Oregonians learn homesteading at Rural Living Day

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. – Quinn Butterfield wasn’t sure what to expect as she took a seat in the cafeteria at Junction City High School on a sunny late winter morning in Lane County.

A few hours earlier, she left her home outside McMinnville and drove south through the Willamette Valley countryside, bound for Rural Living Day.

The daylong event, hosted by Oregon State University Extension Service, drew 85, including many who had never attended an OSU Extension event. The program included classes ranging from composting to water rights and well-water management, and small engine maintenance to wildlife management.

Butterfield and her partner, Courtney Roggenkamp, were two of the first-timers at an Extension event. They purchased their first home last year and tried to start a vegetable garden. They bought a lot of plants, “but we didn't have any clue what we were doing and most of them died,” she said.

“It was a waste of money and felt disheartening,” Butterfield said. “I’d been studying on my own to try to make this next gardening season more productive, but it’s hard to research every aspect of something without a foundation.” 

After it was over, Rural Living Day exceeded her expectations.

“We learned about our soil, how to get it tested, and additives to amend it if needed,” she said. “We learned about seed germination, which will save us money in comparison to the plants we purchased last year. We learned about how to prep the soil, how to sow seeds, and what time of year to start different vegetables. We learned so much important information that I'm confident we have the tools to have a successful garden this year.

“We also learned about different preservation techniques to ensure our harvest isn’t wasted,” she continued. “Knowing how to preserve the food we grow is really important.”

Rural Living Day was held before OSU Extension indefinitely postponed in-person events to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Now in its third year, the event is a good introduction to what OSU Extension has to offer for people who have either recently moved to the country or would like to make better use of their land, said Melissa Fery, an associate professor of practice and small farms specialist for the south Willamette Valley.

“This is a way to connect with people who haven’t ever been exposed to Extension,” Fery said. “They’re not commercial farmers, they’re not part of commodity groups. A lot of rural landowners aren’t farming commercially, or they don’t have the goal of farming commercially. They’re just managing their land. We thought Rural Living Day would be an opportunity to reach them.”

The first Rural Living Day was held in 2018, in Roseburg. In 2019 it was held in Harrisburg.

“The speakers for all the classes we went to were extremely knowledgeable and willing to answer questions,” Butterfield said. “Everyone was very kind and helpful through the process. And the very best part is that we left with a ton of resources to continue our learning and be able to reach out for help should we encounter issues this year.”

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