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Local agriculture honored at banquet
A Union woman who worked closely with the Union Soil and Water Conservation District to improve her land and fish habitat along Catherine Creek was among the honorees at Tuesday night’s 64th annual Farmer-Merchant Banquet at the Blue Mountain Conference Center.
Trudy Yeargain was called to the podium to accept the Good Steward Award from Craig Schellsmidt, district manager of the Union Soil and Water Conservation District. Schellsmidt told how Yeargain and John Hefner, leaser and operator on Yeargain’s land, worked with the agency to restore the banks along a three-quarter-mile stretch of Catherine Creek.
“They were losing a lot of soil, fencing and calves in high-water events, and we helped change the situation,” Schellsmidt said. “It’s not easy for a landowner to trust an agency to work with them.”
Schellsmidt praised Yeargain for cooperating in a project that not only resolved her problems but improved fish habitat in a high-priority waterway.
Accepting the award, Yeargain said she appreciated the conservation district’s help. She said the agency was always quick to aid in resolving issues.
“If I had a problem, I called Craig. He helped me straighten it out on the phone, or else he came out,” she said.
She added that Hefner played a vital role throughout the process.
“He has been with me every step of the way, and without him we could not have accomplished this,” she said.
In other presentations, the Union County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer of the Year Award went to Todd and Nicholle Arnoldus. Presenter Gene Hardy told how Todd studied for a culinary arts degree after graduating from high school in 1991, but eventually came home to take up agriculture. Today, the Arnolduses raise crops including wheat, barley and garbanzo beans and are active members of their community.
Todd is the president of Union County Seed Growers, a member of the Farm Services Agency committee and a guitar player who entertains at church functions and other events in Union and Wallowa counties. Nicholle teaches school in Imbler.
Accepting the award, Todd Arnoldus said he is happy to be living and working in Union County.
“The life I have is a dream come true, and my kids have it too,” he said.
The Oregon Department of Forestry’s Tree Farmer of the Year Award went to Dick and Sandy Good of Elgin. Presenter Jamie Knight of ODF said Dick Good is noted for conservative logging practices that result in no waste of wood products.
“Sustainability is his manta,” Knight said. “He has set the bar for wood utilization.”
Knight added that her agency appreciates Good’s efforts to prevent forest fires on land protected by her agency. She said that during threatening weather, Good makes extra effort to spot developing fires.
“He always has a watchful eye when lightning comes through,” she said.
In some brief remarks, Dick Good said he tries to do all he can keep forests healthy.
“I like to check around and see if there’s smoke so they can get the fire out before it gets really busy,” he said.
The Union County Wheat League and Seed Grower Conservation Farm of the Year Award went to Matt and Melanie Insko, owners of M&M Farming. Presenter Martin Tromp van Holst told how Matt Insko left his Union County home in the 1990s to earn an agricultural systems management degree from the University of Idaho. Insko graduated in 1998, came home and went to work for local farmer John Cuthbert.
Cuthbert taught Insko valuable conservation practices, Tromp van Holst said. Eventually, Insko acquired land and put those practices to work producing crops including grass seed, mint, wheat and alfalfa.
Accepting the award, Insko said he is above all grateful to his wife for the support she has given him over the years. He also praised Cuthbert, saying the man had enormous influence on him, especially when it came to water conservation.
“From day one, he drove it into me that water is the most important thing,” Insko said. “The Cuthberts really put a lot of trust in me and I appreciate that.”
Union rancher Duane Tyler was named the Union County Cattleman’s Association Cattleman of the Year, with Scotty Baker presenting the award. In a short acceptance speech, Tyler said he appreciates merchants who are patient and understanding of ranchers.
The Pendleton Grain Growers Ag Woman of the Year Award this year went to Mary Jane Johnson, who grew up on a historic farm near Cove and has worked the property alongside her husband, Sonny, the last three decades. Presenter Cresta de Lint said Sonny has described his wife as the “bread and butter” of the operation.
“She’s involved in all the day-to-day decisions on the farm,” de Lint said.
De Lint said that in addition to being a farm wife and active community member, Mary Jane Johnson taught second grade at Cove for 13 years.
Johnson said the award was a special honor for her and added that she takes her role as farm wife seriously.
“The men work in the fields and the woman have to keep everything going. We have to help all we can,” she said.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife presented its Natural Resources Cooperator of the Year Award to the Oregon Agricultural Foundation, the group that looks after the famous Glen McKenzie Farm in Summerville.
McKenzie was a farmer and community activist who died in 2006. He left the farm to the foundation, specifying that he wanted to it continue to operate to the benefit of education and sustainable agriculture.
Myatt said the foundation has been an outstanding caretaker of the McKenzie property, working with Grande Ronde Model Watershed to improve fish habitat and stop soil erosion.
Bill Howell accepted the award on behalf of the foundation.
“It’s very appropriate to carry on Glen’s legacy. It’s an honor and a pleasure to accept the award for the project,” he said.
Banquet sponsor Union County Chamber of Commerce created a new award this year honoring people for distinguished service to Union County agriculture.
Those awards were presented to Reed Stewart, an irrigation specialist who served the county through his own business and later as a representative for Pendleton Grain Growers, and Don Sands, a long-time owner of a fertilizer company who was one of the founders of the annual Union County Crops and Conservation Tour.