A ride down a paved county road between Salem and the Pacific shows off Oregon's gloriously diverse agriculture, which blankets the Coast Range valley like a massive patchwork quilt. Orchards follow vineyards follow Christmas trees follow row crops. Meandering down this road, a driver rarely finds two farms in succession growing the same thing.
The scenery is ravishing, riveting and, unless you're a local, mystifying. What are all these crops? The driver tips his hat in thanks to farmers who put up signs. "Industrial Hemp," reads one. And then, a mile down the road, "Hazelnuts."
Taking in these vistas inspires a thought. Maybe providing information is step one in advocating for agriculture. Maybe if more farmers signed their fields, the public might take a greater interest in farming. Identifying crops could become a family game on road trips, like counting out-of-state license plates. A little knowledge could beget curiosity for more.
The problem, a farmer might point out, is that cars on these back roads are often as uncommon as covered wagons. How would farmers get people to travel these highways and see the signs?
Here's a possible solution: Populate the countryside with Pokemon characters.
Sound silly? Sure. But hear me out. This is a low-cost, low-risk idea that with luck could pay dividends.
Luck seems to be with Pokemon just now. Released on July 6, Pokemon Go quickly became one of the most used smart-device apps. Millenials who played the original Pokemon game in the 1990s are among the biggest enthusiasts. My daughter and her husband were visiting us in Newport on the Oregon coast when Pokemon Go came out. The game quickly became all-consuming. "Dad, can we stop by City Hall?" We could, because after all, you never know where you might find Weedles, Pidgeys, Spearows, Rattatas or Clefairys.
Clefairys at City Hall? It's possible. Pokemon Go overlays the physical world with virtual characters (there are more than 140 of them) that players, or "trainers" as they're called, hunt and capture. In this so-called "augmented reality" world, trainers must physically travel to visit virtual "PokeStops" and "PokeGyms." The game's makers have conveniently placed Pokemons in restaurants, libraries, public parks and thousands of other sites—even in out-of-the-way places like the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
"Hey Pokemon trainers, we've found a Zubat in our Whooping Crane exhibit," ICF announced on Facebook. "Come visit the International Crane Foundation to find wonderful winged creatures both virtual and real." (Disclosure: I'm on ICF's board.)
Everyone, or at least everyone of a certain age, seems to be playing this game. Justin Bieber was captured in a YouTube video (http://tiny.cc/…) chasing Pokemons in New York. The people around him didn't recognize the pop singer because they were busy chasing Pokemons, too. A reporter was caught playing Pokemon Go at a State Department briefing (http://tiny.cc/…).
"Did you get one," the briefer interrupted his spiel to ask. "No," said the journalist. "The signal's not very good." The spokesman apologized for the weak signal and went on with the briefing.
The good thing about Pokemon Go is it gets game-playing potatoes off the couch. My daughter has upped her daily steps goal to 10,000 from 6,000 and her dog is getting lots of extra walks.
The bad thing about this augmented world is the attention it sucks away from real-world dangers. A University of Iowa football player ended up looking down the barrels of four guns. Between the music thundering through his earphones and his Pokemon Go playing, the defensive end didn't notice the policemen who'd asked him to raise his hands after they mistook him for a bank robber (http://tiny.cc/…).
Two Canadian teenagers accidentally wandered across the border into Montana while chasing Pokemons; the Federal agents who caught them said the kids were so "captivated" by the game they "lost track of where they were (http://tiny.cc/…)."
The New York subway system, fearing headlines like "Squirtle Chaser Squashed by Train," felt compelled to warn trainers to "stay behind the yellow line" marking the edge of the platform (http://tiny.cc/…).
Merchants are trying to capitalize on the game's popularity, luring trainers with promises of Poliwhirls and Psyducks (http://tiny.cc/…). Farmers could do the same. If you don't have Pokemons on your farm, and many rural areas don't, you will soon be able to request them (http://tiny.cc/…).
(If you have them and don't want them, you can also ask to be rid of them. In Japan, authorities have asked the game's makers not to put Pokemons in the Fukushima nuclear-disaster zone after one was found there (http://tiny.cc/…).)
The question for the farmer is, what's to lose? There's not a lot of downside to filling out a request form and putting up a sign or two. The worst that can happen is it doesn't work. You might build it only to have them not come. Or, the game could end up going the way of the hula-hoop, although that doesn't seem likely to happen soon. Pokemon Go is currently expected to bring its makers $5 billion a year in revenue, more than any other game.
If by arranging for a rare Aerodactyl to lurk at your fencerow you attract some urbanites to pay a visit, they might learn something about agriculture. And that could be, for everyone involved and in more ways than one, character building.
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