Essay contest winners to attend special event

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

Cows, sheep, goats and other livestock will be on display as usual at the upcoming Oregon Ag Fest, but they're not the only ones that will make it a genuine agricultural experience.

The annual event, held this year April 24-25, relies on 1,200 volunteers, many of whom are rooted in farming and related businesses and organizations.

"It helps give it an authentic feel," said Michele Ruby, executive director of Oregon Ag Fest.

The event is financially healthy despite the troubled economy, with its revenues increasing roughly 3 percent in 2009 to $135,000. Similar revenues are projected for 2010.

Thanks to volunteers, Oregon Ag Fest is able to keep expenses low. As a result, the nonprofit is able to devote more than 90 percent of its revenues to the event. The remaining 10 percent is spent on management and fundraising.

About 45 percent of the group's funding is derived from ticket sales, but the bulk comes from sponsors, Ruby said. "They've still stepped up to support the event."

Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 children and parents attend the yearly event, which is focused on exposing youngsters to a positive view of agriculture with activities like pony rides and potato digs.

"Our mission is to help people understand where their food comes from," Ruby said.

Businesses and organizations that sponsor the event also benefit from the exposure. Each dollar donated to Oregon Ag Fest equates to more than $3 in advertising, booth space and promotional materials, according to the nonprofit's estimates.

"It extends their brand and associates it with the event to a broader audience," Ruby said.

One major event sponsor, the McDonald's restaurant chain, hopes Oregon Ag Fest will provide consumers with a new view of the company.

Most of the firm's restaurants are run by local operators who source many ingredients from local farmers, said Nicole Tricas, spokeswoman for McDonald's in Oregon and southwest Washington.

"A lot of people see the corporate arches when they think of McDonald's," she said.

The company bought more than 125 million pounds of potatoes, 1.3 million pounds of onions and 528,000 gallons of milk from Oregon farmers in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, Tricas said.

McDonald's expects such figures will educate kids about the firm's local sourcing program, she said. "It's great visibility."

The company is paying for 15 classrooms of fourth-grade students from around the state to attend a special Oregon Ag Fest preview on April 23.

The free field trips reward students who won an essay contest about agriculture.

Winning essays generally focused on specific crops grown in Oregon, such as pears, wheat and grass seed, while some had unique observations about the industry's economics.

As Albany, Ore., student Meghan Hood pointed out, "combines can cost more than some people pay for their houses! Some farms can have as many as 10 combines. Now that's a lot of money. Based on my allowance it would take me over 150 years to make enough money to buy one combine."

Oregon Ag Fest

Location: Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Ore.

Dates: Saturday, April 24, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, April 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free for children ages 12 and under, $7.50 for adults

Parking: Free

Information: Call 503-535-9353 or 800-874-7012 or go to www.oragfest.com

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