Monday, May 20, 2013

Social media: Diving in, the right way

Earlier, I talked about the value of adding social media to a nonprofit’s communications toolkit. Social media is free. Millions use it every day. So why not dive in?

Why not? Because a poorly run social media campaign may hurt your organization by making it look unprofessional, unhip or unpopular. As the marketing firm CAWOOD says, don’t use social media if you don’t have the time and resources to put into the campaign or if you don’t understand the specific social media platform you sign up for.

The key is to treat Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and any other social media platform as an individual community with distinct expectations about what you’ll say to them and how you’ll say it. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the habit of treating your social media accounts as online versions of your quarterly newsletter.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Slow Food USA: The message is the movement

Willamette Valley CSA farmer Derek Brandow introduces a
potential customer to his flock.
On the surface, the Slow Food message is simple: Everyone deserves access to “good, clean, and fair food.” Convincing U.S. consumers to buy into that message, however, is a herculean task.

Consider that agribusiness conglomerates, which receive the lion’s share of the $10 billion annual U.S. agriculture subsidy, pour an estimated $32 billion annually into advertising. What are they selling? The highly processed, sugar and fat dense prepackaged foods  that make up the average American diet.

Yet over the past two decades, organic food sales have skyrocketed while Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and thousands of farmers markets have sprung up across the country. Why is that? Has the Slow Food movement successfully countered the dominant American food narrative, which says the best food, even if not nutritious, is quick, cheap and convenient? 

To learn more about Slow Food USA’s communications strategies, I recently dug into Ashli Quesinberry Stokes’ academic study on efforts to brand the movement, recruit supporters and combat the agribusiness advertising blitz. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

FOOD for Lane County: Harvesting social media

For those of us who didn't grow up in the age of smartphones and constant online communication, social networking can present a professional dilemma. For every success story about a company making its mark online, there seem to be a dozen cautionary tales of public figures putting their virtual foot in their mouth in real time, or worse.

More importantly, from the perspective of a nonprofit organization, cultivating a social media following and
All images courtesy of FFLC.
maintaining multiple online profiles takes time and effort. Is the potential payoff worth it for an organization devoted to helping people in the community, not bolstering its bottom line?

Last week, I sat down with Dawn Marie Woodward to talk about adding social media to a nonprofit’s traditional communications toolkit. Woodward, the president of the Greater Oregon Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, serves as events and media relations coordinator for FOOD for Lane County (FFLC).

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Critical Mass: It’s all about the bike community

The Eugene Weekly included this story in their Earth Day On Wheels special edition published April 18, 2013.

We’re living in a golden age of cycling. And we might have a bunch of loud, traffic-stopping cycling activists with anarchistic tendencies — better known as Critical Mass — to thank for it.

For the uninitiated, Critical Mass (CM) is a quasi-organized monthly bike ride that takes place on the last Friday of the month in cities across the globe. Founded in San Francisco in September 1992, the ride is part-rolling street party, part-pro-cycling demonstration, often chaotic and a heck of a good time — minus the occasional arrest — but, hey, even those can have side benefits.

True, cyclists on CM rides have run red lights to stay with the pack to the ire of drivers stuck idling at green lights. And in some cities CM rides draw controversy and cops like magnets. But in the pre-Lance Armstrong era — before charity fundraising rides became popular and hipsters discovered single speeds — CM played a big role in raising public awareness of cycling as a sustainable community choice and part of a healthy lifestyle.
Critter Cruise at Kesey Square on April 4. Photo by Eugene Weekly 

In its heyday, Eugene’s CM made plenty of headlines due to an overly aggressive police crackdown in the summer of 2006. Since then, the local CM ride has petered out — replaced by less overtly political and confrontational group rides that local cycling enthusiasts organize via word of mouth and social media, such as the “Critter Cruise” that pedaled off from Kesey Square April 4.

In 1991, a year before the first Critical Mass, the federal government spent a measly $4 to $6 million annually on cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. By 2008 that figure had grown to $541 million, according to government data. Between 2001 and 2011 alone, national bike use rose by 39 percent.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The fight over canola is far from over

In late January I blogged about the ongoing fight by the small farm community to keep canola out of the Willamette Valley and the danger the plant, also known as rapeseed, poses to the area’s thriving specialty seed industry. At the time, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) was taking public testimony on the issue before finalizing a rule change that would have allowed canola to be planted on thousands of previously restricted acres in the valley.

