Work Ethic Endemic to Agrarian Community
Students gain cash, life skills during seasonal employment
By Justin Much
Anyone who remembers earning 70 cents a crate picking strawberries, or 3 cents a pound for green beans, can appreciate this.
Or how about $2 an hour moving irrigation pipe; $2.25 with the bonus if you remained on the crew all summer, toting aluminum conduits through fields of mint, hops, beans, berries, sugar-beet seed or the dreaded mature corn.
“My observation is that the agrarian calendar is still functional with education in our community,” first-year Regis High School Principal Scott Coulter said recently.
A survey of Regis students conducted in September reveal that 55 percent of sophomores, juniors and seniors worked this past summer. Of those, 64 percent worked in the agricultural industry. “This community works on farms and in agriculture and natural resource based companies, such as NORPAC,” said Coulter, who grew up in Oregon and returned to this area from Idaho this year. “One of the reasons I came back here was because the community values strong work ethic. It was evident 30 years ago and it still exists today.”
Coulter’s first job out of college was at Regis, where he taught from 1978-1982. But his working memories stretch significantly further back.
“I worked eight to 12 hours a day in farm labor through high school,” he recalled. “Work ethic was a much-valued character trait then—and here in Stayton and Sublimity, that trait of work ethic is still valued. It’s evidenced with our students and I find that so refreshing.”
Indeed, when Coulter arrived and visited with other school officials last June, he rattled of a number of familiar names—familiar 30 years ago and familiar today. Prominent among them was the name Doerfler, a name synonymous with summer work near Sublimity.
“We hire about 60 seasonal employees for summer harvest, most are high school and college aged,” said Lindsey Zuber, human resources director at Doerfler Farms. “Advances in technology and farming practices have changed the capacity in which people are needed in farming. We are able to complete the ground work, planting, most of the fertilizing and chemical application, seed cleaning and shipping with our full-time employees. Yet when it comes to harvest, which occurs in July and August for us, we do need extra help,” she said. “We feel privileged to be able to look to high school and college students to fill that need.”
Do they still get dirt-caked fingernails, soil-stained hands and sweat-drenched clothing by the end of the day?
“Working on a farm requires good, old-fashioned work ethic, [but] while advances in technology make the work less labor intensive, it’s strong mental work,” said Seth Kelley, a Regis sophomore and two-year Doerfler employee. “We work 11 to 12 hour days, up to six days a week.”
Kelley’s brother, Andrew, is a Regis senior and a four-year Doerfler veteran.
“You have to have good work ethic,” the older Kelley said. “If you don’t have work ethic, you don’t move up the ladder. Being punctual and taking initiative is huge.
“Do the task before you’re told and do it better,” he said. “At Regis, the same work ethic is expected of us. I would say that the teachers who expect hard workers are the best teachers.”
Regis Athletic Director Don Heuberger agreed.
Heuberger (another name Coulter recalled from three decades past) pointed out that work ethics are further strengthened through academics and athletics, where kids develop teamwork and communication skills. Those skills have multiple applications.
“At work, these kids are also learning teamwork and responsibility, as well as safety and driving skills,” Zuber said. “These are all aspects of a strong work ethic.”
Coulter believes the two work together toward the same end.
“We believe that one of the attractions of this school is its location and the fact that the community is agrarian-based, hard-working, practical-living culture incorporated with high academic achievement in a strong Catholic Christian environment,” said Randy Bentz, a Regis parent and NORPAC manager.
Meanwhile, on average 90 percent of Regis graduates go on to post-secondary education. They should find a place to apply their acquired work ethic there.