By Laura Swanson
For the Headlight Herald
In her own words: Shelly Bowe, found of Food Roots
My father was a career Air Force officer, so we moved around a lot, growing up. He was originally from Minnesota, had a very tough childhood (his father – a preacher!- abandoned his mom, sister, and him in the depression.) My mother’s family was originally from upstate New York, but my grandfather relocated to West Texas in 1923. So my mom was from Abilene, Texas. She was the most loving and supportive mother in the world. I had a brother who was eight years older than me, and a sister who is eight years younger than me (interesting family planning…) Like most family roots, my ancestors were farmers and preachers.
My dad joined the Air Corps in 1945, and was trained as a pilot (flew 39 types of planes), then was assigned to Minute Man missiles, then became a commander for a ROTC Program at Stevens Institute of Technology, on the Hudson River (just across from NYC) in New Jersey. I was born in southern Califonria, while my dad was stationed at March Air Force Base. We moved approximately every 3-4 years. Then we moved to northern Maine (Loring AFB). Then to South Dakota, then to Alabama, then to New Jersey awaiting housing, then Queens, New York City.
My father retired, as a Colonel the same year I graduated from High School in 1973. My High School in Queens had over 4,000 kids. New York City was very interesting in the late 1960s, early 1970s. But I was ready to relocate somewhere new, and headed out to northern California to go to college – Humboldt State University. My folks moved to northern Mississippi (my mom hated it, and they eventually moved back to Abilene, Texas). My sister, Melanie, lives in my grandparent’s house in Abilene, Texas.
I was not focused in college, didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was interested in agriculture, and was going to HSU and College of the Redwoods (a two year college). I had moved to Ferndale, California, a prime dairy area (where Challenge Butter used to be made). That’s where I met my first husband, David Genzoli. He was the great, great grandson of the first white guy (Seth Shaw) to cross the Eel River, and go into the Eel River Valley. David had farm roots also. He was working for a dairyman when I met him. We moved in together and got married in 1976. We started raising dairy heifers, with the goal of having our own dairy business.
Most of the farms in Ferndale were getting bigger and bigger, and there wasn’t any land-farms available. So we put an ad in the Capital Press and had a dairyman from Tillamook contact us, about a herdsman position. He agreed to having us bring our 19 heifers along with us. So we moved to Tillamook in November 1979.
That situation wasn’t the best environment for us and our cows, so we went looking for another farm. Lela Quick, who had a farm on South Prairie Road, was willing to lease to us. So we jumped on it. It took a lot of work to get the farm going, but we were young and committed. We applied for a operations loan though Farmers Home Administration, and were approved. We bought more cows, and we started a second business, Tillamook Dairy Supply (to help finance our farm endeavor). The business was providing Westfalia milking and other related equipment for dairy farmers. Our farm was the first one to have Westfalia equipment. We went on to provide services to other farmers in the county. We were supported by Dale Buck, Max Hurliman and Richard and Robert Obrist (all dairy farmers), in our early farming years.
In 1981, our first daughter, Coral, was born. In 1983, Laurel, our second daughter was born. In 1984, my marriage went on the rocks. We sold our cows and business. I became a single parent, and moved to Manzanita (where I had acquaintances). The divorce was long and drawn out and didn’t happen until 1988. I was pretty destitute, doing child care, cleaning houses and doing laundry for folks. My kids were pretty young at the time, and I didn’t want to be separated from them.
Then, a position came up at Community Action Team (the organization that became CARE – Community Action Resource Enterprises) in 1988 for a Child Care Resource and Referral position. I interviewed for that position and got the job. It morphed into another position, the USDA Child Care Nutrition Program, where I did home visits to family day care providers, who were on the program. We moved back to central county, to avoid a long commute every day. Child care programs were my focus until 1999. In 1999, I floated the idea of community gardens past the child care programs. (I had grown up gardening with my mom).
That idea didn’t fly with the child care programs, but John Sandusky, at CARE, said if I wanted to make a run at a grant, I could give it a try. We got a small grant and community gardens were started in Tillamook County, at CARE. One of the primary supporters for the community food programs, was Sharon Thornberry, from Oregon Food Bank, who I met in 2000. She mentored and connected me to so many great food and agriculture organizers, many doors were opened. Many other programs followed (gardens galore), like the Community Food Council, Brown Bag program, Tillamook Farmers Market and composting programs. CARE went on to support the Community Foods Program, until 2006.
