Thursday, May 31, 2007

Welcome to the party, Farm Bureau

In this week's Capital Press, we are printing a column by Tracy Taylor Grondine, director of media relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, about a new blog the Farm Bureau has started.

Welcome to the blogosphere Farm Bureau.

Back in October 2005 I posed the question: Do farmers blog? The simple answer to that question is, no there aren't a lot of traditional farmers and ranchers blogging. However, there are a lot more agriculture related blogs out there now than their were back in October 2005, which it took a fair amount of digging to find many blogs to even link to from our blog.

Our list of blog links, which now includes the new Farm Bureau blog, has grown along with the number of agribloggers out there.

It is apparent that many consumers out there have a concern about the type of food they are feeding their families and the conditions under which it was grown or raised. It is also clear that modern America, now largely removed from its agrarian roots, has little understanding of agriculture practices used to grow a healthy and abundant food supply. Perhaps if more people in agriculture share their experiences on the farm and ranch they will do more than feed the bodies of their fellow Americans. Perhaps they will feed their minds and expand their knowledge of just where their food comes from and why we all should care.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Changing times

I haven't made a blog post in so long, I'm not even sure where — or how — to begin. We've had a lot of stuff going on lately at the Capital Press and I'm tempted to try to share it all. But there's a holiday weekend coming up, and I'm sure you have a lot more important stuff to do that read a long-winded blogologue from me.

So, I'll just say this. There's some new stuff happening over at the Capital Press website. Our staff, under the leadership of Executive Editor Elaine Shein, is increasing the number and frequency of news updates. Don't call us a "weekly" any more, because there is new stuff showing up on our website daily.

We are made a change this week to make our website a bit wider, to take advantage of the proliferation of higher-resolution computer monitors people are now using. We also bumped up the size of some of the ads on our site to take advantage of the wider page too.

We are still waiting on a coding change to reorganize things a bit at the top of the site, but in anticipation of that change we are looking at doing something different with our logo at the top, to help let new visitors see that they have indeed arrived at a website that's all about agriculture. The image at the top of this post is a prototype of a look we may try.

But all that is really only the tip of the iceberg. But the bottom line is that we are working hard and considering changes to make the Capital Press even more valuable as a source of news and information about agriculture in the West in print each week and online every day. The cosmetic changes may be easy to achieve, and see, but if we are successful it will result in far more subtle, but meaningful, changes to the information we provide and how we achieve that goal.

So, as things keep rolling along I hope to be making more frequent blog post again, and to wake up the podcast I've left sleeping for the moment.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. And if you have to work this weekend — whether on the farm or off, I hope you find the time to remember the people in your life who have meant the most to you but who are no longer here.

Enjoy the holiday weekend everyone.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

One step closer in Forest Grove

My friend Marcus once described sake as alcoholic dishwater, so when I saw a sakery in Forest Grove in my “Oregon Curiosities” book, I didn’t have a lot of hope for it.

He and I have seem to have similar palates when it comes to alcoholic drinks (i.e. we pretty much prefer soda), but I decided to give it a try anyway. After all, it’s in the book and one more item to cross off my list.

So, I made the trek to Forest Grove with my friend Mitch, who worked at a sushi restaurant before and had an appreciation for sake.

We pulled up to the tasting room at SakeOne, the world’s only American-owned and operated sakery, and were greeted by a worker who happily guided us through our sake tour.

We started off with the Silver, which was described in the brochure as crisp and dry with green apple notes. What I tasted was more like paint thinner than apples, but Mitch seemed to enjoy that one.

From there, we moved on to Pearl, which was supposedly sweet and full-bodied with a delicate coconut aroma. I could smell the coconut, but it was more paint thinner for me here.

I’ll admit my palate is unrefined, and I’ve scarcely found an alcoholic beverage I do enjoy. Although, there are a few. Mitch had no problems enjoying the various tastes.

Next, we moved on to G, which had a full fruity nose with hints of spice that gave way to creamy layers of ripe melon flavors and hints of pear and plum. Or so I’m told. This one had an aftertaste that stuck with me, and I was happy to see our tour guide bring out some water.

I thought I would get a chance to cleanse my palate, but alas, she used it to wash out our glasses.

We came to the last leg of the tour, which included a more fruity mix of sakes. These are the ones I was looking forward to the most. We tried the Asian Pear, which was light and delicate with fruity Asian pear aromas and flavors. This one, I could actually taste the pear and was pretty pleased with it.

We ended the tour with the Plum sake, which was by far my favorite. It had a taste reminiscent of fruit juice and went down easy. It was described as having a juicy plum aroma with light almond notes.

Our tour guide pointed out that the Plum goes really well with a Champagne mix. We were sure to buy a bottle to put that to the test. And I can confirm that she is correct about that. It makes a delicious bubbly drink that tastes a bit like fruit juice. But it’s easy to overindulge, so beware.

I saw in the brochure a Raspberry sake that I wanted to try, as well. But our tasting was over. I asked if we could still taste the Raspberry, and the guide seemed a little put out by the request.

