Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Urban sprawl stinks in California

By Elaine Shein

For many people who want to protect valuable farmland, they declare urban sprawl stinks.

And now it does — literally. An AP story out of California said skunks and people are battling it out when new housing developments go up near cities in San Joaquin County. The Stockton Police department said the skunks are multiplying and continue to live deeper in their burrows. A skunk den can hold up to 75 animals, according to AP.

I can already guess who will win. The skunks.

I recall on our farm how many times our various dogs through the decades took on the skunks, and I can tell you exactly how many times these brave dogs won.


Unfortunately, these skunks would sometimes become a pest with our chicken coop or for sending our dogs into a barking frenzy every night so there were times we needed to take on the skunks. By we, I of course mean my father. The rest of us were supportive, but from a safe distance like say … the house several hundred yards away. Inside the house.

Sometimes when my father left the house with his rifle he wasn’t sure exactly what he would find. Coyotes, foxes, porcupines, skunks … at night, a dog’s bark doesn’t differentiate one from the other.

One day Dad decided to follow the barking dog and we heard the barking for quite a while before finally we heard the gunshot announcing the end. The dog paused — then kept barking, but the tone was a bit different.

We picked up the dog and Dad’s scent long before we saw them slowly enter the yard.

The dog kept running, barking, and occasionally rolling in the grass or using his paws to try to rub out the awful skunk odor.

And my father didn’t seem too happy himself, as he started to peeling off his clothing that had one of the most powerful smells we could come across. Mom quietly went off to find all the big cans of tomato juice she could find in the house. Dad was muttering something about burning his clothes.

We learned valuable lessons from that experience. Even when shooting a skunk, the skunk may get the last parting shot. Tomato juice does NOT get the smell out of clothes or a human body. Fire seemed to be the only remedy that successfully got rid of the skunk odor out of clothes. Dad took several baths that day, even though we lived in a part of the country where water was extremely precious and we were always told to ration our water carefully for baths. It took several days for us to finally declare we could no longer detect the skunk odor on him any more. The light scent of tomato juice still lingered.

To this day, our family has never discussed this experience again. We figured Dad living once through this was cruel enough: we need not bring up the subject again.

We also noticed after that Dad was very careful to stay out of spraying range of skunks.

As did we all — except the dogs. They never learned.

One of my friends once told me the night before her husband Bob was going to take her dog to the vet “to get fixed”, the dog tangled with a skunk and lost. Badly.

“You’re not getting out of this THAT easily,” her husband growled, as he shoved the dog into the half ton truck the next morning and drove several miles to the vet. Windows were rolled down, and the smell was so overpowering that Bob nearly gagged, but he was determined the dog needed to go to the vet.

The veterinarian was not happy about the dog owner’s stubbornness. The larger bill reflected that, but Bob just shrugged. He wasn’t about to raise a stink over it, considering the circumstances.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day weekend: a rainy reflection

By Elaine Shein

The Memorial Day weekend weather was a conversational topic for many who were disappointed with the May showers for at least the first couple of days.

Television stations showed disappointed campers in the mountains, in the Cascade as well as Sierra Nevada ranges, waking up to fresh snow on their tents and shivering around their barbecues for heat.

For the farmers who worked the weekend to sell their produce at farmers’ markets, business was rather slow.

A steady rain fell on the farmers’ market in Corvallis, Ore. What should have been a bustling Saturday was more of a bust: few people visited the booths, and those hardy shoppers usually hurried back to their vehicles with the fresh fruit and vegetables of the season.

Several of those who work the farmers’ market tucked their tables in under their tarps and tents as much as possible to avoid the steady rain.

The musicians who often compete with each other were noticeably absent, probably worried about warping their guitars and rusting their other musical instruments.

Perhaps the busiest places in Corvallis were the coffee shops — especially the ones nearest the farmers’ market.

In Salem, it was also noticeably quiet, and some vendors at the Saturday Market began to pack up early when it appeared the weather — and customers — would not be favorable that day. Some farmers thanked patrons for just showing up, even if they weren’t in the mood to make a purchase.

Some of the more traditional tourist areas were also slow this weekend. McMinnville’s historic district was relatively empty, but then again a lot of people are probably still recovering from the UFO Festival that was there the weekend before. Or they were visiting some of the wonderful wineries in the valley that offered taste tests.

For those who may have been driving the countryside and didn’t see UFOs, they may have seen another strange sight. Taking back roads from Basket Slough (a wildlife refuge west of Salem) towards Perrydale, there was a group of nine wild turkeys close to the road. Some were in the pasture, others perched on a fence to gaze at a nearby cattle herd. They didn’t seem to mind the rain.

On the coast, restaurant and store owners complained about how slow business was because of the weather. A woman working the flea market at Yachats, just off Highway 101, said the weather had been just terrible on Saturday and Sunday, and she readily welcomed Monday’s sunny day. “We don’t even want to talk about the rest of the weekend,” she said. “Let’s pretend it never existed. The rest of the week is supposed to be nice.”

Campgrounds and hotels were relatively empty and highway traffic light, a big surprise for this time of year. The casinos remained busy, as usual.

However, Monday’s sunshine slowly began to attract more people to the beach and restaurants, and popular places like the Chowder Bowl restaurant at the historic Nye Beach of Newport had long line-ups while staff hurried from table to table.

By the end of the day it seemed like everybody — and their dog — was out to enjoy some of the sunshine.

And to enjoy a day of freedom that so many others, from so many generations, have sacrificed for us to enjoy life peacefully now here in the U.S.

Listening to the solemn words of our leaders, watching jet fighters overhead or wreath-laying ceremonies in our local towns, seeing documentaries on television, or even listening to our relatives, friends and neighbors who have served in wars of the past — while we continue to mourn and pray for those who continue to fight in war zones overseas — all act as reminders that Memorial Day isn’t just another vacation day.

If rainy weather and dampened vacation plans are the biggest challenges we have for the moment, we should be grateful.

There are so many who have so much less in the world.

The sun will shine at future farmers’ markets. The tourists will flood back to their favorite places in upcoming weeks. Businesses will attract their usual and new clientele once again.

