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Kovash Honored For Ag Efforts

Local woman leads agriculture group

POLK COUNTY -- When American Agri-Women, a national coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women's organizations, decided to award Arlene Kovash with its prestigious LEAVEN Award last week in Billings, Mont., any number of her efforts on behalf of farmers could have influenced the decision.

Maybe the nomination committee was impressed with the leadership she shows as president of Oregon Women for Agriculture, the state's AAW affiliate.

Or perhaps it was Kovash's relentless push to educate the public on issues critical to agriculture, such as the Healthy Forest Initiative or regulations on spraying crops.

Maybe it was the way she shows appreciation to OWA members who contact state legislators on farm-related policy.

"I give a candy bar to anyone that makes a call to a legislator," Kovash said.

Gwen Mulkey, a former OWA president and Kovash's friend of 20 years would say it's all of the above.

"She's a worker, a promoter," Mulkey said. "She's very caring about agriculture and about natural resources and isn't afraid take up an issue with state officials, even if none of the rest us have heard about it."

"What we do is vital to every human being," said Kovash, who lives outside Pedee with her husband, Paul. "Everything starts from a farm."

Kovash's ties to agriculture began during her early years, growing up in a rural area outside Phoenix. It was there that she met Paul Kovash, who in the 60s, was teaching high school ag classes.

The couple moved to Corvallis in 1964, operating a farm while Paul continued to teach. In 1979, they relocated to Pedee, where they own a 105-acre beef cattle and hay ranch.

It was about the time of the move, at the invitation of a friend, Arlene Kovash said, that she joined the OWA -- which had formed 10 years prior when women in Linn County organized to oppose a ban on field burning.

"I liked the women, and I thought the issues were important," she said.

Kovash's earliest contributions to the OWA came during fundraisers, when she put her quilting prowess to good use. Her involvement in the organization since then, however, has grown substantially.

In the '80s, she volunteered for years as a 4-H leader and became editor of the OWA's monthly newsletter, and later for the "Voice," the AAW's national publication. Both jobs, have required her to travel across the state and country several times a year.

It's made time a scarce commodity for Kovash, who works part time publishing books, pamphlets and other materials and volunteers at the local community church.

"She's up to her eyebrows in just about everything," Paul Kovash said.

Arlene Kovash has also become an increasingly active voice when it comes to regulations, land-use laws and other public policy issues that impact farmers.

"It seems like each person joins [OWA] for a different reason," she said. "Some do it all for the kids, some do it for education; I enjoy trying to influence the legislature into doing what's right for agriculture."

In the past, the OWA has spoken on behalf of farmers in the Klamath Falls basin who have battled federal laws that hinder crop irrigation. Kovash said her organization also played a role in persuading Oregon State University to refrain from eliminating its rangeland resources program last year.

"In this instance, we as a coalition met with OSU two or three different times and with legislators to let them know how important the department is to us," she said. "It tells us what we need to do in order to farm without hurting the environment."

In 2001, Kovash was elected by the OWA to serve out the remainder of the previous president's term and was re-elected last year. Mulkey said Kovash has remained adamant in staying on top of nationwide and state issues.

"One thing Arlene did is make sure we meet at legislative hearings a couple of times this year to testify before a couple of different committees," Mulkey said.

That willingness is one of the characteristics that led the OWA to nominate Kovash for the LEAVEN Award at this year's AAW convention.

Kovash said she felt there were others that were more deserving of winning the honor, but admits that the inscription on her congratulatory plaque sums her up pretty well.

It reads, "a woman who gives 'sweet rewards' of encouragement and shares her creative talents, enthusiasm and energy as a tireless advocate for American Agriculture."

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