It’s always enjoyable to talk to someone who is really passionate about what they do for a living, especially when it’s a big piece of their family history. Erik Olson, a fourth-generation Boundary County farmer, is one of those people and recently, he turned his love for the family farm into an even more integral part of his life by participating in the Leadership Idaho Agriculture program.
Leadership Idaho Agriculture (LIA) is a premier leadership development program geared to cultivate leaders in Idaho’s largest industry—agriculture. The program offers intensive training to enhance and grow leadership qualities, developing advocates for agriculture and rural settings, encouraging participants to serve as spokespersons promoting agriculture into future generations. The program only takes 30 students at a time who commit to four one-week sessions from November through February, each in a different location: Moscow, Pocatello, Twin Falls and Boise. They also had homework to do and speeches to write during their off- time. The Boise session included an alumni gala/fundraiser where Erik brought along items from local businesses such as North Idaho Energy Logs, Farm to Market Grains and North Idaho Ironworks to represent Bonners Ferry in the silent auction. The gala raised over $125,000, which is used for scholarships, program operation and other special events.
Erik had one word to explain why he took the LIA training: “Education.” He is already well-versed in many areas of farming but wanted the extra skills taught in the LIA course to become a more proficient speaker. His goal is to speak more eloquently so he can help educate people on the whole story of agriculture, dispel myths and promote the positive side of the industry that he loves and works in and that provides for his family and community.
For 21 years, Erik has worked with his father and uncle, Bob and Gary Olson, farming 3,000 acres north of Copeland where they grow a variety of crops: wheat, barley, canola, garbanzo beans, peas and alfalfa. The farm originally belonged to Erik’s Great-Aunt Ennis, who outlived two farmer husbands. Erik’s grandfather traveled from Minnesota to help with harvest before relocating here to work and eventually take the farm over. The rest, as they say, is history, with each generation planting their roots a little deeper in the rich valley soil.
Erik primarily manages the crop planning and sales, as well as helping with the myriad of other duties that are always pressing on a farm! In his free time, he and wife, Cassie, spend time with their five children, enjoying extended family and life in Boundary County while exploring other parts of the country as time allows. Cassie was instrumental in encouraging Erik to take the LIA course and supportive of him during the duration. It wasn’t an easy ride for them; the farm’s shop was damaged extensively by fire and he and Cassie became foster parents to a newborn baby boy during Erik’s first LIA session. Circumstances that might overwhelm other people, Erik met with true Idaho farmer stoicism: “There’s not much you can do to change what comes at you sometimes, so you might as well just deal with it,” he said. “And life goes on.”
Erik was recognized at graduation for his dedication to the program during such trying circumstances. He also received a better surprise in Boise: Cassie and the children drove down to attend his graduation ceremony, celebrating his accomplishment with great pride.
Along with all of his other hats, Erik serves on the Idaho Grain Producers Association board and is a member of the Crop Residue Burning Panel. He serves as an associate on the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation board and, since taking the class, he’s been asked to serve on the Idaho Oilseed Commission.
Erik enjoys speaking to local fourth graders during Valley View’s agriculture study week, sharing about all the different crops grown in Boundary County, where they are sent after harvest and how they are used. He shows them a tractor (loaned by Cal Russell at Boundary Tractor), giving children an opportunity to, in his words, “bounce around on and learn how a tractor really works!” This a program that he hopes will expand to all local elementary schools.
When asked why he lives, works and raises his family in Boundary County, Erik replied, “I love where I live. Farming is in my blood, and I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have it. Raising kids in a small community such as ours is not appreciated as it should be. I think the kids coming out of small communities have a better understanding of how the real world works. If I can contribute to my kids in any way, that is it. I hope our kids will come to appreciate it as I do.”