Sunday, April 25, 2010

Santiam Cannery

I was raised in the central Willamette Valley in Oregon to parents and grandparents who  migrated together from Oklahoma.  My grandparents purchased a farm when they arrived in Marion, OR.  My parents, newlyweds that year, settled close by.  I went to school in Albany, OR.

My grandfather's crop was hawled to Stayton.  I'll try to say what I remember about that.  My grandfather made a contract with the cannery that he would plant the number of acres of whatever crop they needed, beans, corn, whatever.  The cannery agreed to purchase the whole crop, whatever could be harvested at a previously agreed to price per pound.

When the crop was harvested, it would be hawled, truckload after truckload to the cannery at Stayton.  The truck would be logged in and weighed coming in and out.  It would get emptied and head back for another load.  When a crop was ready, if weather allowed, they would harvest around the clock.  I remember making sandwiches in my grandmother's kitchen and walking them across the fields for my grandfather and who ever was with him.  I remember carrying jars of ice tea and setting them at the end of a row, so that they could stop and pick them up.  I remember standing in the yard behind my grandparents house and looking out into the field in the dark watching the lighted vehicles slowly cross the field as they harvested. 

I'm remembering an employee of my Grandfather, Allen Bagger,  (if you are out there, Allen, let me know how you are).  He was tasked to run some machinery during the night while my grandfather slept.  He got the machinery stuck in the field and couldn't get it out.  He was my age at the time, maybe 17 and didn't know what to do, so he slept in the truck until day light and grandpa came out.  They went together to the shop and got the big tractor to pull it out.  I remember Allen being embarrassed and sorry.  I never saw Grandpa be really angry about things like that.  I remember him saying "well, what did you learn?"  I used to say that to my step kids during tough times, but it was clear they thought I was talking a foreign language, so I stopped. 

Last time I was there, about a year ago, it was planted to rye grass by the renters. 

And Onions. One thing I know for sure - a farmer plants what he thinks he can make money at.  That's is the decision.  There is nothing quaint or sentimental or Laura Ingalls about it.  My cousins say there is no money in farming any more.  A shame.  When local farmers can't make a living, you have to wonder what will happen to those people the local farmer used to feed.  Will China and Mexico be able to fill the spot?  What does it mean that we can't, don't, won't grow our own food.
Remember to get your hands dirty.  And what did you learn? 


  1. I grew up on a farm in the middle of Kansas and what I've learned is that farm life is incredibly similar no matter what part of the country you live. The sandwiches, the iced tea, hired hands doing things and my father being patient but stern over it. Nice post

  2. "What have you learned?" is a profound question. Let us not stop asking that question to our kids. Eventually they will ponder about its implication on their lives. Blending family or not, life is a continuous journey of learning. Thanks for this great post.