The Pacific Northwest is rich in its history. It was the destination of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but also developed a rugged trade that brought goods to the world.
Look at the names of rivers, towns and natural features. The influence of indigenous cultures is part of what makes this area special. Travel this diverse state and you will fall in love with it all over again. I am proud to be Oregon born. It has been the only place I would live and raise a family.
A misconception on totem poles
Totem poles are part of the surviving First Nations culture in the Pacific Northwest. They represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. They are typically made from red cedar, a malleable wood relatively abundant in the Pacific Northwest. The people would erect them in a visible place within a community.
People sometimes refer to the “low man on the totem pole” as if that means low status. But according to Canadian naturalist Pat Kramer, an expert on First Nations culture, the lowest figures on the totem pole are often considered the most prestigious. The bottom six feet of a totem pole are seen at eye level, after all.
“The helpers do the high up parts, and the master finishes the low end of the pole,” Kramer wrote. “Higher-up figures are more representational and, if anything, slightly less important.” In other words, the foundation is the most critical consideration.
That is the role the Oregon Association of Nurseries embraces on behalf of our awesome community of growers, greenhouse operators, retailers, landscapers, and allied businesses who make up the green industry.
The past informs the future
Oregon was (and is) geographically fortunate when it comes to the nursery industry. Its combination of a mild climate, abundant water and rich, volcanic soils drew those linked to plants.
As reported in our OAN 75th Anniversary book, Henderson Luelling (with William Meek) built one of the first nurseries near Milwaukie in the 1850s. In a sense, he proved to be the “low man on the totem pole,” as a foundational influence still felt today.
Through world wars, economic calamities, changes in transportation and marketing, and shifting consumer preferences, Oregon cultivated a space as THE preferred provider of quality green goods. The 1980s rise of the industry in its modern form has been well documented in my column in the past. To succeed, there are no days off. New generations are held to the same standard as their forebears. Our future is bright because our members are bright.
Service to industry
Next year, the OAN turns 90 (and the Farwest Show turns 50!). From the base of the Pacific Coast Association of Nurserymen, to the Portland Wholesale Nursery Company to organize marketing and orderly production of nursery stock, and then the creation of the OAN in 1933, Oregon’s green industry has always set our own path.
The association became the first nursery group to adopt “caliper standards” and create grades of nursery goods. It was a defining moment to show leadership and innovation by a small state, tucked up north on the West Coast.
Volunteer leaders have shaped the evolution of the association and what it means to serve. I am proud of our state board of directors and every member that volunteers at their church, school, and community.
When I was given the privilege to serve as your executive director over 12 years ago, I pledged to be an honest voice and be clear headed in good times and bad. I promised to match the drive and work ethic of our members, so we all could make this industry the best it can be.
For every member that has remained at the OAN, I thank you for your faith in the association. Former members, I would welcome you back to an organization that spends every waking moment to provide service above self.
Taking service to another level
To better serve the industry and association, the staff at the OAN spent the better part of four days on a process known as “policy deployment” (or “Hoshin Kanri”). As we learned, it’s an effective way to go beyond “what you always do” and execute breakthrough improvements.
OAN Immediate Past President Josh Robinson went through this process at Robinson Nursery and urged and supported us in our effort. The Peters Company (Liz and Rick Peters) served as our leaders and guides throughout.
Lean organizations use the method to connect daily activities with long-term goals. Annual strategies are developed in a dynamic process. The plan gives us a roadmap for the year and a simple, self-governing accountability system.
First you need a mission, and we drew on the OAN Mission Statement: The long-term success, profitability and excellence of Oregon’s nursery and greenhouse industry.
I set three goals to be the compass for the next 3-5 years: 1. Deliver “Gold Standard” value to members; 2. Build fiscal stability and strength; and 3. Grow in political influence.
From there, we came up with our initiatives to help us in these goals — things we all agreed would move the needle. We are hitting this head on.
Renewing your voice
Local indigenous nations got it right in thinking of the most important person or element at the bottom of the totem pole. You, the members, are our foundation! Without you, we never can ensure that the industry remains strong.
I ask that you renew your membership, or rejoin, as the case may be. You will have many opportunities to share input and drive the industry forward. Please help us make 2023 the best year it can be.