But there are so many families who will not be seeing their spouse, parent, or child again because of the sacrifices they have made fighting in wars.

Perhaps we should have had more conversations about that than the weather on the long weekend.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A link from the Backwoods

Thanks to Backwoods Evolution for the link to Blogriculture. We appreciate it.

Like Savage Farmer, which has also linked to our site, Backwoods is an Oregon-based blog.

Ain't it nice when the neighbors say howdy?

Monday, May 22, 2006

What to do when nature throws a curveball: baseball-sized hail

Thunderstorms: source of excitement but also fear for those who experience them.

By Elaine Shein

After some wild storms in the West last week, discussion among some of the staff at Capital Press showed we each have different definitions of what is a bad storm.

As several people talked about experiencing heavy sheets of rain, hail, high winds, multiple flashes of lightning and booming thunder, and acknowledged hearing weather warnings on radio and television stations, one particular skeptic kept shaking his head.

Capital Press managing editor Carl Sampson kept declaring this was nothing, not a REAL storm, just a sprinkle really, and nothing as scary as what he has experienced in the past. He shared what it feels like to see a whole town disappear just down the road from where it used to be, or to know that several of the neighbors' farms are gone because of a tornado.

It was obvious that he was the one from the Midwest, where Tornado Alley is not just a nickname but a way of life for several months, and where frequent travelers knew they should expect airport delays because of storm cells threatening even aircraft in the area.

Whenever the humidity rose, the clouds of awfully dark blue, gray and green began to swirl, wind began to pick up, rain became more sideways and drops grew larger, and of course the animals in the house or yard or on the farm began to act strange, the signs pointed to a horrible storm coming soon.

Occasionally tornadoes do appear on the West Coast, such as in eastern Oregon last week, but it’s much more infrequent.

Send kids to spot tornadoes

Growing up in Western Canada, my brothers and I always were on the lookout for tornadoes as soon as the first spring storms started to hit. It became part of our routine each day: check the weather forecast if any warnings had been given for our area, and if any dark clouds were coming, my father sent us kids up to the second floor of our house to peer out to see if we could spot either funnels or streaks of white signifying bad hail in the approaching storms. We also would sometimes receive phone calls from neighbors or relatives to let us know if bad weather had already gone through their area.

There were no tornado sirens in the sparsely-populated farming area where my family lives, so this was the next best warning system.

If we spotted what looked like a bad storm, then we had options: if it looked like hail was on the way, we quickly rounded up all the chickens and turkeys and chased them into the coop. This was when I decided that turkeys, followed by chickens, were the most stupid living creatures on earth. I know a lot of people encourage free range chickens be raised, but in stormy areas we have learned that free range chickens will NOT run away from approaching storms but instead run wildly around in circles when a storm hits. Any chickens we couldn’t round up would usually become bruised or killed from hailstones when they hit. They never learned from the dog and cats which dived under granaries at the first hint of thunder. Often together, no matter how much they hated each other.

Hide the trucks

If we didn’t have any calves or pigs to chase inside, next on our list was to move any vehicles off the yard and into our big Quonset. Huddled against the machinery, these dusty, dented half-ton trucks were safer there than risking their already stone-chipped windshields against the hail.

If we felt it was going to be a REALLY bad storm, we also placed pillows against some of the house windows after making sure we had closed every window in the house against the rain. This was to help give a bit more protection against the hail.

And then finally we would scoot downstairs ourselves, waiting until the storm passed.

Probably the worst storm that hit our farm was when I was a teenager. We had gone through all the steps but braced ourselves for the worst. We knew there would be a lot of hail, just from how the wind was howling and there was the continuous rumble of thunder in the distance growing louder; the temperature plunged drastically.

Our house had a small porch to the north, with linoleum floor, and then there was the kitchen, also with linoleum, and finally our living room with its 1-inch high shag rug. At first we thought we would be safe in the house, glancing occasionally out the porch window to see if the storm had yet arrived.

Baseball-sized hail strikes

And then we saw the hailstones start to come down … in disbelief we saw that these were not the usual hailstones. Rapidly they went from quarter-size to baseball size. They hit the ground and then bounced another 9 feet or more into the air. We began to hear the roof begin to be pounded, and watched these wildly bouncing hailstones flying all over the yard.

My mother screamed at us to get away from the porch. Us kids ran to the living room, rather than downstairs, because there would be fewer windows to pass. The windows were starting to get smashed.

We had just reached the living room when one of the hailstones bounced off the ground, hurled through the porch window, and had so much force that it didn’t even touch the porch floor. It sailed half way across the kitchen at shoulder level before it landed and began to slide fast along the kitchen linoleum towards where we were standing. It hit the shag rug in the living room and still it kept going, at least another three or four feet, and finally stopped only two inches from our feet.

We stared down at it, this big icy block of ice still not melting. We glanced at each other, and stayed silent; all we could hear were all the windows on the north and west side of the house, in the basement, main floor and second floor as they shattered. The hailstones rattled so loud off the roof and walls of the house we would not have been able to hear each other at that point if we even dared to shout anything.

Broken windows, battered walls

When the storm passed, we finally emerged from the house and saw the yard filled with the white hailstones, mostly the same giant size. It was clear that the garage, the barn the house … anything with windows had been beaten bad. The sides of buildings that faced the storm had deep round imprints in them from all the hail. (For years my mother tried to cover these indents with several layers of paint, but 30 years later we can still see them from a side view, and still feel the curves as we ran a hand over the boards.)

The phone began to ring later that day. Neighbors compared what damage had been done to vehicles, how many turkeys, ducks or chickens they had lost, how even some newborn calves hadn’t been able to handle the storm. Our school 11 miles away had also had all the windows on one side of it smashed out. Trees were stripped off leaves, but luckily crops were still being seeded at the time and the crop wasn’t lost. We also were thankful no one had been injured.

In our freezer for several months we kept a few of the hailstones to remind ourselves of nature’s wrath but also to have proof for relatives who came to visit.

