Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Heads will roll over this one

This comes hot off the Associated Press wire.

Truck Spills 2 Tons of Pig Heads on Road

BERLIN (AP) -- A truck spilled two tons of pigs' heads on a road in western Germany, giving passing drivers a shock on the night before Halloween, police said Tuesday.

The accident happened Monday night after the truck turned off a highway in Herne, in the Ruhr region, police in Bochum said.

As the driver accelerated away from a traffic light, the door of his trailer opened, spilling the severed heads onto the road.

It took the fire service, helped by a fork-lift truck, an hour-and-a-half to load the heads back onto the truck.

I wonder where they were headed. Oh, is that a bad pun? Sorry, didn't mean to poke fun. Actually, yes I did. I'm glad I didn't have to clean that up, but that's pretty funny stuff there.

On a more serious note, here's some of the other agriculture-related items making the wires today.


Archer Daniels Midland is reporting that their first quarter profits have nearly doubled. Read the full story here. The story speculates that a recent executive hire may mean the agriculture company plants to venture even further into the ethanol game.


And speaking of ag-based energy, a Vermont college is now getting half of its energy from methane produced by farms in the region. You can read the story here. They may call my alma mater (Oregon State University) Moo U, but my old cow college can't hold a candle to Green Mountain College. Then again holding a candle may not be a great idea around all that bovine-supplied methane. You can read the college's take on getting energy from dairy cattle here.


If in your Halloween preparations you found that carving a jack-o-lantern hit a glitch when your pumpkin's stem popped off, an agriculture company is trying to fix that. A scientist with Monsanto is trying to breed a better, sturdier stem. Don't flip your lid until you read this.


OK, so I'm full of bad puns today — or mental methane, depending on your perspective.

Is it a linguistic trick or an amusing treat? You decide.

Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wonder why the mail is slow these days?

On the farm, we rarely expected our mail to be delivered to the local post office on time.

After all, it was such a long route. The mailman originally loaded his truck 45 miles away, then started quite a long circular journey that involved a lot of little towns and a lot of miles before it was over.

The roads weren’t the best. There was pavement, gravel roads and the occasional dirt roads, and mud, snow, hail and dust storms were all hazards of the route.

Occasionally, slow moving farm equipment, cattle, deer or even elk or moose may cause a few unexpected delays. We would keep an eye on the road past our farm for the familiar mail truck, or sometimes we would even call the local postmaster to see if the mail had come.

We were especially anxious on the days that the weekly farm newspaper came late. That day mattered the most to us. After all, we didn't want those classifieds to be stale by the time they reached our kitchen table.

This was before cell phones, but even now in the world of cell phones our area has little cell phone coverage. So even if the driver wanted to say, “The moose isn’t budging, so I’m not sure what time I’ll get the truck around him,” there was no chance to call the post offices ahead. Also, usually the road conditions needed the driver to have both hands on the wheel and not holding a phone.

The city life spoils us. We expect mail 6 days a week, and seem lost when there is a holiday. We also expect our mail at a certain time. Whenever it’s late, our neighbors and us worriedly peer into the empty mailboxes and ask each other “well, did YOU get any mail today?”

During the last few weeks, the neighborhood had noticed that our mail is being delivered hours later than usual, and it seemed like with each day the length of time grew. Getting mail three hours later than usual was quite noticeable. Back on the farm during bad winter blizzards, we were lucky if the mail came through three days later.

But here in the city, we quizzed each other and looked for clues. At first we pondered whether it was a new delivery guy. No, same guy. Also, seemed to be the same route when we’d see the little truck in the neighborhood.

Finally, someone asked today at the post office what was going on. Was it serious? Did we need to do a formal complaint to someone higher up in the post office?

No, we were assured. The problem was … the election.

So many governments, politicians, special interest groups and others attempting to educate and influence voters had flooded the post office with their literature that it was slowing down the whole postal system and they were struggling to keep up with it all.

Surely the post office must be making a lot of money from this, correct?

Wrong. The post office said the bulk of the mail is going … at the bulk rate. It isn’t just my neighborhood that is being flooded with enough election literature to heat the house’s fireplace for the whole winter.

With that mystery solved, my neighborhood will return to more challenging questions that face us like how to catch the raccoons, possums, nutria and other critters visiting our yards at night.

Maybe we can barricade ourselves behind the mountains of mail.

Define ag … in 100,000 words or less

It has been more than four years since I first walked into the Capital Press building in Salem, met with Mike Forester, and walked out with a new line of work.
And this foray into agricultural journalism has meant a somewhat-late-in-life learning curve, quite steep at times. Uncomfortable at times. Dang near impossible at times. But never – never – has it been dull.
One thing we keep coming back to here in the newsroom has fascinated me: How do we define ag?
I don’t know how long that issue has been a subject of discussion around here, but in the past four years it has brought out some real concerns, some great laughs and some discernible changes in the Capital Press.

Pony up the news space

For instance: Are horses agriculture?
There was some real reluctance to extend our coverage to what some folks have long considered as pets. Well, that may be true here in the Willamette Valley, where most horses are pleasure animals.
But as we peered here and there, we discovered there are more than a few farms where draft horses – not tractors – pull the plows. And out in the ranch country to the east, horses are valuable employees as well as genial companions.
So if working horses are agriculture, how about pleasure horses? How about racehorses? How about saddle makers and harness makers and farriers and trainers and breeders?
(Biographical aside: My Granddaddy Brown was a harness maker back in Stillwater, Okla., until he saw that the internal-combustion engine was quickly overtaking the alfalfa-combustion horse. So he took his leather-working skills and opened up a shoe-repair shop, figuring folks would always need shoes. His motto: “Brown’s Shoe Shop – Where We’ll Save Your Soles And Heel Ya.”)
So horses have gotten their feet … hooves … in the agricultural door, and they have gotten their photogenic selves firmly entrenched in the pages of this newspaper. Often you’ll find a page with a “Horses” label at the top, and the annual Livestock special edition has a horse-focused section of its own.

Let ’er print

Is rodeo ag? I honestly didn’t see the connection until I went to cover a youth event: Rodeo Bible Camp, in Tygh Valley, Ore. A fellow there said something like, “I’m glad to see Capital Press covering rodeo. It’s a big part of agriculture.”
And it hit me: Half of “agriculture” is “culture.” What our readers love to do is an integral part of their culture.
How far we go with that often butts up against our main focus of production agriculture. Rodeo season coincides with a very busy part of the growing season. So it’s a balancing act, especially when nearly every county fair has a rodeo, and the 10-year-old barrel racer in Tarnation, Idaho, is just as much a part of the agri “culture” as the pro bull rider at the Pendleton Round-Up.

Decanting the crop

How about wine? Vineyards are certainly agriculture, and we’ve got grape ranches popping up all over our four-state coverage area. (“Yep, I’ve got about 500 head of Syrah out there, all fattened up and ready for market.”)
But for a long time, there was debate (never heated debate, not in this laid-back newsroom) over whether wine is ag.
If wine is a value-added product that comes out of a vineyard, then by that definition chewing gum is a value-added product from a mint field; and toothpicks, from a forest; and salmon, from irrigation runoff; and amber ale, from a hopyard … there’s no end to how far we journalists will carry a thing to make our point. Especially when we’re print journalists, not limited to the 30-minute TV news hole faced by our broadcast counterparts.
Back to wine: It seems we’ve taken the bottle in hand here at the Capital Press, covering everything from research, pests, irrigation and harvest (which is where the “traditional” definition of ag would end) to processing, bottling, labeling, marketing and international trade.
Maybe that’s the word we’re looking for: “traditional.” Are we going to stick with what was long considered agricultural? Or are we willing to look at it from every aspect we can find?
Well, this is our newspaper and we’re refining our working definition of ag as we go along, and we’re looking out for the folks who are our readers. If we go too far, we expect our readers to let us know that.
Please! Before my managing editor puts me on the toothpick beat!

