Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Women in ag conference inspires current, future leaders

Kathy Davis

Washington farmer Susan Ujcic 
bunches kale at Helsing 
Junction Farms in Rochester. 
A room full of women, all involved in some aspect of agriculture, can create a powerful sense of support and encouragement. A regional network of hundreds of such women connected simultaneously by technology generates mighty momentum. 

Participants across five states and three time zones gathered in 40 different locations to take part in this year’s Women in Agriculture Conference on Saturday, Nov. 18. This annual event connects women in ag throughout the Northwest with on-site networking and activities, as well as streamed speaker presentations. 

WSDA hosted the Olympia site in our headquarters, the Natural Resources Building. Occupations and interests of the 28 attendees ranged from small farms, farm/forest operations, and gardening to a seed company. Staff from WSDA Organics Program, Thurston County Conservation District, Olympia Farmers Market, Employment Security Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Washington’s Dairy Ambassador were also in attendance. 

This was the sixth annual Women in Agriculture Conference, sponsored by Washington State University (WSU) Extension. As with previous events, it was a day packed with learning, connecting and empowerment. 

The 2017 conference theme was “We Can Do It” and focused on building leadership among women in the industry. Topics echoed by the featured speakers, the local panelists and those in the room hit upon:

  • How to support each other.
  • Being a mentor and being mentored.
  • Getting involved in your broader community; volunteering.
  • Being an advocate.
  • Understanding your natural strengths and where to improve.

Speakers inspire
Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, talked about her upbringing on an Iowa farm that had been in her family for 180 years. From doing chores as a kid, she went on to serve in the Army and work at USDA in Washington D.C. She was promoted to lead a USDA program with 14,000 employees, and offices across the U.S. and the world. 
Conference attendees at the Olympia site, engaged with event activities. 

“I knew I didn’t want to be a farmer, but didn’t know then I could have such an incredible career in agriculture,” she said, adding that her career has taken her to more than 30 countries. 

Anne Schwartz, the other keynote speaker, owns and runs Blue Heron Farm in Skagit County and has also long been involved in agricultural advocacy. 

Schwartz encouraged conference attendees to learn about their local community groups, joining, volunteering, becoming a board member, or engaging in any way that feels right to them. 

“Leave your farm a little more than you may be comfortable with,” she said.

Olympia site
In Olympia, we had the benefit of a diverse and powerful panel of local leaders in agriculture:

  • Ava Arvest, founder of MycoUprrhizal, an Olympia-based mushroom business
  • Mary Dimatteo, executive director of the Olympia Farmer’s Market
  • Rachael Taylor-Tuller, farmer/owner of Lost Peacock Creamery

The panel members answered questions posed by the site facilitator, Christina Harlow from the USDA regional National Agricultural Statistics Service office. 

Among their many insights, all three panelists agreed that it’s often difficult for women to demand their worth. “If you don’t put a price tag on what you do, others don’t value what you do,” Arvest said. 
The Olympia site attendees pose for a group photo. 

If you missed this year’s conference but are interested in future conferences, you can visit www.womeninag.wsu.edu to sign up for notifications before next year.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

WSDA, financial institutions, law enforcement out to put the brakes on skimmers

Jerry Buendel 
Weights and Measures

WSDA has been teaming up with banks and credit unions, law enforcement agencies, and gas station owners to put the brakes on the growing crime of credit and debit card theft through “skimmers.” 

A skimmer is an electronic device, sometimes placed at gas pumps, that can steal your debit and credit card information. Thieves can then sell the information to other criminals to buy gift cards or purchase merchandise for quick resale. Some consumers have even had their accounts emptied when their debit card information was stolen. 

Growing awareness of skimmer fraud
Illegal card skimmer (circled)
During 2016, when I served as chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, the Secret Service and FBI conducted training about skimmers for state officials at our meeting in San Diego.  This past September, skimmer training was again on the agenda, this time at our regional meeting in Arizona. 

I have had a VISA fraud investigator speak to my team at our annual meeting in Olympia. Staff from Seattle’s Weights and Measures attended as well. Our inspectors receive updates on skimmer activities from other states, including Arizona, Michigan and Florida.  The networking is valuable. When we have doubts about what we’ve discovered, we text photos to these other investigators for an immediate second opinion. 

In short, everyone is working on addressing this national problem.

Partnering to combat skimmers
Earlier this year, I began attending a monthly fraud roundtable hosted by the Washington State Employees Credit Union. This informal group of law enforcement officers, state regulatory officials, and bank and credit union investigators exchange information and share tips. 

The group agreed to advise each other when they spot suspicious equipment or potentially fraudulent activity. The sharing goes both ways. 

This past summer, Boeing Employee Credit Union (BECU) let WSDA’s staff know that they tracked fraudulent activity back to a gas station in Moses Lake. We sent inspectors to the location, where they found two skimmers. The inspectors then notified police, who took a report on the d.jiscovery.

Our inspectors regularly check for these devices during their routine gas pump inspections and have discovered additional skimmers in many areas. 

Advice for station owners on skimmers
Fuel station owners and employees can help prevent skimmer theft by following these tips:

  • Install high-quality locks or use tamper-resistant seals on fuel dispensers.
  • Install alarms or automatic shutoff devices that activate when a dispenser is opened.
  • Inspect the fuel pumps frequently – both outside and inside.
  • Upgrade your fuel dispensers to accept chip-enabled debit and credit cards.

Consumers can protect themselves by paying in cash, using a credit card instead of a debit card and reviewing their billing statements to see if there have been any suspect purchases.  Contact your bank or credit union immediately if you find any fraudulent use of your cards.

By working together we can prevent crime and consumers and station owners can be more proactive in protecting themselves. For more information or to report a possible skimmer, contact WSDA’s Weights and Measures in Olympia at wtsmeasures@agr.wa.gov  or at (360) 902-2035.