The lesson learned at that time prepared me for future storms. As a reporter I covered a lot of tornado and high wind storms, but usually after the storms had passed. I would talk to families that miraculously survived, and I'd take pictures of steel grain bins twisted and crumpled against each other like tin cans; a garage picked up, flung 500 feet upside down on its roof; houses moved off foundations and their roofs peeled back like a sardine can. And I was thankful that lives had been spared despite the disaster.

Tornado in rearview mirror

Like about five years ago when I was driving from work and watched in disbelief as a tornado formed only about five miles away … and was heading towards my place. I watched it in my rearview mirror as I raced home to hide in my basement.

After the storm passed, without my basement being ripped apart over top of me, I ventured carefully out and … there were some of my neighbors across the street, sitting on their porch, drinking beer, and talking about what a rush it was to see the storm.

“Wow, should have seen it … there were like, five or six funnels twirling around each other right over our houses but they didn’t come down! It was SOOO cool!”

We were very lucky. The tornado had been on the ground for several minutes and had reached within a half block of the city’s western edge … then suddenly lifted above and twirled as a harmless funnel (along with a few others) over my part of town. It wasn’t the first time we had storms in our areas. I knew that some small tornadoes had touched down in my neighborhood only a few years before, and one family two blocks from me had their same house roof hit twice within a couple of years from tornadoes. My real estate agent didn't mention it at the time when I bought the house. I found out later from neighbors.

Respect nature

Too often we don’t show enough fear when it comes to nature. On the West Coast, perhaps it’s a good thing that we still marvel and talk about storms even when these storms are gentle compared to those in the MidWest or the Canadian prairies.

I admit I do miss the severe thunderstorms and the tremendous lightning shows of nature. I always yearn to see them each spring.

But I don’t miss the fear that also rumbles along with the storms.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Swapping for fuel

By Elaine Shein

For farmers who seek what to do about high fuel prices, especially when short of cash for those scary bills, perhaps there is another option.

A Reuters story said that a woman in Germany didn’t have enough money to pay for her gas, so she left behind a friend as a deposit and promised to return for the friend after she withdrew the cash.

Two hours later, the frustrated gas station worker still held the so-called friendly deposit and the other woman still hadn’t returned. Police were finally called, the friend at the station was released, and authorities were last searching for the driver for possible fraud.

Police might have another crime on their hands if the ex-friends encounter each other first and revenge comes to mind.

Consider what farmers could leave behind at the local gas station, or what to trade next time a load of fuel is brought to the farm.

Swap options

“Here, if we can just shove this heifer into the cab of your fuel truck … I swear I’ll get her back later when I’m in town.”

“Need a good round bale of hay? I’m sure you can tack some nice ad banners to it… You might want to keep it away from those fuel pumps though.”

“I told my honey we would do something special like take a trip for our 25th anniversary … I’m sure she won’t mind helping you deliver diesel for a week until that payment comes in for that last wheat shipment. Heck, Rosie will see much more of the county than ever before.”

“Kids, if you don’t stop fighting in the backseat, I’ll drop off one of you at the next gas station in exchange for a fuel gallons of gas … Don’t make me stop now!”

“Surely you could use a nice hog like this one. Okay, she’s no beauty queen: she really likes to pig out at fast food places and is real road hog if you let her drive, but she’s a great travel companion.”

“You’ll love this horse. Great horsepower, never nags, she’ll help you hoof it over to your other customers in no time. “

“I know it’s just, uhm, temporary, but you might want to cover these chickens’ eyes whenever you pass a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. They’re a bit sensitive about running into cousins of theirs unexpectedly…”

‘How ‘bout we swap: I’ll give you a few gallons of milk for a few gallons of fuel. I reckon this milk is worth at least $3 per gallon. And that’s without labor costs.”

“Can I interest you in some fine Christmas trees in exchange for the fuel? Sure, it’s a bit early for decorations, but you’ll get an early start for the season.”

“Tell you what: I’ve got four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Can you give me a 12-day extension on that gas bill for those?”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Champoeg teaches Oregon's ag and political history

Dennis Wiley, Park Manager for the Champoeg State Heritage Area, shows Wilsonville mayor Charlotte Lehan a historic marker honoring the May 2, 1843 meeting that let to the first American government on the Pacific Coast.

By Elaine Shein

CHAMPOEG STATE HERITAGE AREA, Ore. — Holding up a sock monkey, the woman dressed in period costume from the mid-1800s asked the small group of students how many knew what it was.

A few hands rose eagerly in response.

“ A sock monkey!” cried out one. A few others nodded that they too, had successfully recognized this toy that was popular from more than a century ago.

Taking the lesson further, the woman asked “how many pairs of socks do you think people had at the time? And how did they make these socks?”

And the lesson continued at Champoeg State Heritage Area.

Within a few minutes the students discussed whether kids would have had time to play after doing chores, what it was like to be in church on hard wooden pews and what toys they could silently play with there, and how socks could be transformed into monkeys for amusement.

Along the way, the children in this particular group — one of three that day — discussed how tough they think people had it in the past, what chores they might have done, what roles the children had, and what family life was like on farms.

Education on the past

Each year about 3,800 students participate in the educational programs offered at this park. This includes a Pioneer School, where students “take part in a typical pioneer school day, learning what it was like to be student in 1861. What better way to study history than to become part of it?” explains the material from the park. “Students work outdoors with instructors making hand-dipped candles and a button spinner toy. And of course, they enjoy good old fashioned pioneer recess.”

There is a lot to see and do at the part, ranging from hands-on activities to videos and other displays to teach children. Historic markers help teach children how the first provisional government was decided here in 1843, but the kids also learn to respect agriculture and the first farmers to settle the fertile soil in the French Prairie area of Oregon.

According to the Park Manager Dennis Wiley, the Champoeg State Heritage Area draws 350,000 people annually to enjoy its 615 acres that include historic sites, an interpretative center, hiking and biking trails and much more. Near Newberg, Ore., the area continues to draw people who enjoy history as well as nature.

Special events

Some of the special events that draw people include Chatauqua on Saturdays designated in January, February and March each year, Earth Day in April, and Founders Day in May.