It seems the Plum is the perfect finisher, and she didn’t think we would get the full effect of the Raspberry, but she did acquiesce to our request eventually. Maybe it was because the Plum was so good, but I didn’t enjoy the Raspberry much after all, despite its rich aroma of freshly picked raspberries.

SakeOne is at 820 Elm St., and there are plenty of road signs to point the way. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tasting are $3 a glass.

We left the sakery and headed to more curious pursuits. As it turns out, the world’s largest barber pole is also in Forest Grove, a.k.a. Ballad Town USA. The Northwest Barbershop Ballad Contest has been held here every March for the last 60 years.

In 1973, the Barbershop Harmony Society held its international convention and championships in Portland. Chuck Olson, a Forest Grove native and barbershop quartet aficionado, led a campaign to honor the event with the world’s tallest barber pole.

Years before, the event was held in San Antonio, where they erected a 40-foot pole to commemorate the occasion. Not to be outdone, Olson and his crew opted for a 70-foot pole with a 2-foot Styrofoam ball on top.

After the convention, the gang didn’t want to see the pole chopped up for firewood, so it was brought to Forest Grove, where it stands high above Lincoln Park.

Getting to the pole proved to be a bit of a challenge, as nearly all of Lincoln Park is under construction. We were forced to admire it from afar, behind locked construction fences.

Mitch and I actually found an opening where we were confident we could slip through the fence, despite the locks. But we decided to avoid a possible trespassing fine just for an up close and personal look at the pole. Luckily, my camera has a good zoom on it, so the experience wasn’t a total loss.

I still haven’t decided where to explore next, but it’s a long weekend, so I’ll have plenty of time to decide. Any suggestions?
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Media and the Web: What impact does the digital revolution have on the media and their customers?

There have been some interesting outlooks on the role of newspapers and the Web recently that give some thought-provoking perspective on what might happen next to the media.

Joe Grimm, a Detroit Free Press recruiting and development editor, reported on a USA Today workshop that was co-sponsored by the Online News Association.

The workshop looked at converged newsrooms.

Some of the quotes Grimm included in his column:

“Kinsey Wilson, USA Today executive editor and member of Poynter’s national advisory board, called the digital revolution the biggest change since Gutenberg, one that is both pervasive and participatory.”

He added about Wilson: “He called it an upending of the traditional business model for mainstream media. The three legs of the platform for traditional media — content, distribution and audience — have been de-monopolized by inexpensive, open and standardized tools for transmission, content exchange and RSS feeds. This has turned citizens from media consumers into creators.”

That is an interesting perspective. For those of us who consume the news in today’s world: we often lean towards the buffet approach. We sample and collect news, sports, weather, entertainment and other types of information from a large number of sources. We are no longer loyal to just one television or radio station, or one newspaper or magazine.

When it comes to the internet, we feel like we have wandered into the largest buffet selection on the planet and no line-up in our way. We aren’t content to stay with one website, but are always searching and manipulating what we have on the menu: thanks to Google and other sources, we can select what subjects we want on a home page, how many stories on each topic, and even what are the sources of the information.

There are good and bad things that emerge from such an approach. For example, by being too selective or restrictive on sources and subjects, we may miss out on critical issues or news events, or we might pick information sources that aren’t the most credible.

The lesson the Web has taught is that if someone doesn’t agree with or believe something in the mainstream media, somewhere out there is an alternate source that discredits the mainstream sources and may hold a perspective closer to that of the news skeptic.

Suddenly, Wikepedia becomes the gospel, obscure private websites by unknown or unreliable sources seem to spew pure wisdom, and fact and fiction are mixed beyond recognition.

Please don’t think all mainstream media stories are faultless, flawless and totally factual. But unfortunately, sometimes when people are selecting their new sources of information, the new sources may be less trustworthy than people realize but are not questioned as deeply as they should.

Another point made by Grimm: he quoted Dan Froomkin, whose column in The Washington Post is called White House Watch. Grimm said Frommkin “sees big opportunities for journalists who can break away from the traditional, institutional monotone and write with voice, passion and knowledge.

“If you could have dinner with a great national reporter, you wouldn’t ask, ‘What happened today?’ you’d ask for the story behind the story, how things work or about the future. Passion, authority and authenticity will bring readers to us.”

That last line is a great quote. As newspapers ponder how to attract readers back, websites must contemplate how to attract and keep audiences in the first place. Passion, authority and authenticity: These would help any news organization, no matter what format information is delivered, to attract and gain the respect of its audiences.

Think of the media you see, hear or read each day. Look at the work done by reporters, editors, columnists, anchors. Are they just doing a job — or is there a passion in how they do the story, how they present it to consumers, and even behind why they did the story in the first place?

If journalists don’t have passion, they shouldn’t be in journalism. Journalists are supposed to be storytellers, and hopefully show interest in the stories they tell. The stories matter to the audiences, but also to the people whose stories are being told.