Friday, October 27, 2006

More trick than treat

I don't have a lot of fond memories of Halloween trick-or-treating as a kid. Halloween just wasn't the same experience growing up out in the country in rural Eastern Oregon as it was for my classmates that lived in the nearby town of Echo.

While technically I didn't live on a farm, we lived out in the country surrounded by farmland. So it strikes me as ironic that all so many urban dwellers tend to equate Halloween with a rural feel of pumpkins and corn stalks and scarecrows — evoking all this rural imagery. Halloween wasn't a very big deal in our part of the country. At least not that I remember.

That's not to say there weren't attempts at trick-or-treating. But most of our neighbors were several miles down the road. So trick-or-treating meant hopping in the car and having mom drive several miles down the highway that went past our house and then sometimes a half mile or mile down a dirt-and-gravel road to read a neighbor's house.

There were no doorbells to ring. Barking dogs and a cloud of dust announce the pending arrival at someone at the door. And it didn't really matter if you wore a mask or not, you couldn't be anonymous. The neighbors all knew each other's cars (or rigs as we called them on Buttercreek).

"Oh, look Mike, it's the West boys come to trick-or-treat."

What fun is that when everyone can tell who you are in your costume? And who wants to trick-or-treat with their two kid brothers?

As my brothers and I were back in the car, pawing through our candy, and impatiently wanting to get to the next house to add to our sugar stash, Mom was still standing on the porch chatting with the neighbor lady. There's no such thing as a quick visit out in the country.

So, an hour of trick-or-treating would mean a journey of several miles and stops at maybe 3 or 4 houses. I soon learned you'd get more candy by staying home and eating all the leftovers from the candy Mom bought for trick-or-treaters than never showed up at our house. Some years, depending on the age of the offspring in a 5-10 mile radius, there would be no kids show up at all. And if I went to town with Mom on her shopping trip in late October I could help pick out the candy for the dish, which eventually found it's way into my private collection.

One year some neighbors up the creek had a great idea to get around the high-mileage trick-or-treat trips. They hosted a Halloween party for all the kids up and down the creek, complete with a haunted house and lots of activities, like bobbing for apples.

But beyond that, Halloween wasn't much fun for this country boy. I still don't get into it. So don't come trick-or-treating at my door kiddies. I'll probably be at the movies.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dressing pets for Halloween – the sequel

Not all pets hate dressing up for Halloween. Today, one of my fellow Capital Press colleagues presented visual evidence that sometimes dogs enjoy the once-a-year chance to try a new outfit.

After all, dressing up means a W-A-L-K is coming soon. (And every dog knows you just can’t get enough walks in life.) And of course, mingling with other doggie peers walking their masters on Halloween is another highlight in a dog’s day.

The pictures taken this year show when Debbie was feeling extremely ambitious in the past and didn’t just squish the dog into a store-bought unoriginal outfit, but actually made the outfit herself.

“We call it her “witch” costume,” explained Debbie. “By the way I have never sewn her another one no matter how much the girls beg, I had another name for the costume by the time I was done with it.”

While the outfit was made years ago, the same outfit is pulled out each Halloween. "Yes, we are cruel enough that we make her wear that item every year."

The dog wasn't the only one who suffered for the sake of an outfit, however, according to Debbie.

"It probably took about 2 or 3 hours total because it had all those little jagged pieces — a seamstress I'm not — notice the word stress in seamstress — yes, that's me. But hey, it's a lot better than the complicated ones my kids pick out. And yes she gets to wear it every year — because I won't make another."

I do hope Debbie let her kids change their outfits each year. Humans are a bit more sensitive about things like that than animals.

Of course, there are more cruel things a person can do to their animal during this spooky season.

Tomorrow I take our playful, trusting kitten to the vet to be neutered.

That should be enough to scare off any future stray kittens from wandering into our yard like he did a couple months ago.

Deciding what's really important in life

With the bloodshed in Iraq continuing and tensions mounting over North Korea and Iran, my thoughts and prayers on this day are, naturally, with the Oregon State University football team as they do battle Saturday with the Trojans of USC. The Beavers, of course, are picked to take second place in the brawl, with USC expected to come in next to last.

The matchup reminds me of one that took place in 1967 when the top-ranked Trojans came to play the Beavers in Corvallis. I've bored my friends for years by recounting how I was at that game. Now it's your turn. Sorry.

I was sitting in the south end zone with my dad when USC ran onto the field. They were huge, every last one of them. Then the Beavers took the field. There were little ones and big ones, short ones and fat ones. They looked like a high school team standing across from the Trojans. I thought, this doesn't look good.

The Trojans had the ball first, and O.J. Simpson broke through the line and juked his way downfield right off the bat for a 60-yard gain. I thought, this doesn't look good.

Both teams battled ferociously in the mud of Parker Stadium, with OSU managing to kick a field goal for the only score of the game. The Beavers could have scored two touchdowns, but fullback Bill "Earthquake" Enyart dropped the ball while rumbling toward the end zone. OSU hung on to win 3-0. The crowd went nuts. The famous "Giant Killers" of Oregon State had done it again.

I think the attendance must have been about 500,000, given the numbers of people who've since said they were at that game. But I was there, by golly. And I'll be watching Saturday on TV. Hey, lightning could strike twice.

Go Beavers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No habla patella, por favor

I need a lesson in rheumatoid meteorology. My knee is sure aching and I don't know why. I remember as a youngster my grandmother would confidently tell me, and anyone else within earshot, of various weather conditions we could expect based on an ache or pain in some joint or the other.

I thought it just granny spreadin' the manure a little thick at the time. Now, I'm not so sure.

I do know for a fact that weather, and temperature, can make a big difference in my own mobility. I misguided attempt at playing high school basketball left me with a lot of splinters in my fanny from riding the bench and knees that felt like they were filled with gravel.

However, after 10 years living in the warm climates of Southern and Central California, I sort of forgot about my poor aching knees because they just didn't ache very much. But now, with fall setting in, and a chill in the air, one knee in particular is screaming for attention. I tell it to shut up, it was obviously neglected too long because it just screams back.

The weather forecast I saw this morning said it was going to be cool but dry the next several days. My knee is telling me something different, at least I think it is. My knee an I are expecting rain.

Either that or I need a translator. Does anyone speak patella?

Halloween contests lurk for pets: run away!

The challenge had been issued, and probably pets everywhere have begun to scurry under beds, hide behind curtains and leap off high balconies or moving half-ton trucks.

A note was sent to staff at this newspaper and our sister newspapers in the East Oregonian Publishing Co.: dress your pet in a Halloween costume, take a picture and you may win a prize.

“Be sure to include your name, your pet’s name and breed, and a description of the costume along with your photo,” explained the internal memo that we probably were never meant to share externally, beyond our staff and our company newsletter.

While this type of contest was presented in a good-natured, nobody-gets-hurt type of context, unfortunately there will be victims.

First, the people who try to dress their pets.

For those who attempt to get their pet Goldfish named Fluffy to wear an eye-patch, peg fin and pose as a pirate, there will be revenge beyond your darkest dreams.

For those who dared get that fat feline named Miss Kitty to wear the sumo wrestling costume — mainly because the toga, the tutu and warrior princess outfits kept being mysteriously buried in the litter box — there will be visible, painful scratches scarring your arms and other parts of your exposed body for life.

And for those who have no imagination, there are always great suggestions on the internet, but you will need to bear the consequences later.

An Associated Press quotes a story in the Panama City News Herald about how the town’s recent Halloween Pet costume contest went over well, with 120 pet owners shamelessly showing their 127 pets to judges to earn prizes.

“Winners included a pair of dogs dressed like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, a ferret dressed like a princess, a hermit crab dressed like a pumpkin in a pumpkin patch and a chinchilla dressed like a cowboy,” said the story.

Which brings us to the second part of today’s episode of “pet owner beware”: the other victims will be the pets themselves.

