March 28, 2000
Editors, Reporters and Colleagues:
Please publish or circulate. I apologize in advance for any cross postings.
--Kristen Kelleher, email@example.com
March 28, 2000
Kristen Kelleher, Western SARE Communications Specialist
(530) 752-5987 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Sustainable Agriculture 2000 Conference A Significant Success
… Governor of Oregon John Kitzhaber shared the opening platform with Deputy
Secretary of Agriculture Richard Rominger and highly motivational,
innovative farmers and ranchers at the March 7-9, 2000 event in Portland.
… Overall attendance climbed to more than 600 registrants (far exceeding
the goal of 500 attendees), and 175 people attended three
simultaneously-run field tours of agricultural and community operations in
the Portland area on the third day.
… Many sessions, and the informational "share fair," had standing-room-only
attendance and generated abundant excitement and networking among groups,
organizations, producers, university scientists and agricultural personnel.
… Print and broadcast general and agricultural news media covered the
conference thoroughly and with interest.
PORTLAND, OR - "Farming and Ranching for Profit, Stewardship, and
Community" was the theme of a sustainable agriculture conference held in
Portland, Oregon on March 7-9, 2000. The event, sponsored by USDA Western
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE), drew more
than 600 participants, well exceeding organizers' aim for 500 registrants.
"A key goal of the event was to arm farmers and ranchers with ways
to be profitable and thrive in the new century, and I think we did it,"
said Larry Thompson, a grower from Boring, Oregon and leader of the Western
U.S. sustainable agriculture program.
"The excitement and inspiration generated by the speakers, tours
and setting were unmistakable. And, as an Oregon citizen and family farmer,
to hear Governor Kitzhaber and Deputy Secretary Richard Rominger extol the
virtues of sustainability was an experience I will not forget for a long
Nationally-known speakers, farmers and ranchers, researchers,
agricultural extension agents, non profit representatives, natural resource
conservation personnel and others from the Western U.S gathered to exchange
research results and production and marketing successes in nearly 100
presentations and panel discussions.
Gov. Kitzhaber spoke about the history of agriculture in Oregon and
the need to educate growing numbers of new residents about the link between
farming and ranching communities and quality of life in the state. "The
farming culture is part of who we are in Oregon. The greatest threat to
agriculture is demographics. We have to build bridges between farmers and
After mentioning a number of innovative sustainable agriculture
projects and practices in the West, Deputy Secretary Rominger said:
"Sustainability is what we all have to be about because we not only want to
produce food and fiber at a reasonable price for the consumers in this
country today, but we want to be able to do it tomorrow, 50 years from now,
100 years from now, and if we don't do a good job of taking care of our
soil, our water, our air, we won't be able to do that, it's just that
In addition to high attendance and enthusiasm, the conference drew
considerable news coverage from regional print and broadcast media, both
general daily newspapers and radio stations and outlets specializing in
Transcripts of an Oregon Public Radio piece by reporter Kristian
Foden-Vencil and a story by Craig Brown, business editor for The Columbian
(Vancouver, Wash.), follow. These are just samples of the news clippings
that summarize the speakers and themes of the event.
"I have been a part of sustainable agriculture efforts in the West
for more than a decade," said Phil Rasmussen, regional coordinator of
Western SARE and a soil scientist at Utah State University. "Witnessing
national and state government leaders, scientists and producers being
solution-oriented and presenting messages of productivity and conservation
confirmed to me that we will achieve a sustainable agriculture for future
To commemorate the event, an unusual type of conference proceedings
book was published, titled "Sustainable AgricultureŠContinuing to Grow."
The publication, which was distributed at the conference, combines profiles
of farmers and ranchers who spoke at the event with scientific abstracts
from researchers who also presented.
Individuals who did not attend the conference can request single
copies of the book, while supplies last, to read about the innovations of
producers from around the West and nation, or to review outstanding
scientific work on sustainable agriculture. Contact Kristen Kelleher at
530/752-5987 or email@example.com. The publication will also be on-line
on Western SARE's Web site at http://wsare.usu.edu/ in the near future.
Transcript of Oregon Public Radio (OPB-FM) broadcast story by Kristian
Foden-Vencil, which aired on its "Oregon Considered" news magazine March 8,
On a shallow hillside on the edge of the fertile Willamette Valley, two
farm workers are gathering up long marionberry branches off the ground.
They need to ripen naturally in the sun, says farmer Larry Thompson, who's
renowned in the area for his exceptional berries.
Standing next to his white roadside shed -- with shutters opened to the
passing traffic -- Thompson explains that you won't be able to buy those
berries at Safeway, or any other mega-store for that matter.
Thompson: Well, between our farm stand right here and the farmers’ markets
that we are in, we have about 60 percent of our crop is sold that way.
Another roughly 30 percent is sold U-pick--that is people come out and pick
their own. Another 10 percent goes to the wholesalers. Some of the local
stores like to buy from us if we're long on a few things.
It's a great deal for Thompson. He gets to name his own price, which is
often about the same as you might pay in a supermarket. He also gets to
grow a whole variety of different crops and he gets to know the community.
Thompson: It's a stop for people. They just stop every single day. For
instance, when we're in corn, they just stop every single day because they
know it's picked fresh that day, not only that morning or that afternoon
sometimes, and it's truly fresh right out of the field. They'll swing by
every night when they know it's in season and go about their merry way.
But the economics of the Thompson farm weren't always so merry. Thompson
used to grow just three crops: strawberries, raspberries and broccoli, and
sell them direct to the canneries, which didn't pay him enough to cover his
production costs. There were other problems too. Growing the same crops
every year exacerbated disease and bug infestations, which in turn forced
Thompson to rely more on expensive insecticides and herbicides. By the mid
1980s, Thompson realized he could make more money, use fewer chemicals, and
improve his farm, by practicing sustainable agriculture and selling his
superior products directly to the public.
