Friday, March 31, 2006

Pass the baton to promote agriculture

Mary Stewart, at the Oregon Department of Agriculture Ag Progress Dinner, displayed a baton to encourage others to carry on the positive message of agriculture after she leaves her position of executive director for the Oregon Agri-Business Council on March 31. Director of Agriculture Katy Coba, background, gave Stewart an award for the Keeping Ag Viable campaign.

By Elaine Shein

When organizations change the head of the organization, such as a president, often a gavel is ceremoniously passed on to recognize the role of the next leader. However, what would be appropriate when there is a change in the executive director position at an agricultural organization?

Mary Stewart, who officially steps down today as executive director of the OregonAgri-Business Council , provided an appropriate prop at the Oregon Department of Agriculture Ag Progress Awards a week earlier ago in Silverton, Ore.

At the podium, she held up a baton — and said that it represents the teamwork done by different people on the Agri-Business Council’s Keeping Ag Viable committee who have served as volunteers to help spread a positive message of agriculture. The baton also represents what everyone needs to continue to do: pass on that positive image of agriculture beyond the ag community and also to the next generation.

Baton appropriate

Why was a baton so appropriate? Because the race continues, slow and steady. This is a team effort, and while it may seem like an endless race with a few tough hurdles along the way, ultimately there will be rewards for those who have worked so hard to continue to support agriculture.

Perhaps it’s time for the team to thank Stewart for the work she has done with ABC for more than 10 years. Often executive directors receive little credit for their accomplishments and little notice for when things go right with an organization. Everyone expects a flawless performance, whether to create a strong financial position, increase membership, educate the public, put out fires in the media, arrange promotion of agricultural products, influence buying habits of customers and plan large fundraising events.

Changes at the top

Executive directors serve many bosses: the Agri-Business Council has a large board of directors, for example, which has just undergone a change in leadership as Mac McCarter took over the presidency from Dick Severson. ABC is currently going through long-term strategic planning which will influence greatly what happens to the organization celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

ABC represents more than 900 members, organizations that range from the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation to NORPAC to small farm businesses that have recognized the benefits of belonging to a larger umbrella organization.

Keeping Ag Viable a success

During Stewart’s tenure at ABC, one of the most significant accomplishments was the formation of the Keeping Ag Viable program. On ABC’s website, it’s described as “an industry-wide, state-wide effort initiated in 1996 and housed at the Agri-Business Council of Oregon (ABC), seeks to unite agriculture’s diverse voices and leverage its combined resources to effect statewide awareness. Taking this a step farther, the goal is to motivate Oregonians — rural and urban, consumer and legislator, student and business leader —to actively support Oregon agriculture by buying local products and considering the industry's needs at the ballot box and in the policy arena.”

Ask three questions

How successful has this program been? Just ask yourself three questions.
Have you ever heard the phrase “Oregon Agriculture. Everywhere. Everyday”, perhaps mentioned by someone in the agricultural industry, or used on packaging, or become part of in media campaigns?

And if you have driven on some of Oregon’s roads, have you come across some bright yellow signs that promote Agriculture? There are some on the I-5 between Portland and Salem, for example, and follow the old Burma Shave advertising campaigns. Cute rhymes with a touch of humor are used to help catch people’s attention. Tens of thousands of vehicles each day passing by these signs, and surveys have shown that people do remember these signs later.

On these same roads people can often see signs identifying what crops are in the fields. In a place like Oregon, where crops are so diversified, few people could identify what is being grown, and they appreciate the opportunity to learn along the way.

All these three things came from the Keeping Ag Viable program, and Mary Stewart played an important role in helping ensure these ideas came to fruition.

Excellence in Education award

It was definitely appropriate that Stewart accepted the award from ODA on March 23, about a week before she ended her job. She accepted the ODA’s award for Excellence in Education for the work that KAV has done, tearfully acknowledging that her job as executive director was almost over although the need for ag promotion will never end.

In the video announcing the award, Bruce Pokarney from ODA explained “One of the biggest challenges for Oregon agriculture has been bridging the urban-rural gap….making sure that all Oregonians understand and appreciate all that is done by farmers and ranchers.”

He added: “The Keeping Agriculture Viable in Oregon Committee, with the support of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon, has an impressive track record of accomplishment the past five plus years in making the connection between agriculture and the daily lives of all Oregonians.” In regards to the ‘Oregon Agriculture. Everywhere. Everyday’ campaign he said “Those messages have connected with the target audience more than 110 million times. Well over half of those surveyed actually recall seeing the ads and messages. Surveys show the percentage of those seeking Oregon products has grown because of the campaign…”

Pokarney, who serves on the KAV committee himself, put into perspective what KAV has done but what remains the challenge ahead for everyone.

More than quick fix

“Keeping Agriculture Viable has been more than a quick-fix media blitz,” said Pokarney. “It has maintained its momentum, recognizing that there are many people out there who still need to be reached. Strong, positive, consistent, and effective messages about all the good things represented by Oregon agriculture will always find a way of reaching the target audience thanks to the efforts of those involved with the campaign.”

Stewart has handed to everyone in agriculture, not just her successor, the baton now to carry. Success will come only as long as everyone continues to recognize as a team they need to work together and continue moving forward.


OregonAgri-Business Council

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