Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2012 11:00 AM
Mitch Lies/Capital Press
John Thyssen, CEO of Barenbrug USA, a grass seed company in Tangent, Ore., teaches Mason Cushway, 6, and Caleb Cushway, 2, about agriculture, while mom, Lisa Cushway, looks on. Oregon Ag Fest will be April 27 and 28 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.
1,200 volunteers help people connect with agriculture
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- For the past eight years, Silverton, Ore., nursery farmer Liz Schaecher has spent the final weekend of April at the state fairgrounds volunteering for Oregon Ag Fest.
"I don't want people to forget about agriculture," Schaecher said. "I want them to know where their milk comes from."
Schaecher is one of hundreds of agricultural supporters who volunteer to help operate the two-day celebration of agriculture.
This year was no different, said Michele Ruby, executive director of Oregon Ag Fest. More than 1,200 volunteered for the two-day event, held April 28-29 at the fairgrounds in Salem.
This year's event, the 25th Ag Fest, drew just under 18,000 people, Ruby said.
"It certainly would not happen without the volunteers," Ruby said.
For many, volunteering for Ag Fest has become an annual ritual.
"It's something that is hard for me to let go of," said Craig Anderson, a Chemeketa Community College administrator and longtime board member for Ag Fest. Anderson has volunteered for the event since 1994.
"I think this is an activity that is essential for the future of ag," Anderson said. "There is a very large percentage of our population who don't know where their food and fiber comes from.
"This gives them an opportunity to learn of its origins in a hands-on fashion," Anderson said.
Volunteers come from all walks of life, said Dennis Blackman, vice chair of the event.
"And everybody that volunteers is very passionate about it," Blackman said. "They take it seriously."
Volunteer Roger Keiffer is a retired state worker who spent much of his life working in agriculture. "I'm just giving back," Keiffer said when asked why he volunteers.
"It's a great way to teach people where their food comes from," said Debbie Evans, a Capital Press employee who has volunteered for the past 14 years.
"I do it because it's fun to see the kids all excited," said Evans' daughter, Megan Evans, 18, who has been attending Ag Fest since she was 4.
"It's important for ag to get in touch with regular Oregonians," said John Thyssen, a grass seed company executive who was working in the Oregon Seed Council booth on April 29.
"It's important to talk about what we do and highlight the positives of agriculture," he said.
Vernon Herrick, a Springfield, Ore., farmer, has volunteered for the past six years for the Oregon State Grange exhibit.
"I do it for the education of kids," he said.
Herrick brought 4,200 starts of tomatoes, marigolds and bell peppers, which volunteers handed out to attendees.
"And," he said, "we're going to run out."