• Thursday, April 27, 2017

Women in Farming: Wendy Coates at Elam Farms

Elam Farms was founded in 1973. In 1979, David and Debby Elam, moved to their current location in the Willamette Valley. The farm is located between Turner and Aumsville in Oregon, nestled right in the heart of Salem’s bucolic farmland. The valley is a place that gets an abundance of rain, but also sports generally mild weather conditions in the summer. The lovely Mediterranean climate and inviting soil conditions make it just one of many places in Oregon that are ideal for farming. On a perfect morning in the valley, you’ll often witness a blanket of fog covering the valley floor, burn off through the sunshine and know that it’s time to start your day. What you often won’t see amongst the fog are the farmers that got to work long before the sun comes up. These farmers know the value of daylight hours and don’t intend to spend the day wasting them.

Meet Wendy Coates.

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Wendy Coates is the kind of woman that wears five different hats at the same time. Wendy is a mother of three beautiful boys. She’s the daughter of parents who taught her how to farm and take care of the land. Wendy is a loving wife to her husband Phillip, to whom she married in 2004. She’s also a mentor to elementary school children, teaching them farm safety through the Progressive Agriculture Safety Day Program. Wendy does a little bit of everything and one of the last titles she includes on her list, is the title of a farmer.

Wendy earned a Bachelors of Science in Agricultural Business and then continued on to receive a Masters in Agricultural Economics. Wendy always wanted to work on the farm, but she also knew that she wanted an insurance policy in case she couldn’t anymore. Wendy says that she knew she needed variety in her life and the idea of having a job where she had to do the same thing every day didn’t really appeal to her. Being able to work on her family’s farm meant that Wendy’s days could consist of many different things and that’s exactly what she does. Half of the time Wendy works on the bookkeeping in the office and the other half she is out in the fields baling hay.

Wendy is a partial owner of Elam Farms with her parents and her brother, but she manages the entire operation. Managing sheep, domestic hay, and export straw sectors are just a few of the tasks she does on a day to day basis with some input from her parents. Wendy handles scheduling everything from cutting, raking, baling, stacking, and hauling, as well as marketing the activities for export straw and domestic hay.

The very same farm that Wendy grew up on is the land that Wendy calls home today. Wendy recalls helping run things on the farm for as long as she can remember saying, “One of the first memories I ever remember is being on the farm and feeding the baby lambs. Ever since then, I’ve just continued to work on the farm and take on more responsibilities.” Wendy also remembers growing up as the only girl on the farm and not much has changed since then. Now, she’s still the only girl on the farm, but her role has changed. “I remember not being allowed to drive the equipment when I was about 14 years old because I was so small that I couldn’t see over the steering wheel. I still had to teach the workers how to drive the equipment though.” As she laughs to herself she adds, “That’s one of the funnier memories I have about growing up on a farm.” She’s gone from just helping out and teaching others to driving the equipment to being in charge of almost all of the farm’s operations.

Farming is in Wendy’s blood and she’s very good at it, but sometimes even she has a hard time finding the balance between all of the things she does. During their busiest time of year Elam Farms will hire seasonal workers, but for the rest of the year, Wendy and her family are the only ones making sure things are happening. When Wendy and her husband Phillip are out in the fields working from dawn to dusk during their peak season, Wendy’s parents often watch the boys all day. They take the boys whenever it is possible, but sometimes the field is not the safest place for them. Ethan (10), Jesse (6), and Dylan (2) already seem to have a firm understanding of what their parents do. Wendy told me that she is already seeing the signs of them wanting to be just like their mom and dad. For instance, Wendy came back from the fields at the end of one day and her mother told her that her oldest child was walking the little ones through the steps of harvesting hay. Wendy recalls, “It’s so funny to see because the oldest one Ethan has been with us in the fields a little bit and he knows all of the steps to harvesting hay; cut, ted, rake, bale, and stack. So now, we can see him going out into the yard and cutting the grass, and then tedding it, and raking it and so forth. He’s now actually teaching the other ones how to do it and they will spend hours doing that together when we are out in the fields, doing essentially the same thing.”

Wendy also spends part of her time working with an organization, called the Progressive Agriculture Foundation, that teaches farm safety to elementary school kids across the country. For two days out of the year, around 400 third graders from two different school districts come to Elam Farms where they bring in professionals from several different fields to explain the basic safety rules for each activity they do on a farm. Her farm is the only farm in the state that holds these events. The kids get to go around to 12 or so different stations and learn about these farm safety topics with hands-on activities. Fire safety, PTO safety, electrical safety, firearm safety, and hidden hazards are just a few of the stations. Wendy says, “It’s exhausting, but it’s such a blast to see these kids having fun and learning about things that they may have never been exposed to otherwise.”

Finding balance for all of the things you want to do in life is a difficult process. Often people can get bogged down by the sheer organization of all the things they do and lose their passion for the things they once really wanted to do. Wendy, however, is an excellent example of a dedicated community member and someone who gives their all to everything they do. Elam Farms is an excellent member and advocate of the agricultural field and we are very thankful to have them as part of the community.

If you would like to contact Elam Farms or talk to Wendy more about what she does you can find the farm on Facebook or give them a call at 503-743-2319.

 

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