Western innovator: Farmer combines ag, advocacy
'It's neat to have a daughter that is willing to carry on'
By MITCH LIES
RICKREALL, Ore. -- For Kathy Hadley, there was never much doubt about her career choice.
It was pretty much always about farming.
"In middle school, I was interested in farming, but there were other things, too," Hadley said. "But when I got into FFA (in the ninth grade), I got a little more serious about the farming, and then I was like, OK, yeah, this is what I am going to do."
Today, Hadley, 30, helps her father, Dean Freeborn, operate the family's 850-acre farm, runs some of her own acreage and helps her husband, Troy Hadley, on his acreage.
Freeborn plans to turn over management of the family farm to Hadley when he retires.
"It's neat to have a daughter that is willing to carry on what we've been doing so many years, and one that is not afraid to get dirty," Freeborn said.
"Ever since she's been able to walk, she has wanted to be part of what we're doing," Freeborn said. "It has never been anything we had to force on her, from the cows, to the combine, to swathing, to planting."
Hadley already has a say in managing the farm, Freeborn said.
The two collaborate on big and small decisions, Freeborn said, and he appreciates her opinion, even though they don't always agree.
"We have our share of disagreements," Hadley said, "but our arguments aren't bad.
"My take is father-daughter is a little different than father-son sometimes," she said. "I think it is a dynamic that works better."
"I respect her opinion very much," Freeborn said.
The fact that Hadley holds a master's degree in agriculture from Oregon State University doesn't hurt, either, Freeborn said.
"She's got the hands-on experience of doing stuff and the book-learning," Freeborn said. "That makes it even better."
Hadley's impact on farming doesn't stop at the end of her farm's acreage.
Since graduating from college in 2004, Hadley has become a valuable advocate for an agricultural industry that often is hampered by misunderstanding and overregulation, said Katie Fast, director of government affairs for the Oregon Farm Bureau.
"It's not what I prefer to be doing," Hadley said. "But just like with this proposed Department of Labor rule that could have impacted (her 20-month-old son) Grant's involvement in the farm someday, it is crucial to have a network of people to try to get some of that stopped."
Hadley is a board member of the Oregon Ryegrass Growers Association and the Polk County Farm Bureau. She serves on the Oregon Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher and Ag Education committees. She serves on the citizens' advisory network for the Polk County Extension Service tax district and the canola advisory committee that is working with the Oregon Department Agriculture on possibly relaxing some restrictions on growing canola in the Willamette Valley.
Her participation is much appreciated by Fast.
"Many times farmers are farmers because they want to be out in nature working by themselves," Fast said. "So it is great to have a spokesperson who has a strong education background, but also is rooted in a family operation and has ties to the land, so she can give a unique perspective.
"Kathy definitely is a leader now in agriculture and will be in the future," Fast said.
Advocating for agriculture isn't all altruistic, Hadley said. It has its benefits.
"Being involved is one way to keep current and up to speed on things that are happening in the industry," Hadley said.
"If you aren't up to speed on regulations, you can go out of business faster that way than anything," she said.
"Decisions are made by people who show up, so if you aren't involved, you guarantee that other people will be making decisions for you," she said.
"And the networking can be beneficial. Some of the forage we grow goes to several people we know through Farm Bureau from Klamath Falls. That is how we got that connection," she said.
She even met her husband through the Farm Bureau. The two sat together at a dinner at the organization's annual convention her senior year of college, she said. Later they got to know each other through working together on the Young Farmer and Rancher Committee.
Hadley never viewed her gender as a detriment to entering agriculture, a field dominated by men, even though at times others did, she said.
"When I was younger, there were times that I felt like I wasn't taken seriously," she said. "I felt like I had to prove myself a little bit more than I would have, had I been a boy.
"Any more, I don't really think about it, and don't really notice it," she said.
"Sometimes, though, it's nice to play the 'girl card' if there is something that I don't want to do," she said, laughing. "But it never works with my dad."
Farm: Grows tall fescue, wheat, turnips for seed, oats and other crops and raises 30 head of cattle on 850 acres near Rickreall, Ore.
Family: Husband, Troy Hadley; son, Grant, 20, months
Education: Master's degree in agriculture from Oregon State University in 2004, with a major in ag and resource economics and minors in crop and soil science and political science