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Who is Responsible for Landscape Stewardship on Farm Land

By Guest Observer July 1, 2015

By Marianne Penker, originally published on the Project Hercules Cultural Landscapes Blog

Many rural landscapes are shaped by centuries of agricultural land use. As agricultural land use practices change, landscapes transform. In fact, transformation is a key-characteristic of any agricultural landscape. Most of these transformations occur without major notice. Others, however, are perceived as unwelcome and result in requests for landscape stewardship interventions. But who is responsible for defining the stewardship goals and the interventions needed for agricultural landscapes, for implementing and bearing the extra efforts or forgone profits?

Throughout Europe, farmers and their interest groups, nature conservation societies, grass roots, tourism associations and heritage organisations struggle for the allocation of rights and duties and for the definition of shared landscape development goals. Despite the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, socio-cultural and institutional differences play out in diverging interaction patterns of civil society activities, market instruments and state based stewardship schemes. Different legal regulations restrict farmers in their land use choices in favour of societal landscape goals. For pro-active landscape stewardship, public authorities often provide financial incentives or compensation payments for extra efforts or forgone benefits of farmers. Non-governmental organisations or local civil society also might bear some of the responsibility for landscape stewardship. And we also find market based mechanisms, such as eat-the-view or food origin labels. Consumers willing to pay extra for these labelled products reward farmers for their pro-landscape behaviour.

Practical landscape stewardship experiences indicate a need for self-organisation, collective action and intermediary organisations facilitating the deliberation of landscape goals and the allocation of responsibilities, costs and benefits among private land owners, state organisations, consumers and civil society. The agriculture chapter of the edited volume on landscape stewardship will look into theories of collective action and contrast them with actual agricultural landscape stewardship practices in different countries in Europe and beyond.

In a nutshell, there is no straightforward answer to the question of responsibility. Neither, we have clear indications if landscape governance should be better organised on the local level to provide context-sensitive solutions and landscape diversity or rather on the (inter-)national level to take into account international agreements. Dichotomies between central and de-central, private or state instruments blur in the face of landscape stewardship on farm land. In fact, context-specific landscape stewardship based on self-organisation or participation needs to be embedded in national and international governance frameworks. Then, the landscape can actually be an outcome of local people, their costumes and institutions that shape the diversity and uniqueness of landscapes (i.e., the ‘root meaning of landscape’ according to Olwig 2002) without jeopardizing internationally protected bio-cultural diversity or endangered species.


Olwig, K.R., 2002. Landscape, Nature, and the Body Politic. From Britain’s Renaissance to America’s New World. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.


Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project Wins National Award

By Guest Observer September 30, 2013
Credit: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural Heritage Project documents the impact of farming on the state’s economy and culture.

By Dr. Sally McMurry

The term “gray literature” well conveys the level of visibility for much work done at agencies like the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office. Historic Structures Reports, National Register nominations, exhibits, and drawings may have limited long-term public exposure even though they are often based on high-quality research and analysis. The Vernacular Architecture Forum (VAF) has recognized that these efforts often make exemplary contributions to our understanding of the built environment, and the organization honors such work through the Paul E. Buchanan Award. VAF spokesman Michael Chiarappa has characterized the award as a “testament to VAF’s commitment to civic engagement and the idea that broad participation in the study and understanding of vernacular landscapes provides an indispensible social good.” We are proud to announce that the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project is the 2013 winner.

The VAF established the Buchanan Award in 1993 to honor Paul E. Buchanan, for many years the Director of Architectural Research at Colonial Williamsburg. Mr. Buchanan had a legendary reputation as a master interpreter and field observer; according to the VAF website, he “set the standard for architectural fieldwork in America” and mentored many who went on to make important contributions in the field. Past Buchanan Award winners have included field reports, exhibits, public programming, digital media productions, restoration projects, and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation. According to 2013 prize committee chair Michael Chiarappa, the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project merited the award for providing “unprecedented guidance in studying Pennsylvania’s agricultural landscapes” and establishing “a framework for honoring and protecting them” through National Register listing.

The VAF was founded in 1980 to promote the study and preservation of ordinary buildings and landscapes from all times and places. The term “vernacular” is flexible and has come to encompass not only building types but methodologies as well. Vernacular architecture study emphasizes social and cultural context and commonly employs analytical tools from diverse disciplines – anthropology, gender studies, and the like. The organization’s membership comes from diverse backgrounds. Some work in academic institutions in disciplines like anthropology, folklore, geography, history, architectural history, and art history. Others staff (and often lead) museums, government agencies, and private firms. All share a passionate commitment to understanding and celebrating everyday landscapes, from colonial era folk housing to 20th-century suburban enclaves to industrial complexes. With over 600 members in the US and other countries, the VAF has been a major contributor to a fundamental rethinking of which buildings and landscapes are valuable (and why), and how to study them.

The Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project’s emphasis on typical agricultural buildings and landscapes is very much in keeping with the VAF’s founding principles. From the outset, the project framework treated Pennsylvania’s agricultural past broadly. For example, it acknowledged that diversified production prevailed until the mid-20th century and developed ways of portraying different kinds of diversified farming. As importantly, the conceptualization went beyond soils, topography, and markets to include social factors like land tenure, cultural repertoires, the gender organization of farm work, political factors, and labor systems. This approach accounts for ALL historic resources on a farm — it doesn’t stop with just the house and barn. Now we can better understand the tenant houses, “mansion” houses, multiple barn granaries, large machine sheds, and crop rotation patterns that typify the Central Valleys. We can see the role of cultural repertoires in making a three-bay “English” barn different from a three-bay German “ground” barn from the same period. We can appropriately interpret the Adams and Erie County fruit-belt areas where migrant workers were so important, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania region where much depended on women’s labor in home dairying. In turn, by enumerating specifically and comprehensively the buildings and landscape features typical for each region, the Registration Requirements allow users to assess a property’s eligibility quickly and accurately.