As for authority, local or regional agricultural newspapers sometimes earn titles such as being called the “farmers’ bible.” When people trust these newspapers so greatly to become the ultimate authority on agriculture, these newspapers need to deliver. The facts must be right, the sources must be solid, the effort must be made to make sure the story is relevant, interesting and meets the information needs of the audience.

That isn’t new. Journalists have always had a serious role to play in our society. So what makes their role different now with changing technology?

Howard Owens of GateHouse Media, recently said (from Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues ) in The Rural Blog that the media are changing, and that newspapers must adapt. “You think it’s changed fast until this point?” he asked. “It hasn’t even started … If we don’t embrace participation with our communities, we’re not going to survive, especially online.”

Owens makes a good point. Perhaps one of the biggest changes for us as journalists is we are changing our roles in the community. We must look for ways to get and keep our communities involved, build relationships with them, find out more of what they want and not just give them what we think they deserve. As we create new directions for ourselves, we must continually ask is this really what our audiences want? Do we merely yearn to meet their expectations, or do we continually grow in our ideas and service so we can exceed their expectations?

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at Microsoft’s Strategic Account Summit online advertising conference in Seattle. (Bill Gates’s speech )

Here are some excerpts of what he said, starting with “customer driver interaction”:

“Next we have the idea that the media itself will be quite different. You know, who can create this media? Who can distribute it? How do you find what you’re interested in? I have a lot of friends in the newspaper industry, and of course this is a tough, wrenching change for them, because the number of people who actually buy, subscribe to the newspaper and read it have started an inexorable decline. In fact, if you look at it by age group, it’s quite dramatic how different that is. People have found some combination of TV and the Internet as the way that they can get their news, even the local news that historically was only available in that print-based form.

“And for many years, even as readership started to go down, the value of print advertising maintained itself, because the dollars per user sort of offset these subscription declines. Now it’s kicked into a point where people are shifting budgets into the new areas, and that’s a very tough challenge, and it means they need to take a lot of their skills, a lot of their expertise and move it into that Internet world.

“But it’s a very different world. It’s not a world where you have a single person who can deliver things like the classified ads, you have many people competing. …”

“So the Internet is like a lot of things, the only sure winner with the breakthrough are the consumers themselves. There will be some companies that do well out of it, but it really, most of it, passes on to simplify things for now the not only hundreds of millions but billions of users who are connected up through these devices. …”

Gates then talked about how he sees more people doing all their reading online, and that even advertising will be more for online with better quality:

“So reading is going to go completely online. We believe that as we get the smaller form factor, the screen has gotten good enough. Why is reading online better? It’s up to date, you can navigate, you can follow links. The ads in the online reading are completely targeted as opposed to just being a run of prints where many of the readers will find it completely irrelevant. The ads can be in new and richer formats. In fact, the only drawback of the digital form are the things associated with the device, how big is it, heavy is it, how many hours of power does it have, how much do I have to spend to buy it? But those are things that once you achieve that threshold in terms of the convenience and the cost, then you see a dramatic change in behavior. Today for people who read newspapers and magazines, even the most avid PC user probably still does quite a bit of reading on print, but as the device moves down in size and simplicity, that will change, and so somewhere in the next five-year period we’ll hit that transition point, and things will be even more dramatic than they are today.

Gates talked about changes in the media, even with Microsoft, and how everything is becoming more targeted:

“A good example of how media is changing is Microsoft itself. Classically, if we wanted to get news out about a product, we’d go to some broadcast news channel, talk to them, get the interview out there. And say it gets on some business’ channel, I guess people who watch TV during the day see that, if they just happen to have it on at that moment. And it’s kind of a mix of things, there’s a new candy bar announced, a new car, a new piece of software. It’s not very targeted.

“If you compare that to actually having a video channel that we create ourselves on the Internet, that’s there when the big event is happening, it’s there on demand, you can search it, that’s a much better way, it’s a more direct way of getting at those people and giving them that flexibility. …”

To be more targeted, Gates emphasized that the media needs to know more about the users of its information. The company that will be most successful is the one that knows its customers the best and their behavior — then targets business towards them and those behaviors:

“As we start to get better numbers about user behavior, and as we have this targeting infrastructure, the opportunity and some of the complexity of these things goes up even more. As we think about targeting, even something like reading a newspaper online, on the Internet, the person who is most who is putting the ads, filling in the white spaces around those articles, who that is most valuable to, is the person who understands that user the best.

“So in the future, instead of just a publication saying, OK, I’ll go to a single provider who will do that, it will actually be a richer thing than that, because the publisher knows something about that particular reader, and various other companies, say, who have that user on their portal, or see the search operations that user has done recently, they know enough and it’s really a combination of that knowledge, far more than the article itself, that allows you to think, what should I display in that context.

“So the way you create a digital bid market is that you don’t just take an entire publication, but any inventory and say, OK, who’s got the inventory who has the understanding of this user, so that it operates in the best way possible. That’s a dynamic that’s yet to come. And one clear message you get out of this conference is, Microsoft is very committed to make sure that we have either the, or one of a very few leading environments where that happens in. We believe that a rich marketplaces, very competitive here are very important to realize the full potential of this.