Despite public opposition to the plan, on February 7 the ODA adopted a modification of the proposed administrative rule that will allow some level of canola planting in the valley. In response, the non-profit group Friends of Family Farmers (FFF) which has led the anti-canola fight and their allies are rolling up their sleeves for a new grassroots campaign in support of a new law reinstating the area-wide canola ban.

Current House Bill 2427, entitled the “Willamette Valley Canola Ban”, would block any canola planting in “Clackamas, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill Counties and the portion of Benton and Lane Counties lying east of the summit of the Coast Range.”  FFF’s Leah Rodgers says that while legislators are voicing support for the local seed industry, many are leery of the idea of a ban and used to deferring to the experts at the ODA.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oregon Ripe for Aggie Bonds?

It’s no big secret that Oregon’s farmer population is aging. On the other hand, increasing demand for locally produced food provides opportunities for a new generation of sustainably minded growers to develop successful farms — if they can get financing, that is.

A group of farmers and agriculture experts recently testified before the state Legislature on the difficulties small farmers, especially those new to the profession, face getting the credit necessary to purchase farmland or farm equipment. Though some Oregon farmers may qualify for the federal Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans program, the state does not have its own credit program to assist inexperienced farmers break into the business.

On Feb. 12, the Oregon House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources held a hearing on HB 2700, which would create a Beginning and Expanding Farmer Loan Program to help farmers with less than 10 years experience buy land, equipment, livestock and seed. The program would utilize private bonds exempt from federal taxes, known as “aggie bonds,” which can be bundled with existing FSA lending programs and can lower loan interest rates by as much as 25 percent. Sixteen states already offer aggie bonds.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hanford: A nuclear disaster in slow motion

A version of this article first ran in the December 2010 edition of the Oregon Insider, a private monthly digest of environmental management and regulatory news. With Hanford in the news this month for a newly reported single-shell container leak, it seems appropriate to publish an updated version of the story.


On Friday, February 15, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced the first confirmed leak of high-level radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear site since 2005. The site of America's first nuclear reactor and one of the largest nuclear waste sites in the world has drawn relatively little of the renewed press scrutiny other nuclear facilities have faced in the wake of Japan's Fukushima meltdown. On the other hand, you might say that Hanford is always in the back of the Pacific Northwest’s mind. The name Hanford has become synonymous with the atomic age and radiation pollution. But how much does the region know about the intricacies of the massive and massively expensive ongoing cleanup effort?

Covering hundreds of square miles of sage-brush filled backcountry on the Columbia River in southern Washington, Hanford is the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. Known by various names, including the Hanford Engineering Works, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and finally the Hanford site, the complex comprises multiple nuclear reactors, processing plants, laboratories and associated buildings and waste dumps. Because of the nature of nuclear research and production undertaken during Hanford’s four decades of operation, the site’s contamination presents a hugely complex long term problem. While progress has been made, the $2 billion-per-year cleanup is behind schedule and over budget.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

King Estate: Changing Perceptions of Organic Wine

This article first appeared in the January/February 2013 edition of In Good Tilth, the magazine of Oregon Tilth. Because I live in the heart of Oregon's Pinot Noir country, and local growers tend to be progressive and very concerned with land stewardship, I often get to write about the environmental aspects of winemaking. I first wrote about organic winemaking in a story on eco-wines for the 2010/2011 edition of the Natural Choice Directory for the Willamette Valley. Local winemaker Steve Girard of Benton-Lane Winery was a key source for my feature on the Beyond Organic movement in the 2011/2012 edition of the Directory.

In an era of increasing consumer consciousness of the health risks associated with conventional agriculture, organic products take pride of place in the marketplace, usually commanding a premium price–but not necessarily on the wine shelf. In fact, until a few years ago, many winemakers who embraced sustainable farming were uncomfortable advertising their organic bona fides for fear of turning off wine aficionados and being written off as winemaking lightweights with more interest in saving the planet than producing stellar vintages.

But that is changing, as vineyard managers discover the benefits of organic growing and vintners find a budding demand for wines grown with an eye towards sustainability. If organic is no longer a dirty word in the wine world, part of the credit must go to wineries such as King Estate, Oregon’s largest, which flew the organic flag before it was popular and is not afraid to push the message that taking care of the land is a responsibility, not an option.

