Aldrich CPAs + Advisors partners with Oregon Aglink in their dedication to growing Oregon agriculture through education and promotion efforts. We asked the executive director of Oregon Aglink, Mallory Phelan, to elaborate on the importance of the agriculture industry and specifically how Oregon farmers impact our country.
“Where did the onion on your sandwich come from?”
You might answer this question much like the seventh-grade students at Laurel Ridge Middle School in Sherwood: an onion starts at the farm and ends up at the store.
While true, that answer is deceivingly simple compared to the web of tasks and people that move the onion along its route. That complexity is exactly what Mark Dickman, a farmer from Mt. Angel, shared about during an Adopt a Farmer classroom activity. Students had visited Dickman Farms to learn about onion production. This class visit was all about learning the rest of the story arc: how the onion is planted, grown, harvested, transported, stored, marketed, distributed, sold, and so on before a consumer cuts it up for a sandwich.
Farmer Mark still has more questions, though. How did the onion get to the store? How did the onions get on the pallet? Why grow these onions and not some other variety? The students caught on quickly as farmer Mark diagrammed the web on the board for onions and every other item he brought to class. We can talk all day about the places that onions travel on their trip from farm to fork, but the story isn’t complete without discussing the people who drive that process. The story of the people behind our food is one forgotten by many, despite more than one in every eight full and part-time jobs in Oregon being tied to agriculture, food and fiber.
According to a report by USDA and Purdue University, there are an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings every year in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environmental fields across the country. There is a shortage of 22,500 qualified high-skilled workers annually! What a huge opportunity for the natural resources community to inspire and engage with the next generation who will have careers in management, business, food and biomaterials production, as well as education, communication, and government – all impacting the future of Oregon’s natural resource industry.
How do we inspire and encourage the next generation to jump into a career in natural resources and become part of the food story arc? One of the best ways is to show them the variety of opportunities! Through programs like Adopt a Farmer, students learn about the numerous jobs on the farm during field trips. In the classroom, we explore not only jobs on the farm, but all of those between farm and fork, just like farmer Mark talked about. By profiling actual people working in careers on and for the farms students have visited, they discover the education required, skills needed, and how science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) play a role in Oregon agriculture today. It is an evolving and exciting industry to be a part of!
The endeavor of showcasing careers in agriculture is not one Oregon Aglink is doing alone. There has been a groundswell of focus on STEM in K-12 as well as Career and Technical Education (CTE), both of which the natural resource community can engage with and benefit from. Organizations like FFA and 4H promote leadership development through agriculture. Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom will be launching an Agriculture Career Exploration project. Even the Oregon Department of Agriculture has identified “promoting Oregon food and agriculture as an exciting career choice” as a key objective in its recently released 2018-2023 strategic plan.
Inspiring a new generation to become contributing, knowledgeable proponents of Oregon agriculture and our natural resource community is invaluable to the future of our state. The economic significance and employment opportunities of our industry are not only vital but rewarding. Recognizing the impact farmers, ranchers and fishermen have in our lives on National Ag Day and every day is important. Sharing their stories, including all of the people in between farm and fork, will help bolster the industry by welcoming a new generation into our community.
Meet the Author
Mallory is the Executive Director of Oregon Aglink. Prior to joining the organization in 2013, she spent time working in the grass straw industry and living in South America after graduating from the University of Portland with a Global Business degree with minors in Entrepreneurship and Spanish.