“As we think about these ads, the ads themselves, creating them, making them rich, and that letting you engage, so that those things can be interactive, that’s an important thing. And the tools that we’ve had for creating software applications, and tools for doing rich media things have always fairly separate. The interactive world, the video world, and the normal computer application world, have been different, three different worlds. And just in the last month we’ve announced a new technology, called Silverlight, that brings the richness of all these things together, yet does it in a way that any PC user, Mac user, in the future phone user, will be able to connect up to these things.

Gates’ viewpoints are interesting on the future of the media, the potential increasing for people reading online, what will happen to advertising, and how media companies can be most successful in the future with their customers.

Tying together all these different messages and sources, perhaps the biggest lessons coming out of this is everyone believes the traditional media is changing in incredible ways, and now is the time that consumers have the most say in what information they want and how they want it.

If media are to survive, they must also change, adapt and most important of all, be in tune with the audiences they serve: Know who they are, what they want, and how they want that information.

Unless companies figure it out, they will lose the audiences they need to survive, and the customers will find other information sources that are continually growing in this fast-paced, ever growing global online buffet.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues , The Rural Blog . Bill Gates’s speech . Online News Association, Poynter’s, The Washington Post

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Best burger in Oregon?

After my trip to see the Astoria Column and Bridge to Nowhere, I said we would talk about burgers.

As promised, I’m back to do just that. A few weeks after I arrived in Oregon, I headed to Mount Hood with a couple of friends. It was a completely random and unplanned trip, which made it even better.

On our way out there, we drove past Calamity Jane’s on Highway 26 in Sandy, and my buddy Blake insisted that restaurant has the best burgers around. We were all ready for some sustenance, and I was attracted to the name as Calamity Jane had become a nickname of mine soon after moving here. Luckily, that string of unfortunate events seems to have ended now.

I quickly turned the car around and headed back. And I’m so glad I did. Blake was right -- that place does have the best burgers around. Heck, I’d go so far as to say it has the best burgers anywhere.

The menu was a little daunting, with more than 50 burgers to choose from and three sizes. They all have a special name and unique ingredients. Like the George Washington that’s topped with sour cream cherries. Or the Hot Fudge and Marshmallow burger. I stayed far away from that.

Instead, I went with the standard All-American burger with cheese, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, mayo and the like. I ordered the 1/3-pound version. But I also could have had a 2/3-pounder or whole pound. I wasn’t that hungry.

It turns out, Calamity Jane’s is also listed in “Oregon Curiosities,” so I had crossed that one off the list before I even bought the book.

When the waitress brought our order, I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. But it was by far the best burger I’ve ever tasted. In my years of living in Pennsylvania and New England, I never came across a burger so tasty.

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to see if any other burgers in Oregon can top that one. I tried burgers from Char-Burger in Hood River, Top o’ the Hill in Aurora, Giant Burger in Lake Oswego, McMenamin’s in Portland, and they are all really good. Just not as good as Calamity Jane’s.

So, now, I’m asking for your help and suggestions. Do you know of any really good burger restaurants anywhere in Oregon? I'm searching for the best. Please pass on your recommendations to me. I’ll be traveling the state, searching to and fro, crossing off curiosities and sampling the beef.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Women in agriculture not new

With Mother’s Day coming up, we decided it would be appropriate to post an opinion piece by one of our Idaho reporters.

Pat McCoy, in Boise, had noted that the directors of agriculture for Idaho, Oregon and Washington are all women. It’s an impressive accomplishment.

However, McCoy wanted to put into context the role that women have played in agriculture throughout history, even before these Western states recognized the contributions that women could make to agriculture policy.

We’re going to publish this article by McCoy on May 11, but it would be great to hear from our blog audience what they think about women in agriculture and their role in farm families, rural communities and agriculture in general.

What role do you see women having in your community? Do you — or women you know — work on a farm or at your business? How important is it to have the women involved and what do they bring to the business and family farm or ranch? What role are you seeing women do in organizations, and agricultural meetings? Do you see more women at these meetings? Why or why not?

Any other points you want to make?

At the end of it all, let’s also remember to give thanks for the contributions women make to agriculture. On Mother’s Day, it seems even more appropriate because so many of these working women on the land or in the boardroom are also mothers, an amazing feat to juggle with their other responsibilities.

We look forward to your comments.


Women in agriculture not new

Capital Press Staff Writer

When urban folks talk of farmers and ranchers they generally mean men. The crowds at the average producer association convention are predominantly male.

In truth, women have been deeply involved in agriculture for centuries. Modern technology hasn’t changed that.

What may be changing is that they’re taking more and more of a leadership role. The fact that the directors of the Idaho, Oregon and Washington state departments of agriculture are all women is but one case in point. Women are taking seats on commodity commissions, or serving as executive directors. Particularly in the world of small acreage operations serving specialty markets, women are highly visible, and may even be in the majority.

They’re networking, too, with many Women in Agriculture state organizations having websites specifically created for women involved in farming or ranching.

The USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service is getting in on the act, with a website at It offers still more resources for women in agriculture.

Women also serve important roles in influencing policy. For example, on June 10-13, American Agri-Women is having its annual legislative fly-in to Washington, D.C. to talk to policy makers and members of Congress.

“Among the priority issues for AAW are further development of renewable fuels; Endangered Species Act reform; and guest worker program reform. Legislative priorities include passage of legislation to clarify that manure is not a hazardous waste under the Superfund laws and opposition to legislation banning horse slaughter,” said the press release about the goals of the Washington event.

Sound familiar? A lot of the priority issues mirror what is important to a lot of other farm organizations.

They help to reinforce the message of the importance of agriculture to the country, and what is important to those in agriculture, echoing some of the priorities some of these women have emphasized for years.

Perhaps what’s really changed from the past is that women are no longer banned from owning property after they’re married. While laws sometimes allowed widows to own the property left by a deceased husband, the right to actually own property is a relatively modern, and much-needed, innovation.

So how were women involved in the past? They worked right along with the men in the field, even in Biblical times. The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament speaks of maidens working in the fields, and of Ruth, a widow, gleaning behind them in order to feed herself and her mother- in-law Naomi, also a widow.

In Medieval and even Renaissance Europe, women worked right along side the men, often doing some of the most dangerous farm work. The reason was harsh, but realistic. If a wife was injured or died, most men could hire extra help or remarry without too much difficulty. If a husband was disabled or died, a woman with several small children would often find it difficult to find honest help or another husband, unless she was wealthy or of political prominence.

Those property laws may also have been a factor. If the peasant owned land, it usually went to a son, and often an uncle or another male relative became the guardian. If the land was rented, or the peasant a serf on the land, the widow and any small children might be evicted in favor of a male able to do the work. Life on the road as a beggar and eventual starvation was a very real threat.

Hand labor was hard, slow work. Women worked along side their men to get it all done, stopping only long enough to have more children, providing yet more hands to help on the farm — and more mouths to feed so everybody had to work that much harder to do the job.

Coming forward to relatively modern times, a book by Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers,” is a real eye opener. During the American Colonial and Revolutionary War periods, the men were off serving in the Continental Congress, or fighting. Not all were wealthy slave owners. Their women kept the farms going, sometimes under terrific duress. If they were caught by British or Hessian soldiers, they could expect no mercy. Roberts tells of several who fled with their children into the woods for safety, or guarded hidden caches of documents that would have hung their men, possibly even themselves, leaving their children orphaned.

This type of danger holds true for every war. The men went off to fight. Rosie the Riveter is a well-remembered figure from World War II. She was out running the farms and ranches as well as manning the assembly lines in factories.

Despite the outcries over “factory” or corporate farms, big processors generally find trying to grow their own raw products too costly. Today’s farms and ranches are almost all family owned and operated. Women often handle much of the book work and work fulltime off farm to help pay the bills. When harvest time rolls around, they’re out in the fields driving the trucks that deliver sugarbeets to the dump, or other commodities to the warehouses and silos. It isn’t that unusual to find one on a tractor, either.

Modern societal problems aren’t limited to cities. Divorce, debilitating injuries and death often leave women the sole operator of a farm or ranch. They’re found in virtually every rural community.

It’s definitely time to bury that stereotype. Women are definitely part of agriculture. They always were. Chances are, that won’t change in the future.

Pat McCoy is based in Boise. Her e-mail address is

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thanks for your comments ... keep them coming

When readers of our newspaper or website feel like expressing themselves on what they’ve read, they often let us know in different ways.

They might write a letter to the editor — so it gets published in the newspaper — or they use our website “article comment submission forms” and post online their comments.

One of the changes we made in the past was to add an anti-spam device so people have to type in a code they see. This gets rid of some of those automated spammers out there that frustrate so many other people that have websites or blogsites with unwanted advertisements or other inappropriate content.

If our readers wonder if we read their comments, the answer is yes: we do monitor what is posted.

Thank you to those that let us know if we have something wrong, if there is a date of some news event coming up, or even if they just tell us what their opinion is on a topic. It gives us something to think about on whether we selected a topic that interested people, how we wrote the article, and did we do a good job or perhaps miss some important angle or aspect in the story.

One of the articles that recently got a few people talking online was our editorial on China titled: “Pressure China on Food Safety,” published April 27. (See Capital Press editorial)

So far, we’ve received five comments on it. While we don’t know where they readers live, they did share one thing in common: each of them had concerns about importing food products from China and wanted to hold it to higher standards.

“The US was quick enough to ban beef products from UK and Canada when there was a fear of Mad Cow disease. The Chinese should certify all food products meet with FDA standards. Failure to do so should result in a complete ban on ALL Chinese food imports, essentially starting immediately. Also all Japanese and European countries should also join the ban. It is time enough for China to come in line with the rest of the world's industrialized countries,” wrote Ken Howton.

