What's Your Legacy?
Last September, we printed some half truths in Good Fruit Grower. It wasn't deliberate and no one was maligned by the error in that issue's "Last Bite" column on the Grellco marketing company, but the inaccuracies brought to focus a problem that is becoming more acute as our lifestyles and modes of communication eclipse our ability to record who we are as people and as a civilization.
The article itself accurately reported what was said in an interview of an E.F. Grell family member, but more—and conflicting—information surfaced after publication. Luckily, one of Grell's great-granddaughters, a family historian, saw the issue and gave the author the information needed to correct the record.
We were lucky this time to be given the opportunity to rewrite E.F. Grell's abbreviated biography for this issue's "Last Bite" column. But how many other pieces of family and industry history are permanently lost each day because no one takes the time to write, to share experiences, to build a family record—or to assure that what is written is accurate and complete? How little we would know of our country's early history had not detailed letters between family members been written and saved. Our modern reliance on electronic messaging is powerful and immediate, but these spontaneous notes have replaced thoughtful correspondence and leave nothing for future generations to study.
The tree fruit and wine grape industries are relatively young in North America, with many pioneering families still growing fruit on land that was homesteaded by their parents and grandparents. What growers today may take for granted as common knowledge about their lives and their livelihood will be anything but in another generation.
Magazines like ours are archived for posterity, but the picture we can provide future generations who want to know about twentieth and twenty-first century agricultural practices and the people who made their living on the land is limited. Particularly lacking are the first-person accounts of what you do as growers, as families, and as citizens.
If you and your family have not yet produced an oral or written history of your lives, consider doing so. Contact your local historical societies and libraries to see what resources are available to you. Many institutions have staff or volunteers who are trained to conduct oral histories and to record them for future generations. If they are not actively recording the family histories of your area, suggest that they do so. At the very least, write down what family history you know, make copies for your relatives, and ask that they do the same. Then, keep them, like the treasures they are.
Three years ago, my father-in-law was killed in an auto accident as he returned home from a marketing meeting in Yakima. He was an active, vital man who knew his family's history—and he wasn't supposed to die. He was the last in my wife's family to grow tree fruit in the Okanogan, on land located not far from the spot where, in 1907, her great-grandfather planted and hand-watered one of the first orchards in that area. As far as we know, there is no written account of her family's orcharding life other than that posted in county land records. The Okanogan County Historical Museum has an excellent record of early lif,e thanks to some forward-thinking citizens, so much about the way of life has been preserved. However, I'm not sure that will be good enough for our great-grandchildren should they want to know more of their roots.
Someday, you may be lucky enough to have a granddaughter who, like Grell's, has a need to know you and the life you led in order to better understand herself and the world in which she lives. Give her the resources to understand your life as a grower at this time in our country's history. Your life may seem ordinary to you, but it will be a wonder to future generations.