Group seeks to education public
By JOHN SCHMITZ
For the Capital Press
A first-time exhibitor at this year's Northwest Ag Show is Oregon Women for Ag, a group organized 43 years ago in response to state-imposed restrictions on grass seed field burning.
Since then, the all-volunteer organization has broadened its scope to include nearly all sectors of agriculture.
OWA, which operates under the adage that "Almost Everything Starts on the Farm," presents and sponsors several activities that serve to educate the public about the importance of agriculture and its effects on the economy and the environment. OWA also promotes ag research.
OWA's keystone event is its annual April auction, which draws in excess of 1,000 bidders and guests and grosses around $90,000.
"That money is what we operate on for the year," said Chelle Davis, OWA president, whose Sprenger family ancestors began farming in Shedd, Ore., over 150 years ago.
Two popular programs OWA helps support are Oregon State University's Agriculture in the Classroom, which introduces school kids to agriculture, and the Summer Agricultural Institute, which is another OSU program for teachers.
One of the reasons OWA is appearing at the Ag Show this year is to host a Tuesday workshop on using social media. OWA is also helping sponsor the Agri-Business Council of Oregon keynote address on Wednesday during the group's annual meeting.
Featured at the social media workshop will be Michele Payn-Knoper of Cause Matters. She'll speak on how farmers, woodland owners and ranchers can better advocate for agriculture. Among other things, her talk will discuss the ins and outs of using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter.
In February, OWA kicked off its Adopt a Legislator program, which is aimed at interfacing OWA members in various counties with legislators.
One purpose is "to prevent bad ag-related bills from becoming laws." The program will also teach members about the legislative process.
Other activities OWA is involved with include the Ag Fest in Salem, which it helps sponsor, publication of informational ag materials for county fairs and the Oregon State Fair, and the preparation of public relations-oriented materials such as bus ads for the media.
During the summer OWA partners with Fisher Farm & Lawn to put up safety signs along highways promoting safety when around ag equipment.
There are over 300 OWA members.
"Numbers are down a little bit, but we're starting to climb back up," Davis said. "We're also trying to partner with other agricultural organizations."
OWA annual dues are $45, which includes membership in American Agri-Women. Half is used by the organization's seven chapters to fund local ag scholarships and present their own events.
While OWA is a women's organization, it does have some honorary men members.
Women do not have to have an ag background to join the organization, said OWA first vice president Marie Bowers, who was raised on a grass seed farm in the Willamette Valley. "We have one member who says she's involved because she eats food."