Still upcoming for this year is Down by the Riverside on May 20, Oregon State Parks Day on June 3, Free Fishing Day on June 10, Pioneer Farmstead Day on Sept. 2, and Champoeg Holiday Gathering on Dec. 2.

What really is fascinating are the Living History Events that the park offers. These include, according to the literature from the Friends of Historic Champoeg:

Textile Day on July 8: spinning wool, carding wool, rug braiding, quilting and weaving

Blacksmith Day on July 15: Blacksmithing, horse shoeing

Dairy Day on July 22: Butter making, cheese making demonstrations, buttermilk baking

Fun and Games Day on July 29: 19th century games, indoor and outdoor

Wheat Production Day on August 5: Wheat processing from stalk to flour

Household Arts on the Farm Day on August 12: Vinegars, herbs, mending clothes, rug weaving

Farm Yard Arts Day on August 19: Leather harness repair, woodworking, tin smithing

Farmstead Day on September 2: All that was done so far, together!

Barn Dance on Sept. 15-16

Apple Harvest Festival on October 14

Holiday Gathering on December 2: Crafts, food, music, story telling, trimming the tree.

Learning about ancestors

One of the best parts about the programs at Champoeg is this keeps alive the knowledge of what many people’s ancestors experienced. Many farms in the area can trace back their heritage to the first people who settled in the area, and families take pride in knowing they continue to work the land and grow high-quality crops and livestock.

And of course, there is the political history significance of this place.

A modest marker lists names of some of the earliest farming pioneers and the spot where on May 2, 1843, settlers from the Willamette Valley felt it was important enough to get together to organize a civil government. “The Organic Act adopted July 5, 1843, was a provisional constitution for the Oregon country, the first American government on the Pacific Coast,” explains a large sign near the historic place.

Political significance

Wiley put into perspective how important this first vote was. A large number of settlers of the Willamette Valley gathered to discuss whether to be part of Great Britain or be part of the United States. They wanted to protect the interest of Oregon lands, and included French-Canadian farmers, Methodist missionaries, natives, and even fur-trappers. They struggled with language, with half of them not understanding English, and needed to vote a half dozen times before the final conclusion. With a vote of 52 to 50, the people who participated decided to create the Provisional Government.

How important was this?

Drew thousands of Oregonians

For decades after that, this spot in Champoeg State Park attracted crowds of thousands of people to celebrate Founders Day in May. There are stories of how, around 1910 and for a few years after that, more than 3,000 people would come from all over the state, by “steam wheeler, horse and buggy” and sometimes traveled for days to get there, according to Wiley.

“Now, we feel really good about it if we get 100 people,” he said, adding that’s about how many showed up recently for the event. “Generations have passed away with ties to pioneer heritage,” he explained.

This week as farmers tilled the dusty fields near Champoeg, the park manager noted that the land in this area still looks much like it did 150 years ago even though the production practices and technological advancements might have changed. Farmers still work the land that enjoys depths of topsoil from 3 to 8 feet deep, some of the best land in the West. There was a reason farmers first settled in this temperate weather zone and worked this area so richly diverse in agriculture, ranging from berries to nut orchards to grass seed to vegetable crops and nurseries.

Today’s challenges

Unfortunately, like many other special historic places, the Champoeg State Heritage Area is not funded by Oregon income tax dollars and relies on grants, lottery dollars and personal contributions to continue a program that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain and hopefully to improve. Work is needed on trails, as well as interpretative signs, and plans are being made to launch an anniversary celebration in 2009.

Anyone interested in contributing can become a member or volunteer. Membership levels range from $15 for a senior/student to $1,000 for a lifetime membership. For more information, contact: Friends of Historic Champoeg, 8239 Champoeg Road NE, St. Paul, OR 97137 or call 503-678-1649.
Email is or email Champoeg State Heritage Area.

Watching the kids as they learned from the people who work at Champoeg, it is clear that for anyone who loves history, especially of Oregon or agriculture, this is a great cause to support.

Champoeg State Heritage Area.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Candidates show class despite voter — and media — apathy

By Elaine Shein

At this time it appears the ballots are still being counted, percentages figured out, and the analysis continues, but there is one thing that really came through in this election.

Politicians can spend millions of dollars on a primary election … but they still can’t convince someone to care enough to go drop off a ballot.

Statewide, the last estimate tonight was just over 32 percent voter turnout of those who had registered. In some of the counties with the biggest populations, like Multnomah County, it was just over 30 percent; Clackamas and Washington Counties turned in numbers in the mid-20s.

Pundits suggested there wasn’t an issue that struck enough passion to draw voters. That is difficult to believe in a state that is one of the most passionate in the nation every time someone mentions “raising taxes” or “land use”. Oregon struggles with some of the most serious meth and other drug problems in the country, schools are miserably fighting for funds to stay open, and fuel prices are choking the economy. And don’t not even talk about PERS and the impact that had on people.

Agriculture had a lot of issues to be passionate about, but unfortunately very seldom did politicians talk about agriculture when it came to the urban, mainstream media where it might have caught more attention and focus in an election year.

Actually, by tonight it appeared the mainstream media had lost interest altogether in the election. Checking the television stations, it became clear that the media felt they had given the politicians enough airtime — for now — and there are much more important things to catch attention in this state.

Note to politicians: never hold an election during TV sweeps week, when season finales and final episodes of long-running shows compete for the mighty advertising dollar and consumer. While the TV stations promised to keep voters tuned in to the latest election results, it was pathetic to see how the coverage turned out. Trying to find out the local results for their local county, or issue, or favorite candidate, voters were encouraged to go to websites instead.

Guess what? Not everyone has internet access. Or high speed internet connections. Or the time and patience to try to find the information online, scrolling through the election results. They probably gave up, turned to Larry King to watch the delightful Donny and Marie Osmond reunite on TV for the first time in 5 years, or checked out the season finales of their favorite shows.

The election coverage was such a joke on other stations, CNN had a chance to compete with some real comedians in the Osmonds. Perhaps Larry King’s show was appropriate for election night.