Consider what goes through the minds of these critters and birds, as they question “Why, why, why? What did I ever do to deserve this? Was I a bad boy? I mean, really, really bad? I swear I didn’t do nuthin’! It was … the cat! The cat did it! Dress it again in the tutu! I’ll show you where she hid it THIS time!”

Yes, there will be deep psychological damage done to these pets. Horror movies don’t haunt their dreams, it’s these dress-your-pet contests that make them whimper in the dark of the night … and broad daylight. And especially in the spotlight.

However, with a little bit of coaxing, one of our staff was encouraged to enter his dog.

She’s a hunting dog who successfully tied her owner in how many birds they each got last weekend, and for the last few days she was probably quite proud of her accomplishments.

Until he dressed her in the camouflage outfit last night. With the vest. And hat. And … what appears to be a camouflage bandana.

According to her owner, the poor dog did not enjoy this experience. In fact, the miserable pooch believed she was being punished, and the picture really tells it all. Try to find where she has tucked her tail, look at those sad eyes, look at … well, hopefully the judges will look at the originality, the brilliant idea, the patient work that went into dressing a good hunting buddy like this. I do hope the owner gets a prize.

Particularly because it’s a Capital Press camouflage hat. (Renew now or get a new subscription to Capital Press at 1-800-882-6789 and you too can give a hat like this! For yourself or your favorite pet!)

Of course, back on the farm, seldom were our farm animals and poultry seen as pets, but more often they were our work companions.

For those who weren’t useful chasing skunks or catching mice, those were the ones that had a chance for being dressed.

Usually, that was reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas only.

And they were delicious.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

If you’re smart, eat your spinach — and you’ll be smarter

At a time when spinach had gotten such a bad reputation because of E. coli O157:H7 concerns, finally a bit of good news has come out to encourage people to buy it again.

According to an Associated Press article, researchers have “ found that eating vegetables appears to help keep the brain young and may slow the mental decline sometimes associated with growing old.

“On measures of mental sharpness, older people who ate more than two servings of vegetables daily appeared about five years younger at the end of the six-year study than those who ate few or no vegetables,” reported AP.

Best of all: “Green leafy vegetables including spinach, kale and collards appeared to be the most beneficial. The researchers said that may be because they contain healthy amounts of vitamin E, an antioxidant that is believed to help fight chemicals produced by the body that can damage cells.”

After three deaths and more than 200 people becoming ill from the E. coli problem, such medical research and reminders of the healthier aspects of spinach and other vegetables should be a good way for the agricultural industry to rebound, in the consumer’s eye and more importantly, in the pocketbook.

The Western Growers Association has estimated the spinach problem will cost the spinach industry more than $100 million.

While the search continues for the cause of the E. coli outbreak, there are a lot of spinach and other vegetable growers who are doing all they can to ensure food is safe as well as healthy. As consumers, we often take for granted the steps they take.

As well, we need to be more guarded and accept responsibilities ourselves on what we do after we purchase these products: how we transport them home, what type and how long we store them, how do we handle and clean them, how we prepare the food and how do we store leftovers. The US Food and Drug Administration has offered some valuable tips that should be posted in every fridge.

The E. coli problem on spinach made a lot of headlines and broadcast news, but more disturbing was the number of cases that there are in America each year.

E. coli is the leading cause of foodborne illness. “Based on a 1999 estimate, 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year,” reports the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .

In conclusion, we need to get smarter about how we handle our food, such as spinach. Eating spinach will help us to be smarter. If we become smarter, then we should know better how to handle our food — such as spinach.

Ironical, isn’t it?


Alzheimer's Association


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Metronatural Seattle may have competition soon... (maybe?)

From the incredibly fertile creative minds of urban Washington state has emerged a new slogan to attract tourists.

From the state that had adopted the “SayWA” campaign (recently dropped by the government who realized people were more attracted to codliver oil mixed with molasses than this public relations atrocity), there has been the emergence of a new horrendous slogan.

Introducing Seattle … as … “Metronatural.”

Kind of rolls off the tongue like … molasses, doesn’t it?

Explained an Associate Press story this weekend: “Metronatural” is the result of a 16-month, $200,000 effort by Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, which included 60 people from the bureau, the mayor’s office and businesses.

“The bureau plans to spend $300,000 marketing the slogan, er, “destination brand position,” which was developed by a local marketing firm called Exclaim. The advertising will largely be targeted at generating business for the Washington Convention and Trade Center.”

Hold me back! How can I resist Seattle after hearing “Metronatural?”

The next time I am caught in a several-hour traffic jam in and around Seattle, inching my way along, I’ll merrily whistle and gaze out at the natural beauty of … uhm … well, this metronatural paradise! Naturally, every metro area has a traffic jam, I’ll tell myself. I’ll just laugh, shrug, and exclaim, “it’s only natural! Good ol’ metro Seattle!”

When it isn’t raining or foggy, and if you’re in the right spot of the city, it really is gorgeous to see the majestic mountains in the distance. But if you’re downtown Seattle at street level, unfortunately, you’ll experience more metro than natural.

But then again, I wasn’t paid several hundred thousand dollars to create a new slogan and marketing campaign for a big city. My humble area of expertise is far, far from those metrominds. I’m just a potential tourist who obviously doesn’t understand the whole, complex yet simple reasoning behind hiring a company to develop such a clever and potentially effective campaign.

I’d be horrible in advertising for urban areas. With my humble farm background, I just don’t think I have the flair, the finesse and the … wait a minute. Did that story say the city was willing to pay several hundred thousand dollars for slogans like this?

My mind is racing. Think, think: figure out something clever that is worth a lot of money!

I think I should stick to what I know. Rural areas are my strong point. First, I need to create a buzz by offering maybe a freebie or two, make people aware that they can trust me to deliver wise advice on marketing tourism beyond a city block or the Back Forty.

Here goes. Ahem.

Today I unveil the new slogan to attract people to rural areas.

Inspired by “Metronatural” (has that been trademarked yet? Am I even allowed to type that over and over again without the little trademark sign after it?) … today I launch: the Realrural slogan (or for the rebels out there who dare to be different, Ruralreal.)

That’s right. Feel free to use it to help create agri-tourism, attract people to small towns across the country, and share the wonderful side of America we love so much.

This new slogan can be used in many ways, ranging from bumper stickers to names of events to television shows: like the “ Get Realrural Reality show” or for fundraisers against urban sprawl we’ll have the “Keep it Realrural” charity banquet in small town halls.

This new slogan can be applied in so many ways, perhaps it’s time to end for now and let the Realrural folks (you know who you are) dream up other ways to promote this great idea.

And just think: all this without spending a cent on consultants…

You’re welcome.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why some of us never became broadcast journalists (and the world should be thankful)

Soon more of us will be carrying the torch … er, keyboard, when it comes to Blogriculture.

Gary West continues to inspire the troops here in our Salem, Ore. office but also our staff who work in other states. We hope soon they will join us with their news and views of agriculture.

While he strongly declares he really did not want to start a podcast for Capital Press (I believe it ranked right up there with root canals and attending back-to-back Barry Manilow-Bobby Vinton concerts), Gary has bravely shown us that life does go on even when a print/online journalists ventures forth into audio and reveals what his or her voice sounds like.

Could be worse. We could have made him try inhaling some helium first and doing the intro of his podcast with a Barry Manilow song like Copacabana, and then fade out in the end with a Bobby Vinton song. Obviously with Feelings, of course.

As we traditionally print journalists venture into more online and audio offerings to entice, entertain, inform or occasionally torture audiences, I am reminded of my former journalism school.

It was a wonderful university that attempted to teach us print and broadcast journalism, as well as public relations work if we wished.

Some of us felt we just were not born to be television or radio journalists. Our mantra was “we have a face for radio, and a voice for print.”

Some of my classmates truly loathed (and that’s putting it mildly) the broadcast classes.

They protested loud and long, and often the professors shook their heads and noted if these students would put half their vocal energy and volume into the assigned voice exercises each day, they would be much better broadcast journalists and might even desire to be in TV or radio some day.

