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Back To Our Roots exhibit highlights agriculture history

Jun 4th, 2015 | Category: Community

Farming equipment, canning and preserving, log cabin, and local accounts on display

by Jessamyn Tuttle

This summer the Skagit Historical Museum in La Conner will be featuring an exhibit titled “Back to Our Roots: A History of Farm to Table in Skagit County,” which highlights the life of a family of settlers in the upper Skagit Valley in the year 1870. “It’s such a broad topic,” said Karen Summers, the museum’s curator. “We chose to focus on what it was like for the pioneers to come here and live off the land… the steps it took from arriving in Skagit and what it took to put food on the table.”

While the show is based on a couple of actual upriver families, said Summers, many of the small family farms that characterized the area at the time shared similar experiences. “It can be applied to all of Skagit County,” she said. “The same trials and triumphs.”

Images include this potato patch in Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Skagit County Historical Museum

Images include this potato patch in Burlington. Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Skagit County Historical Museum

The show will also include information about the geology of Skagit County, as well as a display on the fishing, hunting and gathering traditions of local Native American tribes, represented in part by the museum’s extensive basket collection. “There are all shapes and sizes from the Yukon to right here on Samish Island,” Summers said. “My favorite would be a beautifully woven cedar child’s berry basket.”

The exhibit will then look to the future and the importance of preserving Skagit County’s rich land. They will highlight various farms and organizations, and show visitors where they can learn more.

The show was inspired in part by the sheer number of artifacts in the museum’s collection pertaining to food and farming. “The Museum has been dedicating the last couple years in efforts to update our permanent exhibits and really show off parts of the collection that the public has not seen before,” said Summers.

Only about 15 percent of the museum’s artifacts are on display, leaving the rest in storage. “We focus on what we have,” Summers said, “and we have lots and lots of artifacts.”

The exhibit will include small-scale farming equipment, a canning and preserving display, even a log cabin that will be built on site using traditional methods.

While most of the information for the show came from the museum’s own archives, there was also an influx of information from locals. Summers said that this was the first time since she’s been curator that the museum put out a call to the public, and they received some wonderful pieces of history, such as an account from life-long Skagitonian Jolene Bettendorf on growing up in Skagit County and the methods to grow, gather and prepare from your garden to your table. Summers hopes that the museum will continue to connect with the community in this way. “We want to work with the public – what do you want to see, what do you want to learn about?”

She emphasized that the museum’s mission is not just to store historical items, but to show how our history relates to how we live now, and what it means for our future. “Although we are a history museum, we understand the importance for the community to work together to protect and preserve Skagit County for all people, for all time.”

Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Skagit County Historical Museum

Photo courtesy of the Collection of the Skagit County Historical Museum

The exhibit runs through Oct. 11, and will include a number of presentations and tours available to the public.

Back to Our Roots is on display June 11 through Oct. 11. Related events include Skagit Topic with Alan Rozema, Executive Director, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, on June 28, and Skagit Topic with Steve Sakuma, President, Sakuma Brother’s Farms, on Aug. 9.

The Skagit County Historical Museum is located at 501 4th Street in La Conner and open Tuesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (360) 466-3365.

Published in the June 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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