For episode three of the Stoel Rives | Deeply Rooted Podcast, host Kirk Maag sat down with Elin Miller, Founder of UmpquaNut Farm and Umpqua Vineyards. In the episode, Elin talked about breaking barriers as one of the first women to be elected for the Future Farmers of America and the progress made for women in agriculture. Elin also shared challenges facing Oregon vineyards, her service on the Oregon Board of Agriculture, and helping small farmers worldwide with her nonprofit work.
Returning to the Family Farm
After a successful career in the agribusiness industry, Elin and her husband felt the pull of owning land to farm. “I always wanted to farm,” Elin said, adding her husband, “had farmed we bought back the family farm that had fallen out of the family.” After planting hazelnuts on the farm in the Umpqua valley, they also planted wine grapes on adjacent land that had been in the family since the mid-1800s.
Growing hazelnuts and wine grapes are part of the richness and diversity of agriculture commodities here in Oregon. There is a diversity of products that Oregon agriculture produces, from hazelnuts, wine grapes, and in Eastern Oregon- corn, wheat, alfalfa, and cattle.
Breaking Ground and Diversity in Agriculture
As a high school freshman, Elin looked back at an event that would become a turning point that pointed her towards a career in agriculture. Fred McClure, the first African American national officer for Future Farmers of America (FFA), visited her class and spoke about the opportunities in agriculture. Elin said, “it was so inspiring. I said, ‘wow,’ if only I could be like him. And that began my journey of working towards getting my American Degree and being able to run for national office (in the FFA).” In 1979, Elin became the third woman to be elected to national office for the FFA.
Since Elin’s election to national office, Elin noted that now about half of the leaders for the FFA are women. But, there is still much more work to be done. “Every company continues to struggle in diversifying and to attract and retain diverse talent. We in agriculture need to always continue to look at diversity and make sure we are reflective of the various opportunities and individuals we work with on a global and local basis,” Elin said. Host Kirk Maag added that agriculture needs to continue to ask, “how do we as an industry make sure every person that has a passion for agriculture feels welcome, and feel like there is a place for them in the industry. The more we can promote that message, we will expand the diversity of folks involved in our industry.”
Representing the Wine Industry in Oregon and Challenges Ahead
As the Oregon Wine Council chair, the association represents about 60% of the Oregon wine grapes grown, produced, and sold in the state. The council was formed in 2019 to bring a broader focus and voice for the industry to Oregon lawmakers. “We came off the economic impact of COVD, the economic impact of the smoke (from the forest fires), and then into this very difficult legislative session, potentially raising taxes on wine. I think we have been relatively successful in the challenges that have faced us in this legislative session,” Elin said.
Elin further discussed the impact of ‘smoke taint’ from the devastating Oregon forest fires in 2020. “There’s a lot more information that is available on how you can mitigate the potential negative effects with wine. As the science progresses, people are learning a lot more on how to utilize those grapes, but at the same time the worst thing that can happen is if those grapes are not going to end up producing a high-quality bottle of wine. It’s important that at the end of the day for Oregon, and brands, we have the highest quality wine output,” Elin said.
In addition to representing the wine industry in the Oregon Wine Council, Elin is also a member of the Oregon Board of Agriculture and serves on the board for nonprofit Cultivating New Frontier in Agriculture (CFNA). Through all of Elin’s board service, she values the opportunity to help shape the future of agriculture with her leadership experience. “One of the things I think that is important for any position in leadership is being able to gather people together and really look at what strategic direction we should be thinking about.”
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