“We should only be able to buy products from other export companies if they can be tested and held as accountable as our own US producers. If they don't pass the same rigorous testing as American producers then we don't accept their products or foods. This is just common sense, of which there seems to be very little of these days. How can America compete when the bar is constantly shifting in favor of foreign suppliers, wrote Shari Cox.

John Bannan commented: “First, we should not import from China. If we do, everything should be inspected at the expense of the exporter in China, including their factories and fields, the same way that we inspect products made in the USA.
Let's start catering to jobs in America, not in Jobs in Mexico, China, Iraq, Brazil, India, etc. Also, some heads should roll when the FDA doesn't do proper inspections.”

And Joy Benemann said “I enjoyed this article. I myself am very worried about food quality.I would like to see a law that will force county of origin to be stated for all ingredients in food products so I can avoid Chinese food.”

Thank you, everyone, for writing.

When we receive compliments on articles, we do like to pass on the comments to those who wrote the stories or opinion pieces.

For example, on April 27, Oregon State University student Jamie Jaberg had a thoughtful opinion piece published in Capital Press titled “Budget levels threaten ag programs” (See opinion piece) The articulate senior, who has been studying in the Rangeland Ecology and Management Department at OSU, shared what the university has meant to her but also what her concerns are about the future of the university she will leave this spring.

She concluded with “Initially, I was thankful that I was graduating this spring so I wouldn't have to deal with the gutting of vital programs and sharp tuition increases that are the inevitable fall out from these higher education budget cuts. Then I began to think about the future. I plan to raise a family in Oregon and I'm beginning to doubt that at this rate my kids will have the same opportunities that I had as a student at OSU.

“If these budget cuts pass, my children will be more apt to choose a school out of state in order for them to receive the quality college education. Education is the most important gift we can give our children. With this in mind, I urge you to write, call, or meet your legislator and let them know that agriculturists support higher education.”

Michael Borman read her piece online and decided to post a comment.

“This is a very articulate, well-thoughtout article written by a senior at OSU. Hopefully the legislature is paying attention. We need more like her and without adequate funding we will miss some of them.”

His comments have been passed on to her.

We’d like to encourage other people to share their views with us, and thank again all those who took the time to write.

Also, don’t forget we now have another option: you can phone and leave a recorded message at any time at 1-800-285-6005.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Searle outlines ag trends at CP staff meeting

Whenever statistics come out about a state, a newspaper always has a responsibility to report more than just the numbers.

A newspaper should look beyond the numbers: provide analysis of them, show how numbers are relevant to the newspaper’s audience and try to give some forecasts of what experts think will happen next.

Last week, Capital Press invited one of the experts from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to do a presentation to some of the newspaper’s staff. The purpose was to help us get a better understanding of what is happening but also what is coming next in agriculture.

Brent Searle, originally from a farm in Idaho, serves as a special assistant to ODA agriculture director Katy Coba in Salem.

Searle emphasized this his department does not collect the statistics, but evaluates those that are collected by others, whether at the state or federal level. One of the roles his department does is later put into context some of those other numbers: for example, he and his colleagues will point out mistakes in the data and hopefully influence changes to be made.

Some of the trends he outlined to CP staff included:

Productivity in Oregon agriculture has increased about two percent per year in the past decade.

But farm income has stayed flat because while its productivity has gone up, the cost of production has also risen.

USDA research probably underestimates Oregon’s input costs, such as in electricity and labor.

Government payments to farmers in the past had been mainly for program crops, but now conservation program are triggering more money benefiting Oregon farmers.

Custom farming and grass cleaning has increased.

Employment increased 30 percent in the last decade, and 80 percent of that is nursery-related. The payroll has gone up, almost doubled.

In the food processing sector, the state has lost 10 major food processors, and lost more than 20 percent during that time in jobs relating to that industry.

The food industry continues to consolidate: six major food retailers produce half the food in the U.S. Wal-Mart was especially aggressive in how it has grown: it has 12 percent of all U.S. food sales, and expects that to rise to more than 20 percent in the next 8 years.

Between 1995 and 2005, Oregon lost 73,000 acres of primary processing crops such as berries and vegetable crops. Taking their place to a large extent is grass seed, with more than a 100,000-acre increase during that same time period.

More U.S. children have visited a zoo than a farm, but there is growing interest in where food comes from and how it is grown.

More land is being involved in certification programs: a total of 2,613,000 acres are enrolled in 5 certification programs in Oregon as of last year, about 15 percent of the total acres under production. The certification includes 49,000 as organic and 2.5 million were with Food Alliance. Half of the wine production is certified under one of the programs.

The number of small farms declined last year in numbers, for the first time in the last decade, as urban pressure convinces people to sell — especially when their farms might not be very economically viable. Measure 37 is expected to also have an impact.

Searle spent a considerable amount of time discussing energy: the cost to the state, as well as the growth of alternative sources of energy. He noted that Oregon spends $12 million per day on energy, and 85 percent of that leaves the state.

“All that money is sucking out of our economy,” he said.

