If you come from a farming family, or even just have a box of dusty old black and white photographs of your grandfather (the former logger), Maureen Battistella wants to talk to you.
A research anthropologist at Southern Oregon University, Battistella and SOU sociology professor emeriti Victoria Sturtevant will serve as co-investigators for the next seven months or so, collecting and preserving agricultural and logging family histories in Jackson and Josephine Counties thanks to a $12,000 Common Heritage grant recently awarded to SOU from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Battistella and Sturtevant will host heritage day events in order to track down stories, photographs and memorabilia which will then be digitized and made available to the public via the school’s Hannon Library digital archives portal at digital.hanlib.sou.edu.
Battistella talked to the Tidings about the project recently. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
DT: Why are you taking this on?
MB: We knew this is important content for the continuation of our agricultural traditions in southern Oregon, the importance of maintaining a local food supply should something happen to the distribution systems. And just understanding that more and more of these families have stories that should be told, and that’s what gave rise to Vicky and I’s project with the National Endowment for the Humanities. A common heritage award looks at the communal aspects of living together and our focus has been on labor, whether that be labor on the land, growing things, helping things live and thrive and become food, become economic support for the families or whether that would be lacking — and that’s (Sturtevant’s) strength.
So it’s so exciting. We’re going to Trail and to Butte Falls, and we’re holding events in Josephine County, Cave Junction and Kirbyville, to try and talk with these families. Not the California transplants, not the first-generation Cannabis growers here in southern Oregon, but the families that have worked the land for hundreds of years. It’s thrilling.
DT: Will $12,000 pay for the entire project?
MB: We’re hoping to get some small funding to provide some support for refreshments or materials, but that $12,000 really does (cover it). ... That $12,000, we’re going to get a big bang for our buck. We’re going to be in lots of places, collect lots of stories and be able to publish those stories and make them widely available.
We’re seeing some lessons from the earlier (projects) that I think are helpful. We’re seeing some learning that we’re able to carry from one family to the other, and this is that women have a real role in agriculture today; they didn’t even 20 years ago. But today, the future of farming seems to be female. And succession is a problem. It’s something that the older generation doesn’t like, necessarily, to talk about for many reasons. I think it can be scary to leave what you have built to others.
We’re also seeing the effects of land use changes, the need to keep land and agricultural production. We’re seeing some families selling their property to cannabis growers now, so it’s leaving the food supply system. We’re seeing that some families lost everything in a gamble to have their land use zoning change, classification changed to residential. Those families have gone into bankruptcy. We have seen tremendous successes in succession, too, where the families understood the need to articulate intent and articulate interest and gain support from that next generation, give them responsibility, and so it naturally followed that those families had a good succession plan. It’s been really amazing. It’s been thought provoking, it’s been exciting, it’s been painful and it’s been joyful.
DT: How do you plan to identify heritage families?
MB: To some extent, we expect that families will self-select. We’ll be holding events, we’ll be publicizing those events and we believe that the families will self-select and ask to participate. But we’ve also been building partnerships over the last couple years that will help us. We have partnerships with the local historical societies, the genealogical societies, and they know who those heritage families are and are helping us with warm introductions. But another and very important partnership is with the youth community. We’ve made partnerships with the FFA program in Phoenix High School and at Crater, and also with the 4-H programs in Jackson and Josephine Counties. We believe that these students, this youth that has a family commitment or a career interest in agriculture and in forest industries, will help us, will serve as our bridge to introduce us to families that otherwise might be less inclined to be public about their situation.
DT: What will these heritage day events look like and how many are you planning to host?
MB: We’re thinking that we’ll have about eight events — four events related to timber in the forest communities, such as Eagle Point, Butte Falls, Kirbyville, Cave Junction; and we’ll have four events related to agriculture, and those will be Central Point and Grants Pass. The first day will be more historical, giving the participants an idea of the context within which their personal heritage fits. So there will be information about how logging changed that community and what we know about logging in that community or what we know about agriculture in that community. And we’ll have a local historian talk about their community, providing information about what we already know about that legacy labor in that community. We’ll have local historical societies exhibit, the genealogical societies will exhibit their libraries, because they’re all content providers and research support agencies. And then we’ll hold an open digitization day, an open heritage day. We’re looking at doing that in conjunction with other events that are already focused on heritage.
DT: What’s your timeline?
MB: Our planning is January and February, our material preparation is March and the first part of April. The events will be held end of April, May and then the beginning of June. And then in July we’ll do followup with the most important families that we have identified kind of through the shotgun approach and re-interview those more carefully and at length. And throughout this time I personally will be editing video so that we can go back to the county fairs and the harvest fairs and the fall ranching events and show content to them, give some content back. So participants will get documentation of their family history, a flash drive with their scanned photos and their oral histories or video histories. They’ll also get information on how to preserve their family documents. Mary Jane Cedar-Face at (Hannon) library will be helping people understand how to best preserve a photograph, for example, or a diary, or what does acid-free mean, or how do newspaper clippings damage older papers. So she’ll be providing that personal assistance and guidance.
DT: What will the final project look like?
MB: All of our projects (can be found) in the Southern Oregon University Hannon Library’s digital collection. They maintain a digital portal. … and you can see there that we’ve got images and documents and now we’re loading video in, and we’ve got labels, we’ve got reference material, we’ve got links and we’ve got biographies.
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.