SALEM — Linn County native Marisa Eicher DeMasi was recently selected as the first female officer on the board of directors of the 130-year-old American Seed Trade Association.
DeMasi was elected second vice president, and in two years, will head the 700-member organization that represents farmers whose crops vary from tomatoes to grass seed.
DeMasi, who likes to be called Risa, is a co-owner and director of marketing and sales for Grassland Oregon, based in Salem.
She is the daughter of Sam and the late Roma Eicher. Her family owns a farm and feedlot on Eicher Drive between Albany and Lebanon on Highway 20.
DeMasi graduated from the Western Mennonite School in 1984 and earned an associate’s degree from Hesston Mennonite College in Kansas.
“It’s where my parents met,” DeMasi said. “I focused on the theater arts, psychology and music.”
After college, DeMasi started working in the ready-to-wear industry, but realized it wasn’t for her.
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“Having grown up on a farm, surrounding by dairy and grass seed farms, I was offered a job in the shipping department with Olsen Fenell Seed in Salem in 1988,” DeMasi said.
She was soon promoted to shipping manager and then a year later, to operations manager and then went into sales.
“The owners gave me a lot of opportunities,” DeMasi said.
When Olsen Fenell was sold to ABT, the company was generating about $30 million per year in sales of grasses, forages and legumes.
After ABT collapsed, DeMasi and three partners founded Grassland Oregon in 2000.
“All four of us are working partners,” DeMasi said. “We are growing and we put our profits back into the company.”
DeMasi said the company had about $15 million in sales last year, specializing in forages, turf, reclamation and cover crops.
“Cover crops are get to be a huge market,” DeMasi said. “We’re not reinventing things. Cover crops have been used for centuries to control pests, weeds and for water management.”
The company with 11 staff members has an on-site research farm on Silverton Road east of Salem, but DeMasi said work is also under way at universities through the United States and in New Zealand and Canada.
“We’ve also bought seed from Germany and the Netherlands,” DeMasi said. “We’re at the very beginning of the food chain. We’re creating the products that get blended and mixed for pastures and golf courses.”
DeMasi said she hadn’t thought much about the fact that she is the first female executive officer, because “I’ve been a regional director for five years and have been sitting at the table with these guys for some time. At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it really is exciting.”
DeMasi said belonging to a national seed trade organization is important for both large and small businesses.
“We have a voice and in our association, it’s a one company, one voice system,” DeMasi said. “Every company has an equal vote. We believe that by working together, we can all have a stronger voice, especially in educating the public about what farmers do.”
DeMasi is married to professional guitarist Michael DeMasi, a New York native. They met while she and some customers were enjoying the city and married in 1994.
Away from work, DeMasi enjoys exploring her artistic side — a trait handed down from her mother, the founder of the Conservatory for Music Education — using found art to create mixed media.
Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or email@example.com.