Searle’s job involves talking to groups and communities that are interested in creating renewable fuels plants, and he admits there has been a lot of “kicking the tires.” There have been 40 –50 groups he has talked to, and probably about 20 projects out there, he said. In ethanol, there’s “10 talking, 2 under construction, and a third that’s close” and he predicted maybe half that will be built.

However, he believes there continues to be a lot of potential for those in agriculture looking to build or be involved in producing another energy option, especially since he expects gas prices to reach $4 by summer. Searle doesn’t believe they’ll go below $3 per gallon again.

Searle gave the Capital Press staff a lot of fodder to think about, as well as ideas on what to write about. Now it’s up to CP staff to take those numbers and trends and make sense of them for an audience that is impacted by these statistics.

Capital Press
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Food Alliance

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Pigs might not fly — but they do talk

Customers of Capital Press might have noticed some glitches yesterday if they tried to email our staff, or check for updated news on our home page.

The problem was beyond our office: our internet provider had problems, and this caused us a lot of headaches internally as we tried to carry on our business.

As Capital Press production manager Barbara Nipp half-jokingly said, after she sent some staff home and waited to see when service would be regained, “What did we do before the internet?”

Businesses such as ours depend heavily on the internet to communicate among staff, and externally with customers. As we continue to build our website and make it as up-to-date as possible, it becomes a concern when the internet is down for even a few hours.

While our customers could still access our website during the problem, our staff were unable to upload stories, ads, and other items to the site. Fortunately, we’re back to normal this morning, and Debbie Evans in our production department has been busy posting our newspaper online. We thank our customers for their patience during this time.

* * * *
Last week, CP reporters took part in a workshop on how to do digital audio that can be posted online.

This week, a few of them bravely set forth with their small tape recorders to capture the sounds of the world around them. Mateusz Perkowski did a great job interviewing a few people at an immigration rally held May 1 in Salem, Ore., as he asked people why they were there and what was their stand on different immigration issues.

While some of these quotes were in the stories that appear in the May 4 edition of Capital Press, Perkowski’s audio was great for a couple of reasons.

First of all, when people hear the audio they get a better sense of what was going on during the rally. They can hear things that don’t come through in a written story: the tone of the speaker, the shouting in the background, even music from the rally. They can hear special emphasis that speakers might give to certain words or phrases. They also hear longer parts of the interview, giving perhaps more insight into the person being interviewed.

Another reason Perkowski’s audio package was welcome was because it helped us build a news package that was quicker and more dynamic than most weekly newspapers could usually do.

Within less than 24 hours of the rallies held May 1, we combined the efforts of several of our staff to turn out an online story, photos and audio from several rally locations in the West. Cookson Beecher attended an event in Mount Vernon, Wash., Bob Krauter reported from a rally in Sacramento, Calif., and Perkowski covered the rally at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. We used Perkowski’s audio, and pictures taken by Mark Rozin in Salem and now had a package that people could see, hear and read: the story helped people understand the background of why this was happening, what inspired people to be there, and what are the implications for the future.

Meanwhile, our Spokane reporter Scott Yates has also been trying out his taprecorder this week. He took the taperecorder into barns to talk to livestock owners. He later explained he learned a few things: he was having problems with the record button, and needed to ask sources their names about three times. So he learned how patient people can be with him…

He also learned that sheep are really loud, especially if you’re taping them in a barn.

And finally, he learned that pigs like to talk to a taperecorder.

Yates said he had lowered the taperecorder near two pigs and the next thing he knew, the two seemed to be talking, quite extensively, and all captured on tape. Even the pigs’ owner seemed surprised and amused, adding that this had never been witnessed before.

Unfortunately no one could understand what the pigs were saying.

Perhaps it was some higher form of pig Latin.

* * * *

During the audio workshop at our Salem office last week, Yates had brought up a great question. As we talked about how we can edit a digital interview to remove long pauses, coughs, uhs, ahems, or other sounds — even say, a loud beeping forklift sound that might have interrupted an interview at some point — Yates asked about the ethics of doing this.

Is it ethical to remove these sounds?

The answer: yes. Imagine the tape recorder being another tool for a reporter, just like a notebook and pen.

When a reporter is doing an interview, the reporter is already editing what goes into the notebook. The reporter is selecting what words to record, and is already (without realizing it) editing out the pauses, coughs, uh, or other sounds. Yes, they existed during the interview, but they don’t appear later in the story.

Otherwise, it would be probably very difficult to read news stories.

Imagine reading the following:

Joe Smith paused, as the forklift honked then beeped as it backed up. Smith coughed, cleared his throat. “ I, uh, where were we? Oh yeah, (cough) I wanted to, uh, get to the — where was I? (Cough again). Uh, the point I was trying to, uh, make is that I wanted to, uh, get to the lab for the, uhm, results, but … excuse me (cough, cough)… the lab was too far away to get the animal, uhm, there on, time, you know?”

How would that quote appear later?
Joe Smith said, “I wanted to get to the lab for the results but the lab was too far away to get the animal there on time.”

