Woodland California Ag Museum Transition

Taylor Hillman Education

red old rusty tractor in a field
In unassuming warehouse space nestled along I-5 in Woodland, a stone’s throw from the region’s famed rice fields and nut trees, something’s up. Change is afoot. If you’re an aggie, it’s all kind of exciting.

What began a few decades ago as a place to put Fred Heidrick Senior’s remarkable tractor collection has now grown into a full-fledged 501 nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting our state’s agriculture by “enhancing people’s understanding and appreciation of California’s rich cultural heritage.”

The facility got its start through the vision of the Heidrick family and the generous support of local volunteers, and locals know all about it. A few locals have even held their “farmer chic” weddings right there among the Caterpillars and John Deeres. But additions to the collection, along with the usual growing pains that any organization experiences, have contributed to a new vision for a bigger and bolder future for this museum.

Full disclosure: my family lives and farms in this region, and the Heidricks and their tractors are well-known treasure around these parts. My family, like so many of our neighbors, has its own “collection” of farm equipment in somewhat lesser condition (by which I mean mostly rusty), starting with a Best 20 bought in the late ‘20s. Some farmers proudly park them along the fence frontage. Others, like my family, have plans to display them…someday. I choose to believe we do that not just because we have to put them somewhere, but because we rather enjoy seeing them every day. There’s nothing wrong with a little rust if it reminds you where you came from.

When you get right down to it, this museum is what we aggies would all do with those old treasures if we could: put them back in shape and put them somewhere they’ll be appreciated. The museum’s transition to non-profit status roughly coincided with helpful reviews of the facility by the Smithsonian and others in the museum biz, and when you put it all together it adds up to some exciting changes. The exhibit will still include the very worthy collection that started it all, but it will be restaged and enhanced by other implements and artifacts that serve to tell a more complete and engaging story of California agriculture from its earliest beginnings.

Work has been underway for awhile now, and the unveiling officially begins on Friday, November 13 with a sneak preview of the new “Agriculture After the Gold Rush” exhibit featuring a replica based on the town of Bodie, California – said to be haunted. The preview runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and comes complete with a “shootout by the Blue Canyon Gang.” Details are available online.

The changes are welcome, but the place has always been “cool.” Farm equipment this old, this well preserved, many in running condition, is just inherently interesting to see up-close. Looking at an iron beast that roared to life more than a century ago, it’s easy to imagine how hard it was to keep your seat, let alone make that tractor do what you wanted it to – and it’s inspiring to think that farmers played such an integral role in inventing and improving and specializing so many of them along the way.

Now, Executive Director Lorili Ostman and her crew are taking a new look at what they have, and what they can do with it. They are taking on the challenge of telling the rest of the story by re-envisioning their museum. I visited at her invitation recently, and the work they are doing is transformational. Even if you’ve seen it before, it really is time for another visit.

If you consider yourself part of California agriculture, this center is telling your story, your family’s story. It’s about the generations and innovations that have made California farms what they are today. For any aggie in a position to lend a hand, this would be a very deserving place to bestow your help – whether that means donating a dollar or a tractor, or serving as a volunteer, or anything in between.

If you stop by for a visit or even a family field trip, I promise your appreciation of California agriculture will grow just like this museum has, because that’s what California farmers do. We grow.

Visit online at www.CaliforniaAgMuseum.org

Contact the museum’s Executive Director Lorili Ostman at Lorili@AgHistory.org

By Jenny Lester Moffitt, CDFA Deputy Secretary from CDFA’s Planting Seeds Blog