When August rolls around, at Gold Dust & Walker Farms we always count on a few things happening. Grain harvest starts, swathers continue to knock down alfalfa out in the fields, we start getting ready for potato harvest, and we open our doors and our fields for our annual Open House Field Day.
The Monday night kick-off dinner at Bill and Jan’s house has become a great way for us to welcome guests from afar, say hello to old friends and get introduced to new faces. It’s been a beautiful summer, and the warm, smoke-free evening was perfect for taking in a sunset over the Klamath Basin. As the sun went down, our guests enjoyed beer from Skyline Brewing, fresh seafood from Casey Lammers and Ken Hibbard, a feast put together by Jan and, of course, great conversation. This year we had a guest speaker, a local Make-A-Wish wisher, Eleanor Pine and her mom, Michelle. Michelle talked about how much Make-A-Wish meant to them during Eleanor’s treatment for cancer.
The next day everyone met in Tulelake at Mike and Wanda’s for breakfast. Traci Reed and some young women from Klamath County 4H joined our group for eggs, bacon, pork chops (yes, pork chops!), and biscuits and gravy, and for our guest speakers. Every year we try to have a theme for our Open House Field Day. Last year we focused on the families of our growers, and in the past we’ve discussed sustainability. This year the theme was Women In Ag.
Women in agriculture is a subject that’s been getting a lot of attention this year – and not just on our farm. You’ve probably read the local news stories about our CFO Tricia Hill becoming the first woman president of the Klamath Water Users Association and Lexi Crawford becoming the first woman on the Oregon Potato Commission. Nationally, women farmers are becoming more visible with the national Census of Agriculture representing women better than past surveys. With that in mind, we thought that should be this year’s theme.
Our first speaker was Alexis Taylor, Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Originally from Iowa, Alexis grew up on the family farm that has been around longer than the state of Oregon. Though she knew she didn’t want to farm, she did know she wanted to advocate for ag. After a stint in the National Guard and living in Washington DC, Alexis made her way West where Governor Kate Brown appointed her as Agriculture Director. She discussed some of the programs Oregon has for women farmers and ranchers as well as the issues women in ag have to overcome.
The part of her talk that resonated with the audience was a story she told about a meeting she was having with several men about women in agriculture. One of the men stated he didn’t see the importance of this meeting because women have always been involved with farming and didn’t know why they needed to focus on it. Being the only woman in the room, Alexis responded that we needed to not just have women working on farms, but to be at the table for these types of meetings as well.
Following Alexis was Jeff Gibson with RaboBank. Always informative and very entertaining, Jeff shared a slideshow discussing the current markets, economy and interest rates. His goal was to make it through the whole slideshow without showing a single graph – which he failed at on slide five. The biggest takeaway from Jeff’s talk was despite the impact of the tariff war with China, the possibility of a recession, the rest of the world is in a much worse situation than the US.
Once everyone boarded the bus at Gold Dust’s campus, we headed out to see the fields of our growing partners. Keeping with the theme, women involved with those farms talked about their roles in their operation, how they became involved in agriculture and some of the challenges they face. Cheri Unruh was the first to speak on our way out to her and Rob’s field of 2137s. Cheri is a fourth generation farmer (who’s dad is still farming with her and Rob!), but the first woman in her family to actually farm and not be a farm wife. Cheri shared that her mom and grandmother didn’t think she should be on a tractor, however the biggest challenge faced – and she continues to face – is that people have a hard time understanding what she does. Apparently in 2019 some people still have a hard time understanding that women do indeed farm.
The next field we visited was Staunton Farms’ organic Lamoka field located just outside of Tulelake. Marc Staunton spoke to our group, sharing that women have always been a part of their farm, including his grandmother, who used to run the books, his mother who’s been minding the office for the last 35 years, to his wife Ami who runs payroll and his cousin who takes care of HR, GAP audits and dealing with FSA. However, the person he was hoping that would join our tour was Suzy Hernandez. Marc joked that he wouldn’t allow her to speak out of fear of someone trying to hire her out from under him, but after sharing how she manages a variety of roles from recruiting labor to working the field crews, maybe his fears weren’t unfounded! Suzy’s father started off with the farm over 35 years ago as a field laborer. Out of all of his kids, Suzy is the one who came back, starting off in the fields. Between her ability to get workers and flexibility to wear the multiple hats of a farm manager, Marc said she’s an important part of their farm.