One professor encouraged us to keep a journal, to record our thoughts, feelings, and what we did each day to prepare ourselves to be better journalists.

This one particular friend of mine (who swore he would never be a broadcast journalist) wrote up his whole assigned month-long journal in probably 20 minutes the day it was due. The professor was suspicious that each entry had him start with “did my voice exercises out loud this morning in McDonald’s. The manager was very unhappy and threatened to throw me out. AGAIN.”

But perhaps the memory of this friend that most sticks in my mind is the day that he was assigned by another professor to be more creative than saying vowels and tongue twisters out loud: the assignment was to do an interview about one or two people and their hobbies or jobs. THEN find a piece of music that relates to what these people talked about. Tape both these items. Then use two tracks, blend them together, and have a very nice five-minute feature piece than any public radio station would love and be proud to play.

I had classmates who sought people like the mayor or local celebrities. I can’t recall if that was the assignment that I profiled the university wrestling coach, or the local TV celebrity host who liked to always do interviews while accompanied by a rubber chicken, but I do know these were serious audio documentaries I did. And which probably have influenced me to continue to be in print in my career.

My friend decided to interview someone different.

He picked a funeral director.

Which would not have been so bad except for one thing.

One should always check the batteries on a tape recorder BEFORE going to do an interview…

So there we all were later in the classroom, eagerly or maybe not so eagerly waiting for the return of our marks on the assignment.

When the professor reached the desk of my friend, she stopped, glared down at him and it was clear he probably hadn’t received the top mark of the class. Or anywhere in the top 15 marks. And there were 15 of us in the class.

In fact, she decided a lesson needed to be made of this poor guy. We must all learn from his mistake and never ever dare do anything like what he did.

She announced she would play the tape to the class.

We all were thrilled. Hey, how bad could it be?

First, there was the interview itself. Not bad. Relevant questions. Okay answers. About as stimulating as a reporter can get in an interview with a funeral home director.

But then there was the wee problem with weak batteries.

The day of the interview, my friend had gone home afterwards, and played the tape only to hear a reallllly slllllllllllllow drawwwwwwwwwwwwwn oooooooooooooooout soundtrack.

He changed the batteries.

The result? Suddenly the soundtrack sped up, and the poor funeral director sounded like the cartoon characters, the Chipmunks — but on helium.

There was no way to save the interview unless … My friend got a brilliant idea. Of course! The assignment was to have another track, some music to play underneath. He still sincerely believed the interview could be saved.

And, as all of my classmates listened, we heard the funeral home director, with a very fast, high-pitched voice, tell seriously what it was like in his line of business to help grieving families and friends at funerals.

Underneath the interview was the music my friend had so carefully selected, but which now was the final straw that led the professor to officially fail my friend on the assignment. The rest of us roared with laughter when we heard his choice.

Another One Bites the Dust, by the band Queen.

It's an education

I thought I'd kick off my first blogging attempts by telling a bit about myself and my agriculture experience.

When I tell civilians (non-farmers) that I work for an agriculture newspaper, a common comment is, "Gee, you must know a lot about farming." Well, no, I reply. But I'm a good listener and usually know how to ask the right questions and to write about it in a readable way. It's what I went to newspaper school to learn, and what I'm paid to do now. I could no more run a ranch or raise a crop or diagnose plant diseases than pitch a World Series game.

For example, before I started working for the Capital Press I had no idea there were multiple varieties of filberts (all right, hazelnuts). To me, they all looked the same, sitting at the bottom of the nut basket at Christmas time. Then Ennis and Barcelona entered my vocabulary. I had never seen a sugar beet until two years ago on a working trip to Idaho to visit staffers Pat McCoy and Dave Wilkins. Some of'em are the size of footballs, I discovered. And then there are nematodes, the existence of which I hadn't a clue in upwards of a half-century spent walking on them.

My connection with ag pre-Capital Press was tenuous at best. I was born in Bend, Ore., and spent my first 10 years being a kid there. All I saw growing in the summer were a few scrubby backyard apples and sunbaked gardens. We moved to the Willamette Valley in the spring of the year so my dad could finish college in Monmouth. I thought we'd entered the Garden of Eden. There were things growing all over the place. And fruit? There were even grapes. Heck, I'd always thought grapes grew on trees. I got a job delivering newspapers in the mornings. As I pedaled along my route, the newspapers in my bag dwindled and were replaced by freshly stolen (er, freshly picked) apples, cherries, peaches, grapes and whatever else were in season. Those were my snacks for the rest of the day.

I tried my hand at picking strawberries, green beans and cherries to make a buck, but wasn't any good at it. I always rode my bike to the strawberry fields instead of taking the picker bus because I knew I'd probably get fired well before the bus returned to town. And I was usually right. In high school I worked summers bucking hay for area farmers such as Marv Jenkins, Russell Steele, Alan Horton and Les Versteeg. I learned to drive via hay truck, and piloted my first tractors cutting and swathing alfalfa and grass hay. I worked for a man named Frenchy at Derry Warehouse in Rickreall one summer, cleaning and bagging grass seed, a hot and dirty job if ever there was one.

I learned from the farmers I worked for the value they placed on hard work and the long hours they were willing to put in to support their families. I also learned that farming was not something I wanted to do for a living because it's way too hard.

As someone with a love of learning and the attention span of a gnat, journalism turned out to be the perfect profession. There's so much to learn, and I don't have to dwell on one subject for very long. That's true at the Capital Press, where I'm constantly amazed at the myriad topics that fill the pages of the paper each week and get posted on our website on a daily basis. I'm in awe of the knowledge of most of the people we write about, and I have a great deal of respect for my newsroom colleagues who, unlike me, really do know their onions. Because of them, you're getting a first-class news product.

Now I have to go and think about nematodes some more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Does this mean it was pesticide-free produce?

Have you heard the latest "scare" involving California produce?

Associated Press is reporting that a woman said she found a black widow spider in some black seedless grapes.

The Connecticut woman found the spider today in some grapes she had bought two days ago, according to the story. She found them in some grapes she took to work.

So now the spider is in the custody of the Connecticut Poison Control Center and the store she bought the grapes from has pulled that particular brand of grapes from its produce aisle.

I'll be curious to see if this blows up into some big thing, because frankly I find it all pretty amusing. Since the woman wasn't hurt, I mean.

You hear so many people worried about food safety now in the wake of the whole California spinach E. coli situation and you hear all sorts of people worried about pesticide residue on farm products. Well, if the spider made the trip to Connecticut with the grapes, then there certainly doesn't sound like there was any pesticides on these grapes, certainly not enough to harm a spider.

But isn't it just possible the spider came from inside the woman's home, or workplace, if the grapes were bought from the store two days earlier?

And wouldn't the spider have been likely to be flushed down the drain if she had washed her grapes?

Yes, it's great that people trust the safety of the commodities they buy from American farmers, but still... Wash your produce before you pop it in your mouth. Or take your chances. Consumers have responsibility too for the safety of the food they buy, store and prepare.

I wonder how much nutritional value there is in a black widow. And do they taste better with ketchup?

Are you new around here?

We will soon have a new member of our Blogriculture blogging team.

Denita Wallace, major accounts representative for Capital Press, is joining our little group.

Denita travels a lot to various conferences and conventions and has expressed some interest in writing about some of her experiences on those trips.

So, welcome to the Blogriculture team Denita, we look forward to your contributions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Brief eye in the storm

Yea, yea, yea. I know. I'm a bad blogger. I haven't posted yet today (until now) But it's production day at Capital Press, so there's other publishing of ag news going on that's getting the bulk of my attention.

For example, one of my duties is putting together our opinion pages each week. This week, readers of our East and West editions, which go to Eastern Oregon/Washington and Western Oregon/Washington will get to read the Capital Press endorsement editor for the Oregon governor's race.

Subscribers in Idaho and California will get an editorial looking at a cross section of issues on the ballot in November in four Western states which all seem to be influencing each other.