The experiment worked so well that U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture,
Rich Rominger, praised Thompson at the sustainable agriculture conference
this week in Portland.
Rominger: Sustainability is what we all have to be about because we not
only want to produce food and fiber at a reasonable price for the consumers
in this country today, but we want to be able to do it tomorrow, 50 years
from now, 100 years from now and if we don't do a good job of taking care
of our soil, our water, our air, we won't be able to do that, it's just
Sustainability is not just a philosophy for Thompson; it's a way of life.
He now grows 32 different crops, which he rotates from field to field. That
means his customers have a broad choice and no one bug can wipe out his
entire harvest. He doesn't even use insecticide anymore, a fact he
publicizes widely. The different crops fix different chemicals into the
soil -- like nitrogen -- improving its overall quality. In turn, that
attracts beneficial insects like ladybugs that keep down aphid populations,
and earthworms that oxygenate the dirt.
Thompson shared his growing secrets with several hundred other farmers,
researchers and marketing experts at the Portland Sustainability
Conference. Representatives of agri-business sat next to organic farmers
and cattle ranchers all nodding and scribbling down notes. Speakers talked
about everything from genetically modified food to the use of antibiotics.
And a buzz also surrounded a plan by Governor John Kitzhaber, to require
all state agencies operate "sustainably." Kitzhaber announced the
initiative early this year and says an actual plan should be available by
the end of the spring. He says, everyone needs to rethink how they live on
the earth, from computer chip CEOs to people in the farming community.
Kitzhaber: I mean these are good solid Oregonians. They raise their
families, they pay their taxes, they contribute to their community, they've
got practices today that probably were okay 15 to 20 years ago. But we used
to bleed people in the medical profession to cure them, I think that was
part of George Washington's demise, and we learned. I think that's what's
Back on the farm, Bette Thompson--the matriarch of the family--remembers
the lure of chemicals in the 1950s and 60s. One quick application of
herbicide saved hours of backbreaking work weeding the fields, and helped
produce bumper crops of shiny fruit. But since her sister-in-law died after
accidentally mixing bleach and ammonia while cleaning her bathroom, Bette
has sworn off most chemicals. She uses vinegar to clean the windows and
she's thrilled that her son is turning the family farm into a place kids
can eat fruit directly off the vine, without even having to wash it.
Thompson: My mother used to say, "you have to eat so much dirt before you
She says that's what sustainable agriculture is all about--running a farm
where Mother Nature hasn't been chemically anesthetized.
A copy of a story done by Craig Brown, business editor, The Columbian
(Vancouver, Wash.) daily newspaper. The article ran on the cover of the
business section March 8, 2000:
FARMING AND THE ENVIRONMENT
PORTLAND -- Small farmers near the city can make a living while treating
the environment with care.
That hopeful message was the theme of the first-ever Western regional
symposium on sustainable agriculture, which continues through Thursday at
Caught in a vise between commodity prices they can't control and
encroaching regulation and development, farmers are going broke throughout
the West. The conference's purpose is to prove it doesn't have to end that
way, speakers said.
Enter sustainable agriculture, a practice that embraces a variety of farm
practices to keep the business going while protecting or improving air,
water, soil and wildlife.
Using sustainable agricultural practices, "You can actually set prices to
cover your costs," said Larry Thompson, a crop farmer from Boring, Ore.,
and chairman of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
organization, or SARE. SARE, which is sponsoring the conference, is funded
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Here's how it works on Thompson's farm, which like Clark County farms is on
the fringe of the Portland urban area:
To cut down on erosion and the need for chemical fertilizers, Thompson
plants "green manure" cover crops such as cereal rye in his broccoli field
or between raspberry rows.
He's expanded his menu to 32 crops from the three his father once grew on
the land. That gives him more to offer to customers.
Rather than fight encroaching development, he looks at newcomers as a
potential customer base and as a group to be educated on issues important
to farmers. He starts the education process with children, frequently
giving school tours.
He's expanded his marketing to include sales at the farm fruit stand,
U-pick, and six farmers' markets. Sales at the farmers' markets include
maps and brochures inviting customers to visit the farm for more produce.
Another successful operation touted Tuesday was Oregon Country Beef, an
Eastern Oregon cooperative of 27 cattle ranchers. The ranchers have banded
together to promote their beef as leaner, hormone free and Oregon-grown.
"Our product is more than beef it's the smell of sage after a summer
rain," effused Doc Hatfield, a cooperative member from Brothers, Ore.
The cooperative has found big-city consumers are willing to pay more for
the beef, and sales have risen to about $7 million this year. Even more
important, the price ranchers receive has no relation to the commodity
price of beef.
Those kinds of niches hold promise for farmers, said Richard Rominger, U.S.
deputy secretary of agriculture and a conference key- note speaker. Farm
marketing is changing, Rominger said, and programs such as direct
marketing, agri-tourism and consumer awareness will be more important in
the future for farmers. Rominger also championed the idea of a vegetable
garden at every elementary school, an idea which received enthusiastic
applause from the audience of several hundred farmers, agricultural
researchers and academics.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also endorsed the cause of sustainable
agriculture. "The farming culture is part of who we are in Oregon," he said.
Noting that 51,000 people move to the state every year most of whom have
no knowledge of farming practice Kitzhaber added that "the greatest threat
to agriculture is demographics. We have to build bridges between farmers
and urban Oregon."
Senior Public Information Rep/ Communications Specialist
Mail and contact information:
University of California
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616-8716
FOR UPS, FED-X, or other priority mail:
SARE, University of California
DANR Bldg, Hopkins Rd.
Davis, CA 95616
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