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Treasure the past

Published on December 28, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on January 25, 2013 9:30AM




For the Capital Press

This is AgriCulture!
We all eat to live, and most of us love to eat. Oregonians are increasingly aware that what we eat, how we produce it, market it, and prepare it, is important. The success of Oregon's agricultural economy relies on new ideas as well as lessons from our ancestors. For example, by remembering what we have done in the past we have rediscovered forgotten varieties of apples and wine grapes, reconsidered the value of certain soils for different crops, and reexamined how we care for chickens.

Retaining and reusing the barns and other buildings from Oregon's agricultural heritage should be a part of that process of remembering and rethinking to create a better future. As the Oregon Cultural Trust slogan has it, "This is Culture!" Our farms and ranches have a strong tradition -- call it AgriCulture -- that is increasingly meaningful to shoppers at farmers' markets, future generations of producers and marketers of Oregon's agricultural bounty.

The Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program is an example of AgriCulture. Since 1958, it has honored over 1,200 families for their stewardship of the land, some of them for more than 150 years of continuous operation. According to Judson Parsons of Southern Oregon's historic Hillcrest Orchard, "Century Farm status provides personal pride and helps keep younger generations interested in agriculture." The popular Roxy Ann wines are now sampled in the Hillcrest's adaptively reused barn, built in 1900.

AgriCulture is also the focus of a new barns taskforce convened by the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. According to census data, our state may have as many as 11,000 barns built before 1960. Not all old barns and outbuildings are worthy of preservation, but many are, and the taskforce is actively working to find ways for farmers and ranchers to preserve and make continued use of their historic barns in financially viable ways.

These are places that matter to all Oregonians; this is AgriCulture!

In their work funding history, humanities, and heritage programs around the state, the Oregon Cultural Trust has recognized the importance of AgriCulture. A grant to the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program resulted in a 37 percent increase in applications; a grant to the Historic Preservation League of Oregon supported the documenting of an 1848 barn -- one of the oldest in the state -- by University of Oregon students.

In order to reap the benefits of this growing interest in AgriCulture, we need both the desire and the dollars to do so. Will Oregon's producers -- and consumers -- continue to support farmers, ranchers, the Oregon Cultural Trust, and other organizations in preserving and reusing the historic places that represent our AgriCulture? We think so.

Richard Engeman is an archivist and historian, and the author of Eating It Up in Eden: The Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Cookbook and The Oregon Companion. Brandon Spencer-Hartle is Field Programs Manager at the Historic Preservation League of Oregon and serves on the Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program management committee.

Richard and Brandon encourage Oregonians to give to the Oregon Cultural Trust by Dec. 31 to support AgriCulture in 2013.


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