A Goodbye to a Great Man Gone too Soon; Rest In Peace Austin

I don’t talk about our volunteer fire department that we have here in our little town of St. Paul, Oregon very much; but maybe it’s about time. I’ve been a volunteer for the St. Paul Fire District since 2006. This all volunteer district covers mostly rural area and responds to both fire and medical calls. I started as an EMT and then Firefighter I. I have been an active volunteer until 2018 when I took a hiatus from responding to have our third baby. I’m still keeping up my certs, I’m still planning to return to full time volunteering soon. For me it’s a part of my family here in St. Paul, some of my closest friends are those who throw on turn outs next to me when the tones go off. I know we all feel that way.

But today I want to talk about another fireman and friend who I have known his whole life, Austin Smith. Austin was tragically killed in an explosion during a barn fire on February 3rd, 2022. His death was terrible and heartbreaking, and we have no real answers yet as to what exactly occurred in that early morning fire. What we know is that he was taken too soon, plucked by God for reasons we have yet to and may never fully understand.

That Thursday morning I was home getting my kids ready for school, in usual hurried morning fashion, I glanced at my phone, and stopped in my tracks. It was blowing up with texts about a fire. First alarm, second alarm….and on and on…all for a barn fire. Then something about Lifeflight. Then the news of “we did everything we could” and “it’s not good” and “come to the station”.

The words “This doesn’t happen. Not on a barn fire. Not in St. Paul” keep rolling around in my head, still even today as I sit here and write this almost two weeks later. And yet here we are faced with a tragedy that no one expected and no one was prepared for.

We buried Austin, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend to everyone last Saturday in a grand ceremony that was incredible in all the ways it could have been. Incredible turnout of over 5000. Incredible sadness. Incredible speeches that were moving and full of good stories, memories and love. Incredible food, friends, and most importantly incredible beer. You can watch the full ceremony here.

When a man only 30 years old leaves an instant legacy of volunteerism, community service and love for a small town; it is felt by all. It’s moving, and sad all at once; but mostly it was inspiring. That was the theme as we went through the whole week before and even on the day of Saturday; what can we do for this community? How can we help? How can we make a difference for those around us?

Austin, you are so missed; by your family, by your bride, by your friend tribe, by fire family and by our whole community. But I want you to know that what you worked for in your short time here, won’t be lost and it wasn’t for nothing. Your life gave and will continue to give all of us who were honored to know you so much for generations to come.

There were so many moving parts to Austin’s memorial. Many of which I was honored to be a part of. One of the most amazing though was bringing him home with the rest of our department volunteers. Below is a video of just a glimpse of the scenes we saw while driving from Clackamas to St. Paul and then on to the funeral home in Newberg. It was breathtaking the entire way. Cars stopped on the freeway, flags flying, people with hand over hearts and tears in their eyes while we drove on by to bring Austin home.

Austin was so many things to so many people. This small blog can’t do a bit of justice to all the ways that he lived his life; a volunteer, farmer, rodeo member, firefighter, Jaycee; the list goes on and on. Here are just a few news stories that encompass what it was to know Austin, or as Firefighter Reed Godfrey put it during his memorial, “To know Austin was to love Austin.”

Memorial Honors Fallen St. Paul Firefighter
Austin Smith: Ag community mourns loss of farmer, firefighter
The community of St. Paul and the state pays tribute to fallen firefighter Austin Smith

That dark February morning changed our town forever. The explosion, in one split second, could have been enough to drive a wedge between all that we knew and all that we could fear. Instead though after Saturday, seeing our town come together, I think his tragedy and ultimately the legacy of his inspiring life becomes the glue that will now hold us all together while we all keep working to accomplish what Austin would have wanted from all of us, to keep on going.

At the end of the memorial. After so many tears, the last call tones were sent out to Firefighter Smith. I don’t know that I will ever forget that moment and words that will forever be nestled in my heart as we all heal, “Godspeed Austin. We’ve got it from here.”

Meeting Season

As farmers we work in seasons…and I don’t usually mean the traditional seasons that we all work around.  I mean, harvest season, fertilizer season, rainy season, the all too familiar “it’s way too hot/cold season”…and then there is “meeting season.”

I tell people often that as farmers we rarely slow down.  Yes while harvest might be over, and the 14 hr days seven days a week aren’t our hours for the whole year, our work never seems to end it just changes.  This week for me is no different, this week traditionally marks the start of my meeting season.  Which means that I go to meetings of all kinds…so here is just a taste of the week I have coming up, not much tractor time for me!

  • Yesterday I got to sit in front of a computer for an online meeting to satisfy my pesticide licensing requirements. image1
  • Today I am a speaker talking to those who aren’t in the farming business.  I’ll be speaking at the Oregon Leadership Summit about the future of farming.
  • Tonight is my EMT meeting for our volunteer fire department.
  • Tomorrow I get to learn at a leadership conference of how to be a better farmer and employer.  untitled
  • Wednesday and Thursday I get to participate in the House of Delegates to set policy for our state farm bureau.
  • Not to mention an evening meeting for the Clover Commission Wednesday evening.
  • Friday I get to do some of the fun stuff like be on TV to help people  ear about our great grass seed industry that we have here in Oregon.  Tune in to AM Northwest on Friday December 9th to see me and Jesse Rue!
  • Then next week comes Oregon Seed Growers League Monday and Tuesday….I’m not kidding here folks, it never ends!

So sometimes…I look like this as a farmer, and sometimes I look not too farmer-ish.

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I have to say though that these are great opportunities for us to all learn more about our industry.  Whether it be a presentation on the weather, new crop protection tools, or markets around the world, it all plays into what a farmer plans for and works towards in the year to come.  It’s also very fun to get to see those folks who you don’t run into very often out in a field.  In the end I’m just a farmer, but the hats I wear may vary greatly from season to season, but it’s all for our farm for our land and our legacy!

Seed Pre-emption at the Oregon Legislature

We are currently in the midst of a short session of the Oregon Legislature.  This year there are over 600 bills to get through, and only 35 days to do it.  Which means that many of us farmers are walking the halls of the capital more frequently than the rows of our fields.  Yesterday I headed down to Salem to testify on a bill that would remove important aspects from the Seed Pre-emption law.  A law that we got passed back in 2013, after a long hard battle.

The basic run down of this law is that it prohibits counties and cities from regulating seed production in Oregon.  This is important because as farmers we don’t want to have 36 different laws regulating how we can grow our seed, or 36 different policies on the growing of GMO’s.  It’s a common sense law, that protects farmers.

Here’s a good article that sums up nicely what is going on with this issue as of right now.
Oregon Seed Pre-emption Law Challenged in Legislature.

And here is what I looked like at the Capital yesterday…yes, baby in tow.

He was a trooper and didn’t complain too much about his early start to agvocacy.  Like I told many people yesterday, I’m here because I want to continue my legacy of farming here in Oregon.  I want my sons to have the opportunity to put their hands in the same soil that their great grandfather did.  And to do that, here in Oregon, we have to continually show up in Salem to let our voices be heard.  To hear testimony from many farmers you can click the link below.  The public hearing portion starts at about 1:09 into the meeting.

http://oregon.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=10569

As the article states it was mostly farmers who testified yesterday and they all did a great job.  Now if only the battle was even close to over.  Tuesday presents another opportunity for this law to be called into question.

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