Westerners have a reputation of being independent thinkers and free-spirited, but you may not know that by initiative efforts to put items on the ballot in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. Everyone seems to be following everyone else.

Anyway, I've got one page to correct before sending it to press and another page to finish, so this is all you get for now.

Tomorrow I am sitting in on a web seminar to find out how to do this whole podcasting thing I've been experimenting with. Maybe they'll tell me what I've been doing wrong and what I still need to know to do it right.

Let's hope.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Not ready for primetime podcast

Well, here goes nothing.

My first attempt at podcasting is, well, as done as I know how to make it. James Earl Jones has no reason to fear I will cut into his voiceover work.

But, if you are dying to hear our first Capital Press podcast you can find the file here. We'll work on getting an RSS feed and registering with iTunes as we do here.

I'm calling the podcast the Farmers' C.A.P. or Farmers Capital Press Agriculture Podcast. Episode 1 features music by Capital Press reporter Mitch Lies. Our theme music is called "Proud" from Mitch's "Escapist" CD.

We also have a few audio clips in there from our editorial board endorsement interviews with
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his challenger Ron Saxton. More audio from those sessions can also be found online here (and the bonus on those audio files is that I only asked a couple of questions, so you don't have to hear my voice on those!).

Feel free to download Farmers' C.A.P. episode 1 if you like. It's about a 5 megabyte file and is about 5 1/2 minutes long. Download at your own risk.

Can you hear me now?

OK, so you can't hear me now. But if your ears and my pride can handle it, you may be able to hear me soon. I have recorded a file that may become our first Capital Press podcast.

Now I need to figure out how and where to post it. So, depending on whether we post it on an in-house server or somewhere else, there may be a podcasty-ish file available this week. It may not be an actual podcast with its own RSS feed and available on iTunes. At least not yet. But it will be a podcast-style audio file. When I get it posted I'll share the link here.

If you are bold enough to listen, bring your earplugs.


I may have a great face for radio but my voice is perfectly suited for newspapers.

You know how they say that sometimes you should talk to houseplants to make them grow? Well, whatever you do don't play the audio file anywhere near any growing crops or house plants because it will kill them for sure. And you may not want to listen through earphones, because you probably don't want that sound being piped in so close to the brain.

And keep the pets, livestock and small children away too.

Come to think of it, maybe the file would be good for Halloween sound effects if you are doing a haunted house or want to keep small children from trick-or-treating at your door.

Holy cow, what am I getting myself into here?

Monday, October 16, 2006

How to sell one's self to a charity (without committing to actually cooking, sewing, dancing...)

It was only a couple of days before the Fall Harvest Dinner, the fundraising auction and banquet that raises money for a great cause: the Ag in the Classroom program here in Oregon.

As a board member, I felt the pressure.

Fellow board members and their spouses were graciously, kindly, unselfishly and creatively giving their time, talents and resources to offer great auction items.

Baking, cooking, sewing, flying, serving. They offered meals, tea parties, flying trips. I felt so sadly out of my league.

Okay, I admit it. (Take a deep breath) … In high school (pause for effect) I almost (hold breath — wait to exhale) … failed home economics because of the cooking and sewing lessons (let out shocked gasp at this point).

Yes, this miserable experience hurt my whole high school average and impacted those eagerly sought university scholarships. This situation also didn’t seem to help my social life at the time. Teenaged guys for some reason preferred gals who could cook, instead of set fires.

I had begged and pleaded for my school principal to allow girls such as me to take the class with photography, woodworking and metalworking, but instead … he declared all girls take home ec, and all the boys take the fun stuff. When the school was so small that there were only 15 in the class, and only four of us in the class were female, unfortunately the principal got his way.

I tried not to be bitter when I saw this principal at the high school reunion decades later. But I noticed he was checking whether I was sharing recipes with my ex-classmates. Instead, I was talking about photography, woodwork and welding with the guys.

I admit it. I could sew by hand, but use a sewing machine and I was sadly reduced to being the least nimble teenaged girl on the planet. The needle would fly out of the machine, the cloth would crumple into a wild pile, and thread spools went flying.

Cooking usually involved first making sure the smoke alarm was disconnected, and we assured other students not to panic when smoke billowed down the hallway. Fire extinguishers were kept near.

While other women turned out superbly baked products to rival the images in glossy cooking magazines, I produced items that we considered using for hockey pucks if we weren’t afraid they’d break our hockey sticks. The poor teacher was reduced to tears and shaking her head. Well, actually, the smoke reduced her to tears and I think shaking the head was her way of attempting to regain consciousness. Who knew mixing a few baking ingredients incorrectly and at such temperatures could have such an effect in a closed space?

I knew at that time that I would never survive as a chef.

As for working in the restaurant industry serving people, while my friends sought these jobs after we graduated, I knew better about my talents in this area. I knew even the Drive Thru area of McDonald’s was a danger zone.

Too often at church or community events I had scalded people with coffee, frozen people with ice cubes slopping out of containers of Kool-Aid, and occasionally tripped over people, tablecloths, aprons and I think a band once. (Add drum roll here). Luckily, no cool Band-Aids were needed. (End drum roll punch line sound).

So there I was, decades later, pondering what to give back to an organization I respect so much. I can’t juggle, twirl batons, tapdance or do magic tricks. My pets can do more tricks than I can.

And then it hit me. What can I do well or at least with enough expertise to perhaps raise a nickel?

My favorite hobby is photography. So I offered a choice: a weekend photo trip in the Northwest where I would show some of her favorite photography spots. People could bring their cameras, pick their destination — ranging from Columbia Gorge, to Oregon Coast, to Mount St Helens and Mount Ranier in Washington, State, and I would provide the transportation, accommodation and meals.

I’d also offer photo tips. Valuable ones I have learned like: make sure the lens cap is off, there’s film/memory card in the camera, the battery isn’t dead, and my lens strap isn’t in the way of the lens. And don’t forget the camera at home. With such valuable tips, I knew this package would be a valuable one.

I ended up eventually offering two of these trips, as people bid up to a total of $300 towards the organization. I was delighted.

The second thing offered was a bit more scary on my part. I typed the following on the certificate: “Need a speaker for a fundraising event in your community? Or simply because your friends and you need a laugh? Capital Press Executive Editor Elaine Shein lightheartedly shares an evening of travel stories and photos from more than 20 years of travel and work internationally as a journalist.

“Learn valuable things like: how do you get rid of a giant spider off your shoulder; what’s it like to hitchhike with surfing ex-Hare Krishnas; how not to speak Spanish or golf in a foreign country; and why you should always reconsider climbing on top of a grain silo on a windy day … or running up the Eiffel Tower.

“She’ll also share stories of what it’s like to grow up in a farm near a small town (so small, it had one street that wrapped around town) and then live in or visit big cities: like when this formerly shy farm girl saw for the first time in her life a subway train, graffiti, a roller-skating gang, and a flasher — all within her first day in one city. Sorry, no pictures of that day will be shown. Elaine was too (culture) shocked to capture the moments on film.

“Arrange the event, invite Elaine to your community at an equally agreeable time, and she’ll bring the pictures and the stories.”

This is really a leap of faith for anyone bidding for a speaker. What if … what if I wasn’t funny? Or got stage-fright? Would the audience be allowed to bring rotten vegetables to critique my speech? What if all the photos were out of focus? What if no one showed up to the event unless they were paid to attend? What if my speech was as bad as my cooking?

I am pleased to say that at least $100 was offered by the unsuspecting victims … I mean, the wonderful organization who I will be delighted to entertain early next year at their annual meeting.

I’m glad I have some time. Maybe I can practice baking some cookies or sewing some nice cloth thingy gifts to present to people in case the speech doesn’t work out. Or use the rock-hard cookies to deflect rotten vegetables.

And if the baking really does turn out, I might even send some crumbs of my success to my former teacher, if the shock doesn’t overwhelm her. It will be hard to tell if she gets choked with emotion, or choked by my cooking.