At that time, CARE downsized all it’s food and agriculture programs, and Food Roots was formed to fill the void. Food Roots was an all volunteer organization for it’s first two years. Many other programs kept growing, now there are bunches of gardens all over Tillamook County, coalitions, micro-enterprise, Farm to School, food access and training programs that have taken root. The AmeriCorps and FoodCorps programs have brought so many amazing young, brilliant, and dynamic folks to Tillamook, that provided support for many other great programs.
My daughters went on to college, Coral graduating from OSU (Corvallis) and Laurel from SOU (Ashland) and her MS from Univ of Wyoming . In 1995, I met the love of my life, Richard Jones. Richard comes from three generations of railroaders, and was the Chief Mechanical officer for the POTB Railroad. We hung out alot, and moved in with each other after the kids went off to college. We married in 2009. Richard is so supportive of me and my ALS condition. I am so blessed to have him, my daughters, my son-in-law Ryan and granddaughter Stella, as well as dear friends, all surrounding me with love and support.
Editor’s Note: Shelly arrived in Tillamook County 31 years ago with 20 pregnant dairy cows. She worked as a farm worker, restaurant owner and chef, nutrition and garden educator, and as a nonprofit manager. Shelly is the original Food Roots volunteer and founded the organization in 2006; she retired from Food Roots in March of 2015.
After a year of doctor appointments and testing, she received the diagnosis of ALS, or amyotrophic laterals sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Friends and the community have come together to support Shelly and Richard as she turns her energy and attention to managing this fatal disease. During her tenure at Food Roots, Shelly brought in over $600,000 of grant monies to the community to support food and gardening programs. Food Roots is Shelly’s “third child” – and as she told me, “It is in good hands.” Often used as a model for other communities establishing food security and gardening programs, Food Roots exists to grow a more robust food system on the north Oregon Coast by engaging the community, supporting farmers and entrepreneurs and improving access to local food.
A Caring Bridge page has been setup to provide information about Shelly’s journey and to provide updates and information about her condition –www.caringbridge.org/visit/shellybowe. There are several heartfelt journal entries from members of Shelly’s caregiving team and from Shelly herself. In addition, a GoFundMe account as been set up at www.gofundme.com/25xjaukc as Shelly and Richard are faced with mounting medical cost.
Having known Shelly from the beginning of Food Roots, I’ve had the pleasure to call her friend, and when she received the ALS diagnosis, I had no doubt that Shelly would rise to the occasion. She has put all of her amazing energy and strength into researching and seeking out the specialists and now, outreach and putting together a volunteer caregiving network. She is as always showing us the way and teaching us all so much.
Here is a recent letter from her Caring Bridge journal … if you can help with medical expenses or as a caregiver, please contact Shelly.
May 18, 2016
I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for signing up as a volunteer caregiver. That is an incredible loving and caring role, to take on with my ALS disease. All the folks who signed up as volunteer caregivers are amazing folks, and I want to get to know you better.
I can’t speak anymore (ALS has taken my voice), but I use my Ipad for in person communication. Email and text are the best way for me to communicate, instead of phone: (email@example.com) (my text number: 503-801-3147). I would like to know more about what you are willing to take on. You are so generous to sign up for a volunteer caregiver role.
We’ve had a lot going on. ALS is an exhausting disease and we have quite a routine with my meds, supplements, exercises, tube feeding each day, our van conversion, and pouring concrete. We are in the midst of getting set up with a Tobii Dynavox (an eye gaze speech generating device). We have gotten a power wheelchair, Shelly is learning to drive it. Richard, my dear husband, takes care of most of my needs, at this time. We have a person who comes in once a week to clean the house and helps me shampoo and shower, we may increase that schedule in the future.
What I would like you to consider what shifts you are willing to take on. Most ALS folks live 2 – 5 years after diagnosis. There will be training involved, if I opt for a tracheotomy (trache) down the line. Please consider indepth training for trache care. I can provide some wonderful documents explaining traches. If I have a tracheostomy performed in the future, I will need a solid team of caregivers 24 hours a day. We are making a plan to hire overnight caregivers. It will be spendy, but it will be critical to live. My pulmonologist doctor, Dr. Lou Libby, said trache caregiving can cost up to $180,000 per year. If we have volunteers, it would be far less than that. We don’t have that kind of money, that’s why we are doing volunteer caregiver outreach. We want to put together a strong team of trained volunteer caregivers. I will work with my caregiver planning team and community to do more volunteer caregiver outreach.
We will follow up with you in the near future. Please think deeply about your needs and what you are willing to take on as a volunteer caregiver. I’d appreciate your input, so we can move forward and prepare for the future. Sending you love, admiration and heartfelt appreciation for your role as a caregiver.
Best, Shelly Bowe and Richard Jones