At least King gave the Osmonds enough time to speak. The television networks, every one of them it appeared, didn’t think it was worthwhile to show the complete speeches of the political candidates — especially the victorious ones — tonight.

Viewers got partial speeches. As soon as the candidates began to 1) thank those who supported them 2) launch into anything that sounded like an election speech against opponents this fall, they were cut off and political analysts, pundits, commentators and anyone else was brought on to discuss what was just said (or at least part of what was said). This is an insult to the candidates but especially to all those hardworking, dedicated, passionate volunteers.

The media coverage was shoddy, and did little to create interest, passion and pride in voters. Voters earned the right to see their candidates as well as their opponents do their speeches. This is the time to unite parties, prepare for the bigger fall election battles, and also hopefully create more interest for people to exercise their right to vote.

But this didn’t happen.

The speeches didn’t air, or those messages were cut out.

Why was it so important to hear these last speeches from perhaps candidates we may never see running again for public office?

In this election, there was a lot of mudslinging. The public claims to hate that ugly side of politics, yet the politicians swear they work and influence voters.

Put that ugliness aside for now, and hope that politicians can rise above that in the next few months when this state needs to pull together more than ever to deal with the challenges out there, but also find opportunities to work together towards opportunities.

Forgetting the terrible attack ads, it’s time to focus on some signs of class that came out of the election today:

1) All three top Republican candidates have decided to appear together at a press conference to show unity and also support the person who won. Ron Saxton won, but the decision to do this press conference was made before results even came in tonight.

2) Incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski thanked the two people who ran against him and felt it taught him a few lessons and prepared him to be stronger for the fall election. One of the highest praises he could give them: Oregon is better for the service they have provided the state.

3) Jason Atkinson deserves special credit for how he vowed not to do an attack campaign, and may have influenced the Republican party to have higher standards in the future.

4) Jim Hill showed modest, sincere appreciation and gratitude to the unions who supported him and said he did what needed to be done, bringing issues that were important to the front of the election.

5) Kevin Mannix was one of the last people to leave his election party tonight in Portland. With a small table of family and supporters being the last to leave the room, Mannix talked about it being like an Irish wake, and took the time to enjoy being with loved ones but also reflect on the election with the people closest to him. For someone who has run so many times unsuccessfully for some of the top jobs in the state, Mannix showed class in how he handled defeat, right to the end.

Tomorrow, some election signs will come down, others will go up, and the fight to collect more volunteers, endorsements, money and ultimately voters will begin even more earnestly for those who continue to battle.

Hopefully in the fall the voters will do their part and show up in larger percentages to take part in this great democracy.

And hopefully the television stations will accept more responsibility to show history as it unfolds rather than concentrate on what entertainment shows will catch the largest audiences and commercial dollars at this time of year.

Oregon yawns through an election

Like agriculture, or any other field of endeavor, reporting election results has changed in the last 20 years.

Unfortunately, the state of Oregon is not as far along the technological spectrum as some of our neighbors.

For the last 8 years or so I've worked at general circulation newspaper and election coverage has made for some long days, and nights, in the newsrooms where I worked in California. But the Internet changed the way the news media and the general public monitored election returns. Ten years ago, media outlets sent reporters to county court houses and election offices to wait for the latest poll numbers to be released by county and state election figures. But about eight years ago that started to change as county registrars in California, and the Secretary of State started posting election returns online.

For the last several years, anyone with an Internet connection has been able to get the results as, or more, quickly online as they could on site at an election office.

I expected to find something similar here in Oregon. Based on today's primary election, I was sorely disappointed.

Oh, I could still get the most up-to-date election news online, but the Secretary of State's election site was virtually worthless, except for links to county election sites. Fortunately, the Associated Press had its act together and provided the most up-to-date information through links from other news media sites.

According to the Secretary of State, as of the end of day Monday, only 27 percents of registered voters had returned ballots in the state's vote-by-mail election. Voters had until 8 p.m. tonight to drop off their ballots at approved drop-off sites.

One area where Oregon does now seem to be taking the lead from California and other states is in a drop-off in voter turnout.

Districts seeking bond measures that required a majority of votes and a majority of registered voters to cast ballots for passage were defeated by virtue of simply not enough ballots cast, regardless of whether those who did vote approved, or disapproved, of the measures.

Oregon's vote-by-mail system was seen as a way to keep the electorate involved when it was established. But that now seems to be a going by the boards like the analog telephone, over-the-air television broadcasts or a mule pulling a plow.

While voter registration in Oregon is higher than ever before, fewer ballots were cast in this primary than in the last one four years ago. Idaho will go to the polls next week. Californians next month. But in this representative democracy, where there is an ever-growing number of politicians in Congress, state houses and local governments, the proportion of those who choose those representatives is ever-shrinking.

In the wake of terrorism fears we've allowed government to infringe on our rights to privacy in our airports, public places, on our telephone lines and other places with hardly a whimper. In ever-greater numbers, Americans are surrendering their right to vote as well.

And we wonder if right-to-farm laws will hold up.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Vote to show you care — and because you can

By Elaine Shein

America is a great democracy … but do people appreciate that enough to take time to vote?

As election day nears for the primaries here in Oregon, and in other places in the country, election officials are sharing some of the signs of apathy that are out there.

Oregon has a mail-in ballot system. While next Tuesday the election results will be announced, by yesterday there were projections of perhaps only a 25 percent turnout of votes expected.

In some counties, there have been even less voters than that.

This is extremely disappointing, especially when one considers the amount of time, money and energy that candidates and their supporters have put into these campaigns.

There are countries in the world that admire America’s democratic system, and fight for the right to vote. People in those countries risk their lives to stand hours in line, sign and deposit their ballots. Sometimes international teams are invited to observe an election to ensure it was run properly. When election results are announced, these people celebrate or protest, but either way they show how passionate they are about their right to vote.

Why has America become so apathetic? At a time when immigration has fired up passion in people to defend their rights, the majority of American citizens haven’t found the passion to exercise their right to vote, nor seem to care who should lead them politically. This is shameful, but also scary. Do they not feel their votes matter, or that any candidate can do the job?