In 1991, the King family founded King Estate in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range southwest of Eugene. The 1,033-acre estate, crowned by an elegant, European-inspired villa, encompasses 470 acres of vineyards and 30 acres of fruits, vegetables and flowers. A world-class Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris producer, the estate bottles 230,000 cases each year from estate-grown grapes and fruit from a handful of smaller Oregon vineyards.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A real no-brainer

I’ve been a fan of biodiesel for quite some time – locally and sustainably produced biodiesel that is, not the nasty stuff driving deforestation in Indonesia. My wife and I were members of a car-sharing co-op in the day before biodiesel was available at gas stations. We’d have a local start-up, Sequential Biofuels, deliver 55-gallon drums of biodiesel to our house. We’d hand pump the stuff, made from used cooking oil and smelling of French fries when burned, into gas cans to fill an old Mercedes sedan.

Back then, I was pretty excited about the prospect of Willamette Valley grass seed farmers planting rapeseed and canola, related plants whose seed oils can be refined into biodiesel. It seemed like a no-brainer at the time. Valuable farm acreage currently wasted producing grass seed for the golf courses of Asia could be replanted with food crops in the summer, with the canola rotated in during the winter. It sounded like a great way to increase both local food production and regional supplies of sustainable-produced fuel.

Then, a funny thing happened. Local farmers started pushing back against the whole idea. That didn’t make any sense to me at first. But then I discovered that canola is one of the top GMO crops in the country. Well, I know that GMO crops are a terrible idea; it’s a no-brainer for anyone with ecological sensibilities (a growing subset of people, organizations and countries that, significantly, includes neither the USDA nor the Oregon Department of Agriculture). So, why not push for non-GMO canola in the Valley?

What I didn’t know before picking up last Thursday’s Eugene Weekly was that even GMO-free canola poses a threat to the Valley’s high value seed production industry, which provides highly-skilled small farmers with a lucrative crop. Producing organic seeds for Brassica vegetables like cabbage isn’t easy, and canola, GMO or not, readily cross pollinates with Brassicas and ruins their marketability. The Willamette Valley is one of the world’s leading seed producing regions for these crops, feeding a thriving global market. Why in the world would we want to destroy an established industry supporting small farmers with living wage jobs?

The ODA is taking public testimony through January 25 on the issue before finalizing a rule change that would allow canola to be planted on thousands of previously restricted acres in the valley. Go ahead and let them know that we shouldn’t harm small farmers and sink our seed industry. It’s a no-brainer. Send your comments to:

Canola Hearings Officer,
Department of Agriculture,
635 Capitol Street NE, Salem, OR 97301

Or email:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Part-time farmers

This article first appeared in the November/December 2012 edition of In Good Tilth, the magazine of Oregon Tilth. In the interest of full disclosure, when I began researching this article, my wife Leeann was considering subscribing to Lonesome Whistle's CSA program in order to get whole grains to mill at home. After interviewing Jeff and Kasey, the decision was an easy one. The couple's passion for what they do is infectious. The pictures below show them in the midst of harvesting heirloom  Indian Woman Yellow Beans.

As the sun climbs the sky south of Junction City, Oregon, Jeff Broadie and Kasey White finish a simple breakfast on the porch of their modest, sky-blue two story house. A weathered Allis Chalmers All-Crop 60 combine sits hitched to a red-orange tractor a stone’s throw away. Soon, the Sunday sun will have driven the last moisture from Indian Woman yellow bean plants piled for drying in the field beyond. Forgoing a day of rest, the couple will feed the rare, heirloom beans through the combine, harvesting a crop popular with local consumers eager for regionally produced food.

White, from Idaho, met Broadie, a Colorado native, while both attended college in Fort Collins, Colorado. Neither came from a farming background. “We didn’t even know we wanted to farm,” says Broadie, relating how a food-politics course awakened him to food security and sustainability issues and inspired the couple to head to Oregon after graduation, to take advantage of the Willamette Valley’s climate and farming community.

The plight of the modern farmer is well known: an aging population cultivating a shrinking amount of acreage, a younger generation abandoning the farm for work elsewhere, corporations consolidating their control over the food supply. Broadie and White exemplify a more encouraging agricultural trend–young people moving into farming from other industries or straight out of college while working off the farm to supplement their income or build towards a full-time farming career. Though many do not come from an agricultural background, these new farmers bring a strong work ethic, an enthusiasm for environmentally friendly growing practices, innovative ideas and an interest in building community as well as in producing good food.