Finally, the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project products are good examples of VAF’s commitment to public education and outreach. The entire corpus of work is accessible on the Web. This includes census maps and manuscripts, a Researcher’s Guide, narratives for each of the state’s sixteen historic agricultural regions, a bibliography, farm survey forms, and (my favorite) an Agricultural Field Guide to help users identify barns, outbuildings, and landscape features. We hope that this accessible, powerful, award-winning tool will result in more National Register nominations from Pennsylvania’s historic farming community.

Sally McMurry is Professor of History at Penn State University (University Park) and served as Principal Investigator for the Pennsylvania Agricultural History Project.

This post first appeared on August 21, 2013, in “Pennsylvania Historic Preservation” the Blog of the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office and is reprinted with the permission of the that office


New Featured Area

By Brenda Barrett December 28, 2012

Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Silos and Smokestacks

Silos and Smokestacks NHA

Located in the heart of America’s tall grass prairie, northeastern Iowa includes some of the world’s most fertile soil. Across a gently undulating terrain, the landscape breaks into hills, valleys and bluffs as it approaches the Mississippi River at its eastern border. Diverse Native peoples farmed the valleys and managed the upland prairie with fire to improve habitat for game. Europeans arriving in the 1850s divided up the lands into individual farms. Many of these new settlers were immigrants from all corners of Europe. In the twentieth century, technological changes such as seed hybridization, food processing and preservation, and widespread mechanization expanded agricultural production. The region’s increased productivity helped supply world markets with food and grain. Local universities further developed the area as a center of agribusiness innovation. Urban centers supported packinghouses, farm equipment factories, and transportation links to support an agricultural economy.

As in all agriculturally-based economies, the region was buffeted by fluctuations in climate, the national economy and world markets. By the end of the twentieth century, it also faced other difficulties. This part of Iowa struggled with the loss of established food processing facilities, which impacted the vitality of the urban centers. The farming population was aging, some prime agricultural land was falling out of production, and there was farm consolidation that changed both appearance of the landscape and community vitality. More positively, the region still had a strong tradition of family farming and was known for its work ethic and traditional values.

In 1991, a new nonprofit, Silos and Smokestacks, surveyed one of the region’s depressed urban centers as part of an economic revitalization scheme. The survey found that the city’s heritage and economic well-being was inextricably linked to the larger rural landscape. Following on this work, the NPS was asked to study the potential national significance of the region. The resulting NPS Special Resource Study determined that northeast Iowa had made significant contributions to the story of national and international agriculture and proposed designation of a 17-county area as a new entity to be called a heritage partnership to tell this story.

One year later Congress designated a substantially larger region, 37 counties in all, as America’s Agricultural Heritage Partnership. This legislation also authorized a new a local management entity made up of representatives from volunteer associations, private businesses and state and local political subdivisions to interpret and promote the natural and cultural resources that contributed to the region’s significance. Similar to a National Heritage Area, the partnership was a large lived in landscape, which was to be managed locally with the federal government’s role limited to financial and technical assistance .

In the beginning, the new America’s Agricultural Heritage Partnership, which became known by the name of Silos and Smokestacks, faced many challenges. These included the scale of the initiative, which was over 20,000 square miles. Another was the rural agrarian culture, which places a high premium on individual action and on self-reliance. To overcome community concerns about the role of the national government in this new heritage designation, the original legislation authorized the Department of Agriculture to serve as the lead federal agency, given that this department was the traditional federal agency liaison to the farm community (NPS 2004). However, the project stalled when the Department could not envision itself in this new and unfamiliar role as a provider of heritage assistance.

Despite these setbacks, the nonprofit management entity, authorized in the legislation, persevered and built a strong partnership network. In 2000, the NPS was designated as the lead federal partner and the region became part of the agency’s National Heritage Area program. This program now has 49 Congressionally designated areas that receive assistance from the NPS (NPS National Heritage Areas, n.d.; National Park System Advisory Board 2006; Barrett and Mitchell 2003; Barrett and Wood 2003). The heritage area focused on interpretation of the agricultural story in order to implement the partnership network in a way that respected the area’s traditional values of independence and voluntarism. The primary goals were to add economic value through increased heritage tourism and to share the story with residents and visitors.

Over the last ten years, this focus on telling the story and adding economic value has been well received within the 37 counties. The area has 108 formal partnerships built on existing, valued community assets that strengthen the sense of regional identity. It has connected these partner sites around a series of broader interpretive themes and built the capacity of the organizations with targeted grants, workshops and technical assistance. Linking the areas’ identity to the NPS brand, regional signage programs, and multiple social media campaigns have helped promote the heritage value of this very large landscape. A recent evaluation documented that over 3 million people visit heritage sites a year. It also found that the heritage area responded to demand for youth programming, by adding a substantial educational component with a focus on history of farming, reading the landscape, and the impact of agricultural programs and policies. There have been 1,000 participants in training programs and 500,000 visits to the award winning web-based ‘Camp Silos’.

In conclusion, the Americas Agricultural Heritage Partnership has lived up its name and developed a collaborative approach where partners work together toward common goals. It is also able to tackle emerging issues through new partnerships, for example, flood assessment studies with Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, tours to introduce wine-making in the region, and supporting food security through heritage plants and breeds exchanges (Silos and Smokestacks NHA n.d.). This strategy has overcome the initial concerns of residents about governmental designation and outside control of agricultural resources. For National Heritage Areas, the NPS’s role is to be one of the partners offering guidance, limited funding and strong brand recognition. The nationally significant cultural landscape is still managed by the people that live in it, but with a much greater appreciation of the place they call home.