Thanks to everyone who supported the Ag in the Classroom program here in Oregon, but also those who support Ag in the Classroom in their home states. It really is a great thing to do for the future of agriculture and the next generation.

Anyone who wants more information on how they can help support AITC can contact their local organizations.

Food for thought on World Food Day

Much was made of the whole E. coli contamination scares in spinach and concerns the same may develop in lettuce, as has happened in the past. There have also been smaller-scale concerns in carrot juice and raw milk in some locations.

People get nervous when they think their food isn't safe. But America's food supply is, overall, very safe. However, it is important to remember that there are people all over the globe, and even here in the U.S., that can't get enough to eat or can't afford the right kinds of foods for a healthy diet.

Today, Oct. 16, is World Food Day. The theme for this year's even, coincidently, is "Investing in agriculture for food security."

Given concerns for E. coli contamination, concerns about mad cow disease in cattle and the lingering threat of terrorism that could potentially target vital food supply chains, this is a great topic to reflect on a little bit today.

U.S. agriculture and the various commodity sectors have done a good job to ensure food here at home, and the food exported to other global markets, is very safe. However, there is still more that can be done to make it even safer.

To learn more about what's happening in the U.S. with World Food Day USA, click here, and for more on the global World Food Day, click here.

Hear Saxton, Kulongoski speak on agriculture, other issues

Want to hear what Oregon's two leading gubernatorial candidates have to say on issues related to agriculture? Now you can.

The Capital Press editorial board and the editorial boards of our sister papers in the East oregonian Publishing Co. interviewed Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Republican challenger Ron Saxton on issues like the minimum wage, climate change, the estate tax and more.

Now you can hear what the candidates had to say for themselves on these issues and more.

And see who the Capital Press is endorsing in the race on Friday, Oct. 20, in Oregon editions of Capital Press and online at CapitalPress.com.

Mickey Mouse goes on a diet

The Walt Disney Co. announced today that it is changing its menus at its U.S. theme parks to include healthier food items for park visitors.

The company said it will be eliminating trans fats and cutting sugar by the end of next year in foods served at U.S. parks, like Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disney's California Adventure Park, to promote healthier eating choices for kids and their parents.

The company said it is making the change in response to comments made by parents about the eating habits of their kids. American farmers certainly grow lots of good, healthy foods. The question is, will people eat the healthier foods and control their children's eating choices, to truly promote healthier eating?

Read the Associated Press story about the menu changes by clicking here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Is it getting warm, or is it just us?

Mention global warming, or climate change, in a group farmers and you are likely to get some heated responses, no pun intended.

That's to be understood, since global warming, or climate change, is the latest big cause celeb of the environmental movement. From past experience, people in a variety of natural resources industries, like farming, ranching and forestry know that when environmentalists tout causes, like the endangered species act, it ends up costing them money, time and sometimes their very livelihood. Many would say, with ample supporting evidence, that natural resources industry professionals are becoming the endangered species.

So discussion of climate change makes some folks nervous. They think they are going to be blamed for it, or blamed disproportionately for it, by urbanites in trendy restaurants ordering tofu dishes and drinking colorful 'tini drinks.

Now comes word from Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona, that the Western United States is getting warmer faster than the rest of the planet.

"The West is warming dramatically," Overpeck was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story distributed today. "Things are just going to get hotter. You can bet the farm on it."

Farmers bet on the weather every single day. But the odds could get steeper in parts of the West if the predictions are correct.

Along with the warmer weather, computer models are also forecasting reduced precipitation.

"We're going to have drier average conditions — then cycles of drought will come on top of that," he said. "Droughts will be more extreme. It's going to be severe in our lifetimes."

Climate change is an issue the Capital Press has been looking at in-dept this year in an on-going series. You can check out the series by clicking this link to our website.

Falling pumpkin caught on video

Want to see how it looks when a giant pumpkin smashes down on a car?
Video is now available at capitalpress.com.
The video is from the Giant Pumpkin Festival at Fir Point Farms in Canby, Ore.
Go ahead, tell your friends, encourage them to visit our site.
On Friday the 13th, we could create a new superstition: It's bad luck to park under a giant pumpkin dangling 10 stories high from a crane...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Interviewing governor candidates

What would you ask if you had a chance to meet a politician face-to-face who wanted to be your governor?

Today several of our staff had a chance to interview current Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his challenger, Ron Saxton, who are competing for the job in Oregon.

Our sister newspapers in the East Oregonian Publishing Company had about an hour to ask questions, and Capital Press journalists had about half an hour to concentrate on agricultural questions.

We were fortunate that even though these two men are extremely busy with their campaign, we were given such a block of time.

Within the next few days, our website will feature the audio of our interviews with the politicians. We will also soon publish our endorsements (Oct. 20) of who we think will make the best governor.

While all of our newspapers had a chance to work together to interview the politicians, we each have the editorial independence to decide who we want to endorse and what we want to say. That is important for the readers we serve: for example, the Daily Astorian, serves readers on the Oregon Coast who may have different concerns and questions then the East Oregonian that covers eastern Oregon.

Capital Press serves an agricultural audience, and we think of the farmers, ranchers and also the people who have small woodlots.

And yes, there have been times in the past when our various newspapers have taken different stands on who should be governor, whether a measure should be approved or not, and even what we think will be the implications of how people vote in an election.
Will everyone agree with our assessments?

No. Part of being a democracy is being able to hold different points of view and being able to freely express them.

That is one of the reasons we hope our readers will share their views with us, by e-mailing us at opinion@capitalpress.com so we can share their viewpoints with others.

We welcome your letters.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Smashing pumpkins ... delayed

For those wondering why I have not revealed the traumatic results of what happens when a giant 1,000 pound pumpkin drops from 10 stories high onto a Mazda Hatchback, I admit it: I was writing a serious editorial on the threat of nuclear war on American agriculture.

It seemed the appropriate thing to do for our newspaper issue that comes out … uhm … Friday the 13th.

This gives people an idea of the types of things we journalists deal with here, leading up to Halloween. One moment we may write humor about pumpkins, the next we take on serious topics like nuclear bombs.

Just call us jack-of-all-lanterns.

Okay, so sometimes it’s our humor that bombs.

It was difficult to make the transition back to pumpkins for another reason.
We are being weighed down by preparations for this week’s interviews that some of us are doing with candidates running for governor in Oregon.

Tomorrow we travel to Portland to interview Democrat Governor Ted Kulongoski and Republican candidate Ron Saxton. Our sister newspapers in the East Oregonian Publishing Company join us for the interviews.

Stay tuned to Capital Press to see our endorsements in the near future prior to the election.

Politics aside, I realize we are leaving our fans (?) hanging out there wondering about the pumpkin event at Fir Point Farms, and I promise we will have quite the package for you before the end of the week … and it includes a video of the giant falling pumpkin, shot by our ace photojournalist Mark Rozin.

We also have still photos of the event and other activities that day. Some are appearing in our newspaper the Capital Press this week, and others will appear on our website.

There will also be audio interviews for your listening pleasure, with the woman whose father owned the car, one of the owners of the farm, and one of the pumpkin growers to share how he grew such a large vegetable and why he enjoys the sport.

Yes, you read that right. Sports are more than just baseball, football, basketball and sumo wrestling in this world.

For those asking what serious news value does this smashed pumpkin have, we admit we are doing this for (giant) seedy sensationalism. We knew the tag line “smashing pumpkins” will reach a whole new generation of potential internet surfing music fans who excitedly think we have some news about their favorite rock band.

(We now deeply apologize, and yes, this was rather cheap of us. I blame Gary West for starting to insert names of music stars into a blog about agriculture.)

We now must return to preparing serious questions for political candidates.
Still wondering what happened with the giant dropped vegetable?

Need a hint? Hint: Giant pumpkin hit car and turned giant squash(ed).