The digital taperecorder could be a great training tool for reporters, too. As a training platform, there’s nothing like listening later to how a question was phrased badly, or what speech flaws exist and seem to be sprinkled throughout the interview. It makes a reporter think twice about how to ask an interview later, plus hopefully catch the next time he or she wants to say uh, mmhmm, you know or riggggggght.

But Yates was right, there are ethical considerations when it comes to digital editing. The technology is wonderful but also can provide some of the most serious challenges we can have in journalism.

If someone wished to be unethical, it is very simple to edit out or in a word or phrase, change the order of things being said, or do other things to what someone had originally said. Think about changing even one word, for example, in a politician’s speech. Remove the word “not” such as in “I am not a criminal.”

Sure changes the meaning of the sentence, doesn’t it?

This lesson teaches us all never to trust what we hear recorded — unless we know for sure those reporters were ethical and did only minor editing but still captured the true content and context as much as possible.

Hopefully our customers will continue to trust that we will hold our audio reporting to the same high ethical standards as we expect to meet in our regular newspaper.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ag Fest a success for many reasons

Michael Roth, left and Kathy Moreland, far right, accept on behalf of Roth's Markets the Oregon Ag Star award on April 28, 2007 in Salem. Sherry Kudna, Ag Fest chair, and emcee John Burt present the award. Burt also received an Ag Star award. The awards are for an individual, business or organization who has made significant contributions to the agricultural industry.

SALEM, Ore. — While the number of people gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary banquet of Oregon Ag Fest in Salem on April 28 was modest, there was a lot to celebrate last weekend: by the time the sunshine-filled two-day event was over, the total attendance was 17,250.

That was up from a year before. It also showed remarkable growth since it first began. According to emcee John Burt, the executive director of the Farmers Ending Hunger organization, the beginning of Ag Fest involved pitching a tent in Riverfront Park in Salem, with “a half dozen displays and a couple pieces of machinery.”

About 400 people showed up at the first event, which eventually changed its focus to attracting children and moved to occupy several buildings on the Oregon State Fairgrounds.

But there are a lot of reasons to celebrate this event and its growing success, beyond the number of adults and kids that attend each year.

There are an incredible number of volunteers, from farmers to farm organizations, and all types of agri-businesses. They come from all over the state to teach kids how to pet, feed, grow and even count: they promote agriculture, but more importantly teach the next generation why they should care.

As Burt pointed out, the event is held in April so people in agriculture can be there: “You’re across the table from 10,000 kids” and they get to talk to growers.

That is the most important lesson of all: in a time when agriculture is under such scrutiny, farmers and ranchers need someone to explain, encourage and celebrate what they do. As farmers prepare for vegetables to be planted, fruit to be harvested, calves to be weaned and other crops to be cut, they deserve more understanding as well as respect for all that they nurture.

Kids, especially from urban areas, can’t always visit the farm so other learning experiences have been developed. Oregon’s Agriculture in the Classroom program reached 48,500 students last year, often by visiting classrooms throughout the state and encouraging teachers to use the Get Oregonized resource guide.

The Ag Fest experience takes the learning experience another step, and creates a chance for people to see vegetables, seeds, animals and fowl first hand; pet animals ranging from llamas to rabbits; take a plant home to watch it grow; and learn enough facts to fill a text book.

Oregon Ag Fest also presents awards to those who have made significant contributions to the agriculture industry: nominations include individuals, businesses or organizations.

This year, Roth’s Markets received an award, as did John Burt.

The first Roth’s store first opened in 1962 in Silverton, Ore., and since then the supermarket chain has gained a reputation for using local and regional products and community involvement. Roth’s has helped encourage children to learn about agriculture in such places as Oregon Garden.

Since the beginning, the family-owned Roth’s has helped with Ag Fest and “been extremely generous with the time their staff,” said Burt.

Meanwhile, Burt has received several awards already from the agricultural community for his contributions. From being involved in extension services at Oregon State University, to being on the boards of various food banks and now his involvement with the Farmers Ending Hunger organization, Burt has shown his dedication to supporting farmers and been recognized for his efforts.

But he became teary eyed and speechless for a few moments when he was surprised with the Ag Star award this year. He has watched this event grow, and it was obvious how much he believes in its goal of providing an educational experience for families.

“This is an incredible, incredible event,” he said “Of all the things I’ve ever did in my career … this is one of the best things I’ve ever did, and best things I’ve ever been involved with,” Burt said. “ All the work that goes into letting the public know what agriculture is all about and engaging them in a positive, educational way there’s nothing like Ag Fest, it’s the most incredible thing.”

Looking out at the current Ag Fest organizers identifiable by their red shirts, he honored them.

“Twenty years later, you’ve got still the best event I’ve seen anywhere,” he told them, emotion evident in his voice.

From those who gathered, there was a unanimous roar of agreement and warm applause, even from those whose voices were hoarse from talking to hundreds of children who visited their booths earlier.

Sherry Kudna presents John Burt with an Oregon Ag Star award recognizing his contributions to Ag Fest for the last 20 years.

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