, you walk down the farmers' market aisle, you grab your product, and you check out at the end. You can see consumers talking with the farmer right there about the different varieties- whether it's an heirloom tomato and hear that this farmer has five different varieties of tomatoes, what you use one variety for versus another, the same with cucumbers, the same with beans and peppers. It's a beautiful experience to begin with, number one, visiting a farmers' market. But to see that interaction between consumers and the farmer, knowing that the consumers love it, and knowing that the farmer loves it- that's what Oregon agriculture is all about.
Summing up, what's the take home message for Oregonians during Ag Week and Ag Day?
Oregon agriculture is amazing. For Oregonians, take advantage of everything that agriculture has to offer. The wonderful food, the nutritious food, opportunities for education and career in agriculture- not just as a farmer or rancher, although we want that too- but everything that goes into getting a product from the field to your table, and embracing the beauty and wonder of Oregon agriculture.