Off to a sound start — or maybe not

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was trying to get the wheels turning on starting some sort of podcast, which would be either for this site or our Capital Press website. Well, sometimes the wheels turn more slowly than I would like. But I have located some music I think will work for an intro, thanks to staff writer Mitch Lies (pronounced LEES).

Mitch covers a variety of agriculture issues out of our Salem office, including the Oregon Legislature. But when he isn't covering the intricacies or state politics or the complexities of grass seed production or some other important farm issue, you can sometime find him performing at one of the local clubs around the Salem area.

Mitch was kind enough to loan the Capital Press a copy of a CD of songs he wrote and recorded a few years ago. So once I can figure out the audio recording software I found (and can get over the jitters of actually recording my own speaking voice, not to mention figuring out how to upload an audio file as a podcast and all that other technical stuff) I may actually get episode 1 recorded.

But I'm guessing that little venture is probably still a week away from completion, maybe more, since I have no clue what I'm doing and I hate that whole being clueless thing. Maybe I should ask my 15-year-old daughter to teach me how to do a podcast. She could probably figure it out.

I wonder if I could talk her into actually being the podcaster. Do you think I'd have to pay her?

No, that would probably never work. She wouldn't want to talk important agricultural issues, like which is better, John Deere or New Holland? Or organic vs. conventional agriculture. She'd probably rather explore things like who's better, Fall Out Boy or Death Cab for Cutie. Like I'd know the difference. I'm lucky I even know they are bands. I find I have to plug words and phrases she says into a web search engine to figure out what she's talking about most of the time.

Do farmers and ranchers even listen to Death Cab for Cutie? And just who is this cutie anyway? How cute is he or she? And why would he/she want to have anything to do with a cab of death?


We are a few small steps closer to a podcast. Come to think of it music theme does have some appeal. Maybe a top 10 list of songs to bale hay to. Or how about the top 10 songs about farm animals or implements?

OK, so maybe I'm not quite as close to launching a podcast as I thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cute kids, farm animals and YouTube

So less than two years ago a couple of guys created this Internet company that basically allows people to share homemade videos, most of which we wouldn't want to watch if they were our best friends or family members, over the Internet. And now Internet-tech behemoth Google decides to buy them for $1.65 billion (click here for the AP story).

So why is it farmers bust their humps for so little return, year after year, decade after decade? It has to be for the love of the life, the land and the magic of taking part in the cycle of life.

Life on the family farm is quickly disappearing from the collective consciousness of many Americans. But the following video shows that there is still magic there when you bring together a cute kid, farm animals and a little patch of ground were things grow.

And thanks to YouTube.com, you too can experience the magic without getting your shoes dirty.

By the way, if any of our readers have videos online related to agriculture in the West, let us know. If we like them and think they are appropriate, we'd be happy to share a link with our blog readers.

Beef strapped to a hog

And they say politics makes for strange bedfellows. Food marketing makes for some interesting entanglements too.

The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company is joining forces with a large agri-business company, ConAgra Foods, to promote a new product — beef jerky. The companies were scheduled to make the announcement today in Las Vegas at a trade show for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

Associated Press is reporting that Tom Parson, general manager of general merchandise (how's that for a title?) for Harley-Davidson, says this is the first time the iconic motorcycle company has agreed to use its name and log for a food product.

When I think of Harleys I think of a long of things, but food and beef jerky are nowhere near the top of the list. But wouldn't some sort of synergy with a pork product be more appropriate for the motorcycle affectionately known as a hog? Heck, even the Harley-Davidson Owners Group club of devoted Harley owners is known by its H.O.G.acronymm. I'd expect something more along the line of a food partnership with Johnsonville brats or Hormel deli ham or something.

But I guess beef jerky is easier to carry on a bike.

Suddenly I'm craving some dried, smoked meat and a have an urge to play blackjack. Or maybe play one of those slot machines where you have a chance to win a motorcycle. A Harley of course.

Color coded for your protection

I made a few changes to our blog template to address a comment from one of our in-house blog readers. One of our staff members (Yes, Elissa, I'm talking about you. Or was it Heather? It's late and I can't remember, but I tend to blame both of you for the trouble caused by either of you anyway) said that it was difficult to tell easily who wrote which posts. So, I've made a change to try to fix that.

I've added a "byline" at the top of each post that will tell whether Elaine or I wrote the post (the posted-by line remains at the bottom of each post too). I've also changed the color of the text on my posts. My posts are now in maroon-colored text.

So, now you can feel free to skip over the maroon posts ladies. Except this one of course. Because this one explains what's going on. But the rest, just skip right over them.

You can also feel free to put that right on your "To Do" list: Skip all maroon blog posts.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Full moon up, email down: setting priorities in life

We glanced at the calendar. No, it’s only Friday the 6th.

Around here, it feels like Friday the 13th.

For most of the day we have had major server problems that led to several hours without email. The horror!

Fortunately, Friday is one of our quieter production days. We complete our newspaper on Wednesdays so they can make it the customers hopefully by Friday (anyone who receives it later than that can blame/thank the post office for delayed delivery. But let’s save for another day the issue of post office service, and why the Pony Express might have been more dependable in delivering publications on a designated day.)

However, whenever our email system goes down it becomes a reminder to us how dependent we have become on the internet for our communications and business. And also how vulnerable. Early on in business my business life, a former boss had always stressed we should have a backup plan.

For example, if our main email server is down, but we still have internet access to the outside world, have an email account with an outside provider that can still help get communication out to people outside the workplace. Important messages such as “Hey! We’re trapped in this building with no email! We’re being forced to actually talk to each other in person on the inside! Please send Etch-a-Sketch and thick doodle pads to save us!”

The bigger concern then having to walk 1.76 minutes to a fellow employee’s workspace is that we don’t know if any of our sources, customers, out-of-state staff, owners or others are trying to reach us. There may be an extremely important press release floating in cyberspace that hasn’t reached its destination here. A politician may have said something important to tell us. A better mousetrap may have been invented. A widget may have been recalled for causing rare rashes on those who handle milking machines. A politician with a rash may have been caught in a mousetrap with a suspicious widget.

Hey, it could happen! But we wouldn’t know. Why? Because we have no email.

Fridays are also the day that readers may wish to tell us what they think of an article in today’s newspaper.

Hopefully they don’t think we’re ignoring them. Please have patience, whoever and wherever you are.

I would email them my backup email address used for emergencies … but if I don’t see the original email, I don’t know who to contact.

Of course, the problems with email do give me a few extra minutes today to contemplate life and do more productive things. Rather than spending valuable time filtering out spam, I can research important facts to share with our blog audience.

Such as … tonight’s full moon is 12 percent bigger than some of the other full moons this year. I appreciate NASA letting us know. Now, if NASA could kindly move some of the clouds here on the West Coast, we’d appreciate it more.

* * * *

The moon is relevant to this blog because it’s the Harvest Moon, nearest the autumn equinox. Being from a farm, I always appreciated that extra light as my siblings and I spent late nights shivering in grain trucks waiting for my father in the combine to signal he was ready to unload the grain.

The moonlight helped us see the hills and trails in the stubble that we needed to follow, especially when our old grain truck’s lights weren’t working the best and flickered on and off depending on how hard we hit rocks along the way.

The moonbeams were a relief when we were later attempting to back up the truck straight to dump into the grain auger; the yard lights rarely reached where the bins were, and there never seemed to be sufficient batteries or flashlights around when we needed them.

Forget the talk of how much the full moon impacts tides. This time of year, it’s the Harvest Moon that tugs at me, and pulls me most to memories of the farm. The family, the land, the lifestyle, the exhausting but triumphant feeling of reaping a year’s worth of work that heat wave or frost, drought or downpour, hail, disease or pest didn’t get first.

The Harvest Moon always signaled a time to celebrate if the harvest was near complete.

This year, my family got the crop off before the Harvest Moon, a rare occasion.

Another thing our family was also thankful that no one was hurt, miraculously, when a tornado hit our community this summer.

