Just two weeks after completing the first Resource Education and Agricultural Leadership Program, otherwise known as REAL Oregon, Matt Mattioda was able to put his newly refined skills to the test.

Mattioda, who works as the chief forester for Miller Timber Services in Philomath, Ore., was informed by a client that Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read was interested in touring a project site to better understand how trees are harvested on the landscape.

“I had a chance to show him what we’re doing,” Mattioda said of the visit. “If we don’t reach out and engage folks ... then whatever comes our way, we’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Thanks to REAL Oregon, Mattioda said he is comfortable advocating for his industry to a high-ranking state official. The program was conceived by businesses to engage natural resources professionals in career and leadership training — everything from government relations and conflict resolution to public speaking and presentation.

Over the course of five months, Mattioda and 29 others attended two-day sessions around the state, each with a local focus. The first class graduated March 8, which included 10 agricultural producers, three forestry workers, four government employees and 13 people from natural resource support industries.

In addition to leadership training, Mattioda said REAL Oregon provided an opportunity to network and build bridges across industries.

“I have really grown to appreciate what other folks do in natural resources, whether you’re a rancher or a farmer,” Mattioda said. “We’re all in this together. Even if some folks have differences in opinion, let’s rally around and focus on those things we have in common.”

REAL Oregon was established in 2017 and is similar to programs in 34 other states around the country, including neighboring Washington and Idaho. Greg Addington, program director, said the sessions are meant to break people out of their “silos,” and understand the bigger picture for natural resources.

In hindsight, Addington said the first year could not have gone any better.

“I think we’re on to something here,” he said. “There’s a big need for it in the state.”

Addington, who owns a consulting company in Klamath Falls, Ore., and is the former executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said he already has a list of more than 200 names recommended for future classes. He is now working on the application and curriculum for the class of 2018-19.

Last year’s program kicked off in November with a trip to Ontario, Ore., where participants learned about production agriculture. The group then traveled to Newport in December for a session on commercial fisheries; Medford in January for timber; Salem in February for the short legislative session; and Pendleton and Boardman in March for irrigated farming and livestock.

“The networking that occurs with such a diverse group of people is just awesome to watch,” Addington said.

Megan Thompson, director of field services for Cascade Cherry Growers and Sage Fruit Co. in The Dalles, Ore., said the networking was especially valuable for her.

“At some point, we’re all fighting a very similar fight,” Thompson said. “We all have similar causes, and similar drives, and we all need to work together for those causes.”

Thompson added the field trips they took on location further drove home the point.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “I think it’s made 30 new advocates for agriculture.”

More information about REAL Oregon, including an application form, is available online at www.realoregon.net. The program costs $5,000 per person, though half of the funding is covered by business sponsors.

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