Agriculture History / Historia Agrícola
Before the dream of westward expansion to cultivate the fertile lands of the Willamette Valley brought settlers to Oregon, there were an estimated 100 Native Americans tribes managing the landscape through burning, harvesting, digging and tilling to increase the amount and diversity of plant and animal resources to be hunted, trapped, and harvesting1. The Willamette Valley was home to the Clakamas, Clatskanie, and Calapooya tribes to name a few2.

Following Lewis and Clark’s voyage to Astoria ending in 1805, migrants, missionaries, Native Americans, trappers and traders cultivated crops and raised livestock in the Willamette Valley for the trading posts and an increased demand for exports1. Retirees of trapping, fishing, trading, and mission work were lured to homestead in the valley for the same reasons it continues to be such a viable place for agriculture today; fertile soils, availability of water, and the temperate climate.

In the 1840s migration to the regions specifically for farming began. By 1845, an estimated 6000 settlers had made their way across the Oregon Trail and staked claims to their free land in the Willamette Valley1. In 1855, Native American tribes were marched to reservations and much of their territory was claimed for settling families to cultivate. Then, in the 1880s the Pacific Northwest was connected to the rest of the United States via railroad, allowing agriculture products to be shipped across the territory 3. Access to irrigation and electricity increased in the Willamette Valley with the regional grants to construct damns in the 1900s4.

In the 1920s, the great depression showed little mercy for Oregon farmers as many saw foreclosure5. Then, throughout the 1940s and WWII labor shortages required workers to be recruited from other countries. The Bracero Program brought 15,000 Mexican men to work in Oregon between 1942 and 1947 and the Emergency Farm Labor Service helped place over 900,000 workers on Oregon farms between 1943 and 19476. In addition, many Japanese were taken from their land in the Willamette Valley and sent to work in labor camps6. After WWII, farming became more mechanized with widespread use of chemicals, improved irrigation, and farm machinery. Smaller farms were driven out of business, and corporate farms became more prominent.

Today, agriculture in the Willamette Valley is diverse as there are both large commercial farms as well as an increase in the number of small farms, which focus on providing food for local markets, grocers and restaurants. Yet the history of agriculture in the region is part of the landscape as well. There are over 1000 families enrolled in the Century Farm program that began in 1958, celebrating farmers who have been a part of the culture of farming in Oregon for over 100 years7,8.

Agriculture History / Historia Agrícola Translation Needed


1. Gibson, J.R. (1985) Farming on the frontier: the agriculture opening of the Oregon country, 1786-1846 (Seattle: University of Washington Press).
2. Oregon Department of Agriculture (2009) The History of Oregon Agriculture. Available at (accessed July 2009).
3. Oregon State Archives (2009) Oregon History: Emerging Economies. Available at (accessed July 2009).
4. Oregon State Archives (2009) Oregon History: Rapid Developments. Available at (accessed July 2009).
5. Oregon State Archives (2009) Oregon Responds to World War II: Oregon Weathers the Great Depression. Available at (accessed July 2009).
6. Oregon State Archives (2009) Oregon Responds to World War II: Farm Labor Programs Work to Bring In the Crops. Available at (accessed July 2009).
7. Oregon Department of Agriculture (2009) The History of Oregon Agriculture. Available at (accessed July 2009).
8. Oregon Department of Agriculture (2009) Oregon Century Farm and Ranch Program. Available at (accessed July 2009).

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