After an extremely short bus trip (literally a quarter of a mile away) we went to Luke Robison’s field of 1867s and met his wife, Angela, there. With rice-crispie treats topped with potato chips in hand, Angela shared what it’s like being married to a farmer. From cleaning up after muddy to boots and making late dinners to raising their son, Winston, and lending an ear to his successes and worries, Luke said he sees Angela as being a vital part of their farm. When she married Luke, he was a ditchrider that she knew had grown potatoes in the past. Once he decided to plant a field of spuds, she was pushed into a lifestyle that would give her a community she loves and turn her into a self-described potato snob.
Leaving Tulelake, we headed towards Newell to Huffman Farms’ potato field that was fallowed in 2018 due to lack of water. On the way over, Matt talked about his mother, who “wasn’t a farmer, but was thee farm” and then followed with how Drew’s wife, Destiney, helps their farm. Destiney met us at the field, where she shared her story and what she’s learned. Originally from Yuba City, California, she didn’t grow up in ag. After marrying a farm boy, it was hard to leave the farm and for the last eight years they’ve been working with the family. Destiney started out doing QC in the cellars, and when it proved hard to find good office help, she stepped into that role, taking on accounting, HR, safety and even the organic audits. The biggest thing she’s learned? “Agriculture is a lifestyle. You don’t leave it at the door and it comes home with you.”
Back on the bus and headed towards Malin, Tricia and Lexi shared their experiences with being women in agriculture. Tricia never planned on coming back to the farm, and Lexi never dreamed of farming. But a fateful call from Tricia’s brother, Weston, and Lexi’s husband, Bart’s desire to farm brought them to Gold Dust. Though they had a rocky start working together, they both feel the success they’ve had is because they have each other. Both bring a different view to the challenges of running the offices and the shed, and both appreciate what each brings to the table. When asked for any advice for young women looking at career in ag, Tricia recommended they broaden their thoughts about what working in ag is as there are a lot of different roles on the farm. Lexi agreed with Tricia’s sentiments, and added not having an ag background shouldn’t be a deterrent, because Lexi is able to use her business education to help move the farm forward.
While speaking about the importance of the women in Gold Dust & Walker Farms, Tricia brought up one of the most important people who helped get these businesses to where they are – her mom, Jan. Jan was supposed to be on the tour to share her experiences, but after the Monday night shindig she opted to rest for the golf and dinner later that day. Tricia shared that while everyone called Jan a farm wife, she was a farmer. She drove tractor and helped get the harvest from the fields. Jan also got to deal with the government and its intrusions, as well as take on accounting and office staff as the farm began to grow. Along with Tricia and Weston’s grandfather, Dick Halousek, Jan and he developed a lot of the computer programs and systems that helped the farm manage its inventory. And Jan’s legacy will continue forward since she’s the one that trained Tricia and Lexi.
After checking out a chipping potato field grown by Walker Farms with Bill and John, and enjoying lunch at the packing shed, everyone headed out for golf! This year the “Crown Royal Invitational” was held at Harbor Links. We did a few things differently for the golf outing and dinner fundraiser for Make-A-Wish. Instead of having men’s teams and women’s teams, this year the teams were co-ed. We still had the men’s and women’s KP and Long Distance, but this allowed members of Gold Dust & Walker Farms to spend some time with the customers and vendors they talk to on the other end of the phone.
Following golf, our guests met at the club-house where dinner and drinks were served. If you’ve ever read any of our other Open House Field Day blog posts, you know that we use this dinner as an opportunity to raise money for our local chapter of Make-A-Wish. But before we get to that, here’s the outcome from our golf tournament!
Last year, between the contributions of our guests and our matching funds, we were able to raise $45,000 from calling out pledges. As mentioned, this year things were a little different.
How different? For starters, instead of a video about a Make-A-Wish wisher, Eleanor and her family joined us for dinner to share how Make-A-Wish helped make a hard time a bit easier. Getting to hear from Eleanor and her father, Evan, about how their trip to Disneyland helped take the stress off of their family and create some positive memories while Eleanor was going through treatment for cancer. That led to not a call for pledges, but instead an auction! Auction items were as varied as a basketball signed by the Portland Trailblazers to a vacation stay in Hawaii to fishing gear. After all the bidding was done, our guests alone helped raise an impressive $38,000 for Make-A-Wish! Also in attendance was Mallory Tyler and Darcie LaMotte, who thanked our guest and and announced Katie was added to their Regional Board of Directors.
We had a fun day, and we hope our guests did to. Before wrapping this up, we’d like to thank everyone who was able to join us for our annual Open House Field Day. Your support helps us grow every year, and your generosity helps local kids, like Eleanor. Thank you very much for your support and generosity!