What can be done to encourage people to appreciate, respect and actively participate in democracy here?

Americans should encourage their neighbors, friends and relatives to vote but most of all take the time to vote themselves — and be thankful they can.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Slugging it out on the West Coast

By Elaine Shein

Like a lot of other people here on the West Coast, I'm slugging it out with slugs. So far, they're winning.

Grass seed farmers worry about the serious damage slugs do in their fields, especially in wet years like this one with above normal rainfall.

Whatever didn't drown those slugs only made them stronger. I swear I saw some surfing my driveway a few times.

Before I moved to Oregon, I had never seen a slug before, and this led to a false hope I would never need to 1) recognize one and its trail of ooze or 2) battle one to its oozy death.

I now find myself asking friends, searching book stores, surfing the internet, and begging anyone for help on how to terminate, kill, destroy, annihilate, slaughter or just downright squash the evil slugs and show no mercy.

Who would have thought such a murderous streak existed within my mild, gentle-mannered self? Until now, such revenge was reserved just for mosquitoes. I grew up in a place with mosquitoes so big ranchers swore that, given the chance, those winged fiends would carry off small calves.

Wait, there was one other revengeful moment in my life: that termite problem I had last year. But let's avoid discussing termites for now and how many two-by-fours they can chomp in a month. I suppose I should admire termites' work ethic, their dedication, and their ability to reduce superior mankind to helpless, sleepless, whimpering mammals.

But I digress. Today's topic is slugs.

Of course, I do blame myself a bit for how these slugs first appeared. First, I have a yard. I seeded certain tasty plants, expanding the slug menu. And then there was the cat dish outside …

I have an indoor cat and an outdoor cat. The outdoor one is a bob-tailed stray cat that adopted our place after I saw how starved she was and offered her some food.

I already had an indoor cat that is quite large and very protective of his turf. He won't let her in, and is extremely jealous of any cat even in the yard he never is allowed to roam.

So I couldn't let the stray cat in. But after living a few years on the tough streets of town, our bob-tailed friend knew a good thing when she finally got it: she began to sleep outside the house door, right on the WELCOME mat.

Finally, I got her a nice chair, a nice cushion for the chair, a warm fuzzy blanket for the cushion, and of course a constant supply of food for this poor starving feline. Because she was a stray, we originally bought the cheap cat food to help fatten her up.

Ironically, we bought cheap fattening formula cat food for the lean cat, and management control formula cat food for the fat one, and the latter cat howls each morning because he wants her food instead of his fine dining selection.

How fat is my fat cat? When he weighed in at the vet's office last year, he was about 20 pounds. I explained I had him on weight management control formula. The vet's assistant nodded, approvingly.

"Well, sometimes it takes a while. It probably takes about three months. How long have you had him on it?"

I growled. "It's been three years now."

"Ohhhhhh. Dear me," she said, concerned. And then said nothing more.

I have learned that whatever is in that cheap cat food attracts more than just cats. That brand of food attracts skunks, raccoons, nutria, possums, stray cats, deer and … slugs.

Slugs crawl from the yard and into the food bowl to savor the fishy-flavored morsels. Massive slugs, several inches long, push the smaller slugs out of the way in their race for the cat food.

So this explains the healthy crop of slugs in the yard and even outside my front door at times, sliming up my welcome mat as they silently sluggishly stampede for the cat food.

As I visit greenhouses, farms, farmers' markets, and anywhere else here on the West Coast, I shamelessly admit I rely on the kindness and goodwill of all those who are more knowledgeable than me.

I casually lead the conversation towards being a valuable (and did I mention shamelessly free?) lesson. "So … got slugs? How on earth do you get rid of them?"

I've heard a variety of methods. Egg shells. Beer bait. Salt defense line. Spiked belt. Miniature electric fence. Loud Polka music (when the advice is free, you get what you pay for…) Bigger boots to stomp slugs. And commercial slug bait formulas.

Smug at the slugs, I returned home. The battle began.

The first thing I did was … move what I treasured the most to a deck 20 feet off the ground. The slugs will never get up here, I thought, laughing fiendishly, as I hauled a dozen heavy containers to the deck.

Neighbors stared uncomfortably at me. Loud fiendish laughter always attracts that kind of attention on a quiet street.

While I might have sounded mean and purposeful when it comes to slugs, when it came time to do the deed, I felt a bit remorseful. I decided the least I could do is help them die happy.

So I decided the first method I'd try to get rid of the slugs would be the beer method. I bought the beer. I even decided to buy them an import brand. It sat two years in my garage, as I procrastinated: it seemed such a waste of good beer. The slugs went forth and multiplied. The six-pack of Corona Cerveza did not.

The slugs surfed this last winter away, the beer grew more stale, and by this spring I found slugs growing to be the size of mini-sumo wrestlers as they began to bench-press the bowl of cat food and scare off the raccoons. I also found a few much more nimble slugs had craftily crawled up a 20-foot rain pipe and began munching on my deck plants. Things were going too far.

Last week, I poured some of the cerveza into containers and carefully set them in the garden. The giant slugs crawled along the containers, sniffed at the beer, turned up their … do they have noses? … and avoided the beer. The beer was two years old, what did they want? A better vintage? Were they raised on the Willamette Valley's pinot noir?

Tonight, I started to use a commercial slug bait to entice those greedy slugs. By next week, I'll see whether that was successful, or whether to try 1) an extra-large salt shaker, 2) extra-heavy stomping boots or 3) heavy-stomping polka music while dancing in my boots and madly shaking the salt shaker.

Or maybe I'll just give up and start fighting the moss on my house roof.

Have other suggestions for slugs, moss, or other West Coast problems? Email

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

California finally convinced to fix levees

By Elaine Shein

After heavy rains in the last few months, several levee breaks, a proclamation by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that the state’s levee system is in a stage of emergency, and the threat of failure at 24 critical erosion sites in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River flood control system, finally the California government has been stirred enough to move ahead.