A small town 11 miles away — the place I had attended school — had taken the brunt of the storm, while the bad weather had only hit one of the fields that belongs to one of my brothers.

For several days after the storm, our area had become a community of neighbors helping each other pick up broken trees, salvage tossed grain bins, fix fences, look for lost cattle, and see who might need extra hay for the winter.

* * *
Somehow my problem with the email here seems so insignificant after thinking about all that this community back home went through this summer after the storm, or even the annual cycle that my farm family and so many others go through to raise their animals, grow their crops, and produce their products for market.

Sometimes you need a Harvest Moon reminder to put life into perspective again.

The email can wait. The full moon awaits those of us who eagerly seek to find it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thanks, Blogriculture visitors

Thanks to those who have responded to our message asking for more feedback and letting us know who is reading Blogriculture.

A couple of the people who responded included a dairy producer from New York state (see http://northviewdiary.blogspot.com/) and a law professor from the University of Minnesota Law School who is the founder of the Agricultural Law website (see http://aglaw.blogspot.com or http://www.ag-law.org).

One of the things we appreciated is we know these people are serious about agriculture, but they also displayed great senses of humor.

We like that. Thanks for making our day by writing us. We also enjoyed visiting your websites and blogs.

For example, threecollie on her blog profile states “just don’t call me a farmer’s wife; I am just as much a farmer as he is.” Among her interests are “reading, writing, no arithmetic.”

As for Jim at his law school … let me figure out what I can mail you from our office … would a rain gauge or ball cap be enough to display prominently in your office? (Somehow I think we probably get a wee bit more rain here on the West Coast than you do in Minnesota, although you definitely get the award for more mosquitoes in your part of the country.)

For those who have visited Blogriculture since my fellow team member Gary West launched it, you may have noticed we have gone back and forth between serious and humorous message posts. Or at least we thought we were mildly funny. Maybe our fellow workers here are just humoring us. (“Yeah, that was great. Thanks. Nice job. Loved what you wrote. You’re the best. You should host late night talk shows. Write a book. Uhmm … Okay if I take that four-day weekend I wanted?”)

Sometimes we struggle with the right balance for Blogriculture. There is a lot of serious news happening in agriculture that we at Capital Press dutifully cover each week in our newspaper. Labor issues. BSE. E.Coli. Droughts. Frosts. Floods. Heat waves. Locusts.

Well, okay, perhaps we haven’t written about locusts lately, although Cancun was attacked recently by locusts, and worse than the invasion of tourists during Spring Break.

But we have written about Mormon crickets in Idaho and glassy-winged sharpshooters in California.

After all that serious stuff, we all need a break. We send Gary to Pendleton, Ore. to cover the large rodeo there so he can dutifully tell us he worked so hard he couldn’t get into the cowboys’ favorite drinking spot. We send me this weekend to an Oregon farm to watch a crane drop, from the equivalent of 10 stories high, a 1,000-pound pumpkin on a Mazda hatchback.

Truth be known, we sometimes volunteer for these assignments.


So we have great stories to tell later on Blogriculture, to mix with the serious stuff.

Again, thanks to those who have joined our small but hopefully growing audience even if we didn’t bribe you.

We look forward to hearing from more people in the future.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who goes there?

Our executive editor, Elaine Shein, wrote a blog post recently asking readers of this blog and our CapitalPress.com website to give us some feedback on what we are doing or to join our readers' advisory panel.

In the post she said, "As we write our blogs, we often wonder who is our audience: where do they live, what do they do, what draws them to our website in the first place?"

I certainly don't know the answers to all those things, but we can tell, from our site statistics some details about when people come and where their Internet service providers are located, which answers a couple of those questions. But I thought I would share with all of you some of the things our readers where searching for, using various search engines, that brought them to the Blogriculture site. It may offer some insight as to how the topics we've written about and the things people search for intersect.

So, here are some of the search terms used by some of the 50 recent visitors were looking for that brought them here.

Pendleton Round-Up wild horse race
Pendleton Round-Up champion cowboy
Can we control climate change
U.S. farm bill
Schelske Aumsville, Oregon
Justin Boots
Barrel racing
MySpace Let 'er buck
hops jobs Yakima
Mark Boultinghouse Rodeo
Scott Montague
Linzie Walker barrel
Linzie Walker
Rodeo blog(s) (three searchers used this term)
extinct species in the Northwest
Levi Wisness
Cowboys score today
Britt Williams the team roper
Cookson Beecher
Sara Evans
Calf roper Joe Beaver
Blogriculture blog

One thing that caught me by surprise is that there are not a lot of purely agriculture-related searches there. There's one related to the farm bill, one related to hops and one for the name of a Capital Press staff writer, Cookson Beecher.

There are a fair number of rodeo related searches there that are still drawing people in. Words like rodeo and Pendleton Round-Up show up as do the names of rodeo contestants like Joe Beaver, Britt Williams, Levi Wisness, Linzie Walker and Mark Boultinghouse and an event name, barrel racing. There are also a couple of searches related to country singer Sara Evans, who is currently appearing on the TV show "Dancing with the Stars." One of those searches relates to Evans' husband's name, Craig Schelske.

There are also a couple of environment-related searches, one on climate change and one on extinct species in the Northwest.

What can we infer from this information? Well, perhaps looking at what brought the last 50 people here in the last few days when there have been about 2,400 visits since this spring could be a skewed result. One thing we've seen lately though is that people are finding this blog via searches more now. Up until the last month or so most of our traffic was coming here from links from our main Capital Press website.

I also see a lot of searches for people's names in there. A former publisher I used to work for in Coos Bay, Ore., the late Don Brown, once told me the best newspaper columns used lots of people's names in them. He said the best newspaper column would be one that listed nothing but people's names in it. I didn't believe him at the time. A list of names? That wouldn't even include complete sentences? How would you punctuate that? There would be no contest to tell who these people were or why you were printing their names. But maybe he was onto something.

So, I'm thinking that keys to making this blog the next viral site online may be to start going through the phone book and running lists of names. Well, maybe going through celebrity names in the gossip magazines might do more for readership. Either that, or maybe I should start a rodeo blog.

How's this for a headline?: Rodeo cowboy Joe Beaver debates Tom Cruise on benefits of organic agriculture on counteracting climate change on Oprah Winfrey show

Agriculture schmagriculture!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Farm Aid's got Silk; Rice Krispies go organic

I was cruising the wires earlier to see what has been happening over the weekend in agriculture news that I may have missed and noticed a story on the Associated Press wire about the Farm Aid concert over the weekend raising $1.5 million.

This year's big concert was held in New Jersey, which I find somewhat interesting. I know New Jersey is the Garden State and all, but as a West Coaster for most of my life, Camden, N.J., just isn't anywhere near the top of my mind when I think of agriculture. But I guess the Farm Aid concert isn't about entertaining the farming community as it is about building awareness, and raising money, from the masses.

However, I have a suggestion for the Farm Aid folks. Perhaps they should brings their ag benefit concert to the nation's biggest agriculture state, California. The last time I looked, there was a pretty good population base there too, so maybe they could tie in some farm tours of the diverse agriculture of California along with the good music from folks like Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson.

Although I'm not sure how thrilled California's dairy farmers would be with one of this year's major Farm Aid sponsors, Silk Soymilk, which wrote a check for $250,000 to aid the cause this year. (By the way, the other major corporate sponsor, to the tune of $153,000, was Chevrolet, which is now using the song "Our Country" by FarmAid co-founder Mellencamp to promote its vehicles.)

Have you been seeing those Silk Soymilk commercials on TV, with the cows using Silk? There's something about those commercials that seems to be poking fun at the Happy Cows commercials, but I can't quite put my finder on why it seems like that to me.

And speaking of commercials, have you seen the commercials on TV lately for the organic Rice Krispies? Kellogg's is now marketing organic varieties of some of its popular breakfast cereals and a Keebler snack foods. I wonder if the packaging is organic too.

As Mellencamp once sang, "but ain't that America, for you and me...."

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