Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest
Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor
Pullman, Washington: Washington State University Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-87422-316-3, paperback
186 pages, $32.95
When you hear the opening notes of the song “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates and you listen to the words of the first stanza, “O beautiful for spacious skies,/For amber waves of grain,/ For purple mountain majesties/Above the enameled plain!/America! America!…” Like me, your first thoughts are of expansive fields in places like Nebraska or Kansas. You can picture the lakes of wheat undulating from the soft breeze while the rays of sun soak the fields. What you do not think about is the states of Oregon or Washington where the sun has a habit of taking a vacation. However, you would be remiss to do so according to Richard D. Scheuerman and Alexander C. McGregor. In their book, Harvest Heritage: Agricultural Origins and Heirloom Crops of the Pacific Northwest, the authors recount the long history of agriculture in the Pacific Northwest, which undoubtedly includes wheat.
In Harvest Heritage Scheuerman and McGregor explore in detail the agricultural settling of the northwest. The book takes the reader on a journey exploring the movement of companies, fur traders, missionaries, Indians immigrants and military men. Although these people come from vastly different places they are all transformed into farmers and settlers of the northwest. The shaping of this bountiful, but decidedly more wet region, required thoughtful experiments by farmers and ranchers who utilized the constant influx of immigrants to supply them with a menagerie of wheat, oats, barley and rye, as well as, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Through trial and error and lots of hard work they are able to find the hardiest varieties for this unique climate.
If you are a seasoned history buff, you will appreciate the attention paid to the histories of the many people who helped settled this lush country and who were instrumental in developing the unique agriculture of this region. For those readers who enjoy reading about the fine points, this book offers many details. For example, the sheer varieties of red winter wheat mentioned can alone scare away the most seasoned of history readers. However, I urge you forward. This book will give you a better understanding and tremendous respect for the people who have settled this land.
It is clear that Dr. Scheuerman’s background in history coupled with McGregor’s family ties to the land has formed this distinctive look into the Pacific Northwest. However, this reviewer was left reflecting on the possible “under-represented” history in the area. A famous quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, says that the winners write history. I couldn’t help but feel that some aspects of this book were minimizing difficult parts of our history while overly focusing on the farmer as unsung hero. The settlement of this region meant many Native American tribes were pushed off their ancestral land which many times lead to acts of violence. There appeared to be a large influx of immigrant populations, but there was no mention of the unique difficulties these people experienced. I would have appreciated an additional chapter focusing more on the “losers” in history in this region with the same attention to detail given by the authors.
Harvest Heritage would be a good addition to a public or academic library collection. The casual weekend history buff would find this book engaging and interesting, especially since they could visit the many sites mentioned in the book. The academic would find this book useful to expand their research or as part of a reading assignment for courses focusing on the Pacific Northwest.
Nicole Silvester lives in Idaho and is a MLS Graduate Student at Texas Woman’s University.