Bids are finally being accepted from contractors to fix some of the levees, thanks to the state legislature finally approving $37.3 billion in infrastructure bonds, with $4.1 billion targeted for the levee repairs.

The legislature deserves harsh criticism for delaying these bonds so long: the politicians should hope no major disasters happen before the levees receive the urgent repairs they need. Homes and farmland have already suffered from some of the levee breaks.

Perhaps it was fitting that this was approved just over a month after the West Coast media reminded people that it has been a century since the horrific earthquake and fire devastated San Francisco on April 18, 1906. This triggered a lot of analysis on what could have been done to prevent that tragedy that became one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.

The scenes from New Orleans last year should also have been sober reminders that more needs to be done to prevent human-made catastrophes that began with natural disasters.

Those two cases showed more could have been done prior to those tragedies. At a time when this is the most technologically advanced of any generation, when the science exists to predict which parts of the country are most prone to earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides or other natural disasters, America should do all it can to prepare for those challenging times. The focus should be to save lives, not endanger them, because of politics and money.

With America’s growing population, vulnerable areas — such as California — cannot be depopulated or growth trends slowed. Besides the money for levees and infrastructure, awareness of the dangers and knowledge to deal with the challenges must be encouraged to grow. Action is needed. The approval of the bonds was just a start.

Dealing with the serious challenges doesn’t mean one can’t still retain a sense of humor, however.

Last month, in the middle of all the heavy rains and flooding, KGO television in California profiled a northern town that is proud to say it is one of the rainiest places in the state — and is also up for sale.

In March alone, 20 inches fell on Cazadero, in the heart of redwood forests in Sonoma County, which averages 85 inches of rain each year and has had up to almost 140 inches according to residents.

Only Gasquet in Del Norte County is rainier.

According to KGO, in Cazadero, Dale Buhan and his wife Heidi are selling most of the town that they own, which includes: their home: the 100-year-old general store, post office and pool hall. Price tag: $2 million.

Quoted in the TV piece, Dale Buhan declared: “Eighty-five inches is a walk in the park. Eighty-five inches seems like it doesn’t rain at all.”



Bids sought for levee repairs

Infrastructure bond approved in Sacramento

Monday, May 08, 2006

New features on Blogriculture and

Chip Power, one of our California reporters based in Fresno, has signed on to join the Blogriculture cast as a contributor to this site.

Welcome aboard Chip. Chip hasn't made any post yet, but we look forward to seeing some material from him in the future.
Chip has been one of the most regular contributors of news updates for our site. In fact he has another update there today.

Speaking of news updates on our main site, it's been a busy day over their already today. We've had so many updates already today that they don't all fit on our home page, with 5 updates today before noon. So if you want to see all the material that's new today, click on the Breaking News link on the menu bars on the top or left sides of the homepage on to see all the updates for today.

We are also working to make it easier for people who are interested in keeping up on the latest developments in agriculture news in the Western states by giving the public an opportunity to sign up for e-mail updates.
We haven't made a lot of noise about this feature yet, because our web service provider is trying to work out a couple of glitches that currently prevent people who sign up for the service from confirming their interest. But hopefully that should be fixed this week.

So if you are interested in signing up for e-mail updates, look for the Email Updates link on Just be aware that we are still experiencing some technical difficulties if you try signing up now.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Driving Lesson: Never trust a brother

By Elaine Shein

A lovely ivy plant and card signed by my fellow staff greeting me this morning at work.

A great surprise: someone obviously had leaked that it was my birthday.

Or perhaps they thought an ivy would survive better than my fledgling bean plant that hasn’t yet sprouted (see my blog on Ag Fest).

It was exactly three years ago that I first walked into the Capital Press office here in Salem: I had a job interview on my birthday. I thought of it as a sign of fate: if I got the job, it was a wonderful birthday present that was meant to be. If I didn’t get the job … well, who cares about the significance of birthdays anyway?

I always wondered later whether the job was offered to me because of a guilt complex by the company: “Well, after all, it IS her birthday. Gosh, if we don’t offer her the job, who knows what the long-term effects will be. Why, she might switch careers, maybe consider the nurse or teacher career her father always urged her to consider! How could we ever subject poor patients and kids to such suffering?”

At times like this I think back of other significant birthdays in my life. Such as when I turned 16, on my parents’ farm. Where I lived, this was the day you could go take the test to gain your drivers’ license. For someone on the farm, this is a big step in life. Freedom, responsibility, a sign of coming of age.

It also meant not needing to rely on my older brother any more as a chaperone. My brother Gordon was not the best driving instructor. The first time he taught me to drive a car in the middle of a dusty field, he didn’t bother to explain the part about brakes. I was quite furious about that, but I learned quickly that throwing the gears suddenly into reverse was just as effective.

When he tried to teach me how to drive a motorbike, he was equally helpful. There was little teaching on clutches, brakes and gears, which I have learned are valuable for a driving lesson.

Gordon was behind me on the bike, snickering to himself at how wise he was as an instructor. At least until the part of when I popped the wheelie (clutch out too fast), knocked him backwards off the bike (too much acceleration while on one wheel), and slid his nice bike into some shrubs (well, how else was I to stop without knowing where the brake exists on a bike?)

But I digress.

The day I turned 16, I proudly took my drivers’ exam. My brother went with me to the big city 45 miles away, quite assured that I would never pass and probably need two or three trips to the examiner like he did before I would find success.

I felt my older brother was a better instructor than my father. Dad was a typical prairie farmer who had adapted to city driving with a typical farmer attitude. HE had the half-ton truck, few others on the city streets did: so why should HE need to signal and shoulder-check before HE changed lanes? He just ignored those two steps, swerved into the lane, and let others figure out how to avoid our truck. Thus, by default, I thought my brother may be a safer instructor. He taught me signal lights and shoulder checking before brakes, but that was just a minor detail.

The test went well. There was only one problem. At one point the examiner got me to get out of the half-ton truck after I had done what I had believed to be a successful parallel-park along a curb.

“See anything wrong?” he asked, tapping a pen impatiently against his clipboard.

