who manages “information discovery” on subjects the other partners want to learn more about—essentially more about practices that reduce impacts from chemical and fertilizer applications and other farming practices that can enhance soil health.42 The research-driven work of ViCo is done in addition to managing custom equipment operations. Regarding the motivation for ViCo, Russ said: “To a man, we’re concerned that current management practices we have are not sustainable. We’re not getting answers from traditional research resources and what we’ve done in the past is not going to carry us into the future.” ViCo received an NRCS Conservation Innovation grant for “technology innovation” focused on how precision agriculture can reduce chemical fertilizer applications. It has also partnered with Shepherd’s Grain on a grant project to study the soil health and human nutrition link. They intend to apply for a larger grant. The members of ViCo have shared their farm employees and also sensitive personal financial information. Overall, ViCo emphasizes finding new farming practices and approaches to try, first on a small scale, with a priority to maintain profitability.
Russ also interacts frequently with other farmers, which is often a learning exchange: “I don’t mind sharing information. I’ve been blessed. I’ve had some opportunities most people will never have.” His stance on sharing information and learning follows consistently from his admission that “this [farming] is my main passion in life.”
Russ’s orientation to learning includes attention to the consumption side of the food system. Among the things he has enjoyed with Shepherd’s Grain is getting into cities like Portland (for promotional events, for instance) to meet and interact with consumers of the Shepherd Grain’s product. “It’s fun to talk to people who really understand how food is produced,” he says. Those events allow Russ to provide information about the realities of farming in the Palouse to the customers of his products and to learn about their preferences.
Russ suggests that models from the past have affected his views on the importance of good community relationships for farmers. He notes that in his father ’s generation, farming neighbors did not always get along well. Observing those social dynamics “has had a profound impact on how I get along with my neighbors” and made him aware of the long-term implications of social interactions in the community.
In addition to his involvement with the Cooperative and the Conservation District, Russ has been active in organizations that conduct research, provide consultation, and support direct seeding. He spoke at a South Australian no-till farming conference and more recently at the first no-till conference held in Finland. Russ has also been involved with the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, which “was formed in 2000 to provide information exchange and advocacy on conservation policy issues and research coordination that will assure adoption of economically-viable and environmentally-sustainable direct seed cropping systems” (from website www.directseed.org).
Russ goes so far as to suggest that as his time has been freed up by direct-seed farming practices, he has more discretionary time for volunteer and public service. He served as a director on a regional (Oregon, Washington, Idaho) bank board. That role afforded numerous regional contacts and insights on the local economy. His role ended recently when the bank was sold. He views his participation on various volunteer boards as an opportunity,