MUSKOGEE, Okla. — The Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee held an Agri-Business Appreciation Dinner at Indian Capital Technology Center on Tuesday evening. 

The event saw both producers and community support come out to enjoy food and camaraderie alongside a visit with the Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, Blayne Arthur.

"It's certainly been a challenging year, and that's no mystery to the ag people out here," Arthur said. "It's a tough time for our producers, but they're in ag because they're tough folks and they're making good decisions."

The event also honored two contributors to the agri-business community: volunteer Rowdy Fewel and Midway High School students Kaylee and JoDawn Herriman for a recent science fair project demonstrating the positive impact of livestock shows on Oklahoma communities.

"It was kind of exciting to be honored," JoDawn Herriman said.

The project delivered a survey to students who participated in a Muskogee livestock show asking if they brought people with them and if they spent money in town while visiting. The sisters received 415 responses in which all said they spent money.

The Herriman sisters' project and its focus on tourism through ag served as a demonstration of one of the opportunities for ag producers, Arthur said: the chance to build a broader portfolio and avoid the whims of the market.

"We're encouraging people to diversify so they're not tied solely to volatile commodity markets," Arthur said. "There's a big push for that from the Department of Agriculture's perspective because we think that will help level out some of the ups and downs."

Arthur served as the keynote speaker, discussing the challenges facing Oklahoman ranchers and farmers, as well as initiatives under way by the Department of Agriculture.

"We certainly want to talk to folks about what is important to them," Arthur said. "We want to be that voice for Oklahoma producers."

The secretary of agriculture listed a push for products made in Oklahoma as an example of those initiatives.

"There are hundreds of products made right here in the state," she said. "When we buy those, we give more dollars to our producers. This is a great time to really elevate those Made In Oklahoma products."

The evening ended with a bout of socializing as attendees approached to congratulate the honorees and speak one-on-one with Arthur.

Organizer and Agribusiness Committee Chairwoman Cheryl Leatherman saw the dinner as a chance not only to appreciate the local agriculture community, but to prompt networking and fellowship.

"This is just a way to give back and give them an opportunity to visit together," Leatherman said. "I think this is a good time."