I stared at the truck tires on the passenger side. The front one was two inches from the curb. The back one was at least two feet from the curb.

“Nope,” I said innocently. He growled. I winced. He took off marks.

However, the rest of the test was flawless. My brother came to greet the examiner and me at the end of the test. “Don’t worry,” he said, patting my shoulder, “no one gets their license the first time.” He turned to the examiner. “So how bad did she do?”

“She passed.” The examiner gave me my papers and walked away, leaving my brother stunned beside me. We rambled home over dusty roads in silence, 45 miles of him muttering “B…But I thought I … how could she …? Was he blind? How much did you pay him?”

When I got home, I proudly showed my parents my license and declared I was looking forward to being able to now drive trucks, grain trucks, tractors, anything else that needed to be driven. Why, by the next day after my birthday, I could do anything!

Next thing I knew, Dad had decided no more time need be wasted. Why wait until tomorrow?

I spent the rest of my 16th birthday out in the fields picking stones, picking roots, picking whatever Dad needed picking. Always good to have another driver around. I might have picked some fights with my brothers, who also grumbled about why did I suggest anything to do with fields that day.

I soon learned another rule that came with this freedom of growing older: my father always said he didn’t set curfews for us kids, but that the truck needed to be home by midnight. It ended up being a good rule.

Kept us honest, kept the truck safe, and kept us home way before any of our friends could get into trouble. And kept us with enough energy to do the farm chores that needed to be done early the next day, birthday or no birthday.

Perhaps the work ethics I learned so many years ago influenced me to where I am today here in Oregon.

Or perhaps I am here today so I can nurture a few beans and now an ivy to grow, rather than seek revenge on my brother by offering to help teach his kids to drive.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ag Fest teaches 10 lessons to a volunteer

Brent Searle and his wife Shelley help teach four-year-old Mikayla Wolf how to make a "living necklace" out of a wet cotton ball, bean, plastic bag and piece of string. Parents Samantha and Brent Wolf watch during Ag Fest, held in Salem April 29-30.

By Elaine Shein

SALEM — Last weekend, more than 17,000 kids visited Ag Fest in Salem, Ore., to learn more about agriculture, especially in an interactive, hands-on way.

After dealing single-handedly with what seemed to be several thousand, although since it was only a three or four-hour shift as a volunteer I may be mildly exaggerating, I found that I had learned a lot from the kids themselves.

First, some background. My modest role, as a volunteer for the Oregon Ag in the Classroom Foundation, seemed simple enough. At least, that was what I was told by AITC’s program director, Tami Kerr, and a former AITC president, Brent Searle.

In his day job, Brent is a special assistant of Director Katy Coba at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. However last weekend Brent, with the assistance of his wife Shelley, could be found leaning over a big container of wet cotton balls and teaching kids how to grow a miraculous bean plant.

When I arrived for my shift, Brent looked relieved and exhausted, but was doing a great job interacting with the kids. His wife also did a super job helping out. Together they assured me the task was simple and really rewarding.

Introduce to the children the exciting concept of living necklaces. Encourage them to take a wet cotton ball, flatten it like a pancake to take out the excess water, place a kidney bean in the center, fold it over like a hotdog to hide the bean, place it in a small plastic bag that had a string attached, and ask the child to take it home and place it in a nice sunny spot for a few days. Voila: a bean should sprout and begin to grow.

There were even people who freely gave testimonials that the bean experiment was so successful that in the past, bean plants were moved outside into garden soil and grew into tall healthy bean plants.

I still cannot verify that anyone named Jack climbed these huge beanstalks to raise his income by a giant profit, but many sources mentioned Jack.

Kerr offered great encouragement, repeating several times that she believed it was a good experience for AITC board members to help out at Ag Fest and experience firsthand what she does do often in classrooms around the state and at events such as this.

While teaching kids to appreciate and understand agriculture, I also learned a few lessons myself.

The valuable lessons included:
1) Mingling chewing gum with cotton balls is never a good thing.

2) Never ask a child holding a lollipop in one hand, an ice cream cone in another, to use both hands to help with an activity. The child will shrug and drop one or both items anywhere without a second thought. Look desperately for a nearby mother or a compassionate grandmotherly-type stranger to help out.

3) Drink lots of fluids since it’s easy to lose one’s voice after repeating over and over again “So, would you like to make a living necklace out of a bean and a cotton ball?”

4) After losing one’s voice, being a mime with kids is not the most effective way to get their attention, unless you’re trapped in an invisible box and are painted like a clown and you are expected not to have a voice. Otherwise, you are only mildly amusing to the children and very scary to their parents.

5) Never force parents to take home bean plants that they really don’t want in their house. Chasing them down and begging them to take the plants their kids made won’t help the situation. Explaining that a bean plant is much less maintenance than a puppy also does not earn points with the parents. They will now despise you for mentioning a puppy.

6) Telling the children of vegetarians to fold a cotton ball over the bean “like a hotdog” really leads to bewildering looks. Say “like a blanket” instead.

7) Asking a child to gently flatten a wet cotton ball and squeeze out the water like a pancake will not always be the best advice to give. They miss the “gently” part and slap and squish and mangle the poor cotton ball heartily until it is gasping for even a drop of water.

8) If the child has just come from the “how to make a dirt baby” booth, be prepared to see the cotton balls become rather brown, grimey wads of cotton. Consider the soil as extra nourishment for the bean.

9) After child mixes chewing gum, lollipop, ice cream cone, wet cotton ball and a bean, hastily move unto the next child while the parent desperately attempts to settle the mess. And finally,

10) Never forget to tell all the children out loud what a super job they are doing, then later whisper to the parent to go home and add more water or change the bean. “Any bean will do … really … just hide it in the cotton, add water and sun, and pretend it’s the same bean! Just like what you did with their pet hamsters in the past!"

I have whole new appreciation for what Tami and others do when they help teach kids hands-on lessons about agriculture.

And I brought home a couple bean living necklaces myself to see how they will grow.

Perhaps in a few days I will update readers of this blog on what happened, and provide pictures of the great success that may take place.

Or I’ll go shopping for more beans and cotton.

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