Agriculture + Heritage
By Richard H. Engeman
When the Willamette Valley attracted immigrants in the 1840s, they came to farm. Agriculture has ever since loomed large in Oregon’s economy, and its history and heritage is marked today by many visible traces, from barns and silos to corrals and grain elevators.
There are also the roadside signs of the Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program. More than a thousand Oregon families have been entitled to one of these signs since the program began in 1958. As a member of the program’s management board, I recently participated in approving eighteen new sign applications. These farms and ranches have been operated by members of the same family for a hundred years—and more. How many business firms can trace their history back so far?
Both historical markers and historic buildings help us recognize and understand our state’s agricultural past and connect it to the present. My involvement with the Historic Preservation League of Oregon is on a committee to help identify and preserve historic barns and farm structures. This also means finding ways to give these buildings a continuing, useful function.
One of the great rewards of working with the Century Farm & Ranch Program is reading the applications, which include information on the property’s historic structures, on the changes over time in crops and livestock, and on the dynamics of a family enterprise. Oregon State University’s Oregon Farm Explorer website now gives the public access to some of that information, and more will soon be added.
As agriculture in Oregon evolves and changes, there are many challenges to maintaining and expanding our knowledge of its history. The volunteer-driven Oregon Century Farm & Ranch Program and the Historic Preservation League of Oregon help meet those challenges through education, signage, and preservation.
Richard H. Engeman heads Oregon Rediviva, LLC, a public history research and writing firm. He is the author of The Oregon Companion and Eating It Up in Eden. Visit his website at www.oregonrediviva.com