Project Reflects on 'Way of Life'

Project Reflects on 'Way of Life'

Oral history recalls farming through reminiscing.

Former Leesburg mayor B.J. Webb regrets not taking photographs of what she once thought were “inconsequential.”

Webb grew up on a horse and cattle farm on the properties where Dulles Town Center and Claude Moore Park now sit. “There’s been so much that has changed in the county,” said Webb, keynote speaker Friday at a special event for the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum that recognized museum volunteers and contributors to an oral history project, “It’s Just a Way of Life: Reminiscing About the Family Farm.” “It’s hard to explain how dramatically it’s changed. …. I can’t tell much of a difference in the last five years, but I can in the last 15 years.”

Webb is one of many Loudoun residents with a story to tell about growing up in a agrarian community that, over the years, changed to specialty farming in the western end and suburbs and a high tech corridor in the eastern end. The specialty farms of today range from vineyards to organic and small vegetable farms.

“Some of us felt if we didn’t protect and save the stories of our heritage, they’d be gone forever,” said Bill Harrison, president of the Heritage Farm Museum.

WITH THE HELP of staff, museum manager Allison Weiss compiled an oral history of farming in Loudoun by interviewing 20 people, including three couples, and pulling quotes from the interviews on subjects related to farming. The people she interviewed are 70 years to more than 90 years old.

“In order to save the history of the county, we need to get the stories of people. … Their experience is so different from anybody who’s growing up now,” Weiss said. “There was a time when everybody was farming, the whole county was farms.”

Weiss heard over and over again, “I really don’t have anything interesting to say” from the people she asked to interview, who mostly live in western Loudoun or had farmed there. She met with them and found out otherwise as they talked about why they chose farming, what changed farming in Loudoun, the future of farming and a variety of other subjects, including children’s chores, women’s work and the dangers of farming.

“We have all this progress going, and it’s easy to forget our rural roots in Loudoun County,” said Claire Smith, administration coordinator of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

WEISS RECORDED the interviews, which staff then transcribed, and drew out the most prominent topics for 20 chapters in the oral history book, which will be published in December. Each chapter of the book begins with an introduction written by museum curator Eric Larson.

“Some people are fantastic storytellers,” Weiss said.

As said by Jim Brownell, “Most farmers farm. When we started farming, we weren’t thinking, ‘Let’s get into farming. We could make a lot of money.’ Most farmers aren’t in it for the money. They farm until the money runs out. It’s just a way of life.”

Weiss and museum staff spent a year-and-a-half on the project, finishing work in October. The project includes a 150-page book with about 70 old and contemporary photographs and the tapes and transcriptions from the interviews, which are housed in the museum. The oral history project is funded through a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

“It’s a reflection of the past, and you do produce a document, an artifact anyone can use,” said David Clark, a historical archeology professor at Catholic University – Washington, D.C. and a Lovettsville resident.

The Heritage Farm Museum is scheduled for a grand opening in spring.