Zymurgy & hop production museum exhibition
Hop production and fermentation science are themes that are included in the “Cool Tools!” exhibition at Benton County Museum, in Philomath, OR.
Saving stories: the second OHBA oral history
Leaving work at 1 o’clock on a sunny Friday afternoon in early March is pretty great. Leaving work on a sunny Friday afternoon to drive up to a hop farm to do an oral history is even better.
I packed up my recording equipment and got in the car to drive north about an hour on I-5 to Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn today. I was slated to do an oral history with fifth generation hop grower Blake Crosby. This was initially set to be a video interview for the OHBA Stories project, but we are still waiting on contract clearance for that and I was anxious to talk with Blake. An oral history offers opportunities for different types of conversations and those you have when a camera is present (to make us all self-conscious!).
This time Google maps didn’t lead me astray and I easily found the main office (especially with a sign on the mailbox and an aura of history in the filter).
I was there a bit early so Beau Evers showed me around a bit while we waited for Blake. We didn’t go on a full tour, but we talked about the buildings in the immediate vicinity - processing facility, dryer, hop pellets plant, and the naked wires and holes in the fields.
It was hard to go inside (Oregonians will tell you that a sunny March day screams at your every cell that it’s time to be outside), but we (reluctantly) settled into a conference room. My interview with Blake was similar in many ways to my interview last Saturday with Carole Ockert. She talked much more about the brewing side, but themes such as family, progressiveness, and commitment were prominent in my interview with Blake as well.
Again I don’t want to give away all the juicy bits of the interview, knowing that my words are simply and interpretation of what I heard, but I will share some of my immediate thoughts. I’ve had several swirling around my head over the past week related to multi generational farming. I’ve written a bit about this before, but my own family model is so different. Though my great great grandfather was a hop farmer, subsequent generations have not followed that same agricultural / farming path. Sure my dad grows a big garden and I love to dig it in mine, but we are very far removed from the actual farming my great great grandfather did. In talking to Blake I was sort of jealous at the depth of this heritage, this rooted sense of family that is grounded in hops. It wasn’t in the “this is the way we’ve always done things so that’s what I did” sense, but an excitement and a passion for the work he’s doing and the tradition that he’s carrying on. He grew up on the farm, and yet he still talks about it with enthusiasm and a sense of awe that he must have felt as a child.
He’s also a realist about family farming, openly talking about the challenges and benefits of working with your family, as well as the limitations for family industries like hops when fewer children are born in each generation (to take over next). Simply put: people aren’t having as many children, and it’s possible that those children won’t want to be hop farmers rural Oregon. At the same time, Blake is clearly part of the new generation of farmers. Not to say that past generations weren’t, but this generation is engaging with brewers, connected to urban areas, and very aware of the power of marketing.
So many things are changing right now for farmers, especially with this raging wave of awareness and popularity surrounding craft brewing and the hops that go into that beer. Even ten years ago it would not have been common for people to know about hops or be so into agriculture. He grew up in a community where they were grown, but when he went to college he realized that not everyone had the same frame of reference as he did. Simply put, not everyone had parents/grandparents/great+ grandparents who were farmers. This made me think about isolation and community and regional identity, which led me to think about that technology shift in the past 10 years, it is much easier to traverse the urban / rural boundaries (even if it’s just on Instagram or Facebook). So while (obviously) farming requires a big time commitment that may not allow for frequent jaunts to urban areas during high season, I imagine that technology alleviates some of the isolation may have farmers felt before such modes and means were available.
I really do enjoy hearing about the history of hop farming in Oregon, but one of my favorite parts of the interview was at the very end when I asked Blake if there was anything he wished I had asked. He said that one thing that he thinks about frequently is the role his sister could play in the hop farming. This is the point where I wish it wasn’t an oral history – because since it’s an oral history it can’t be a conversation. And this is something I find very worthy of conversation. I asked a bit about any industry boundaries or cultural boundaries to women as hop growers and farmers, and though Blake gave a thoughtful answer I think it is a tough one for him to answer. However the entire interview was framed with talk of commitment and progressiveness, and I think that the fact that this was what he brought at the end shows something. No crystal ball on my end, so I guess what that this “something” is still yet to be determined.
And I am an archivist after all; I just collect the stories not write the history.
Oh, and take the pictures everyone wants to see.