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A Greater Applegate: Creating community through the culture of place

In Southern Oregon’s remote Applegate Valley, community organizers find that the love for a region can outweigh political, economic, and religious divisions.

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Smoke from multiple Southern Oregon fires couldn't keep Applegate residents from gathering for the first Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Smoke from multiple Southern Oregon fires couldn’t keep Applegate residents from gathering for the first Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

September felt like summer in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon. People occasionally mentioned the climate crisis, with a glance around as though they could see it lurking. You certainly could feel the relentless heat, the temperatures spiking into the 90s and not sinking low enough by bedtime. It seemed like an extended Oregon summer in another way, too, as ocean breezes pushed smoke, likely from the Anvil or Flat Fires near the coast, to settle heavily into the valley 60 miles inland. 

Despite this, the inaugural Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair got underway as scheduled one Saturday afternoon. Volunteers set up tents to share information from around the valley. There was the executive director of Pacifica, an outdoor-education nonprofit in Williams; a community leader from Ruch with an Applegate trivia game (the prize: a paragliding flight); and representatives from farms, artist groups, and historical societies from points between. The privately owned site for the fair was of local interest, too. You could begin to measure how long a person had lived in the Applegate if they told you, with a grin, that they remembered this tucked-away lawn as having once been a great place for young people to party late into the night.

Neighbors from across the valley braved smoky skies to enjoy food, beverages, and music at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Neighbors from across the valley braved smoky skies to enjoy food, beverages, and music at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

The fair began with a recognition of the people who had once been the area’s only human inhabitants, the Dakubetede, who spoke a dialect of Athapaskan and migrated about 700 years ago from what is now Alaska and Canada. Then folk, country, and rock bands and solo performers took turns on the stage set in front of a cluster of towering oak trees. Reusable commemorative glasses of local beer and wine were poured. The aromas of farm-to-table food curled in tendrils through the wildfire smoke.

And perhaps something else – noticeable, but not visible – started to happen, too: rich conversations around resources, resiliency, and community, exactly the kind of networking that the fair’s organizer, A Greater Applegate (AGA), a community-building organization serving the Applegate Valley, aims to sustain and enhance in all its efforts.

Don Tipping, a local farmer and AGA board member, delighted kids with a cider pressing station at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Don Tipping, a local farmer and AGA board member, delighted kids with a cider pressing station at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

Remote communities look for common ground

Since 2019, AGA has been using local connections from Murphy to Ruch and from Wilderville to McKee Bridge to bring together residents of the different areas of the region to share their joys, needs, and concerns. The organization’s mission is to help people define a cultural and economic identity for the Applegate Valley, one that identifies common ground and develops eventual networks for businesses, nonprofit organizations, independent artists, farms, and wineries. Events like the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair have been critical to this process.

“If there was only a way that we could trace the impact from those conversations or what it would lead to,” AGA co-director Megan Fehrman mused the day after the fair. “Something could be happening right now as a result of Saturday, or it could be ten years from now.” 

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Cut A Rug, a band from Williams, performed an early evening set to the delight of the picnickers. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate.
Cut A Rug, a band from Williams, performed an early evening set to the delight of the picnickers. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate.

In this sprawling valley of small, geographically isolated localities, where there is no central downtown and no single physical hub, people coming together for a shared event is itself a community-development success. AGA leadership trusts that further impact will happen when it needs to happen. Seth Kaplan, AGA’s first director, recently retired, summarized it this way: “Everything moves at the speed of community!” It will take as long as it will take. 

Vineyards, cattle ranches, and small organic farms dot the Applegate Valley, its alluvial soil enriched by the Applegate River which flows its length. Photo: Kristin Thiel
Vineyards, cattle ranches, and small organic farms dot the Applegate Valley, its alluvial soil enriched by the Applegate River which flows its length. Photo: Kristin Thiel

50 miles long, across three counties, two states, and 14 remote communities

If you’ve tapped your toes at the Britt Music & Arts Festival, you’ve been just over Jacksonville Hill from the Applegate Valley, or as it’s known locally, the Applegate. If you’ve bought Rogue Creamery cheese from its headquarters in Central Point, charged your electric car at the supercharger in Grants Pass, or even made a pilgrimage to Mt. Shasta, you’ve been just outside the Applegate. The rural valley – 500 square miles – sits mostly in Oregon, but, as it follows the meandering Applegate River for 50 miles, it technically crosses three counties and two states: Josephine and Jackson Counties in Oregon and Siskiyou County in California. 

The rural Applegate Valley follows the Applegate River for 50 miles, across three counties and two states. Photo: courtesy of artist Gregg Payne and the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council
The rural Applegate Valley follows the Applegate River for 50 miles, across three counties and two states. Photo: courtesy of artist Gregg Payne and the Applegate Partnership and Watershed Council

Geographically, the valley is defined by the Applegate River, which starts in the California part of the Siskiyou Mountains and flows northwest through Oregon until it meets the Rogue River just west of Grants Pass. Known by the Dakubetede as S’bink (Beaver), the river was renamed for, and by, Lindsay Applegate when he first visited the area on his way to find gold in California in the late 1840s. 

Within this rugged variability there is pure wonder as well. The Applegate, and the greater Rogue Valley and Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion, is recognized internationally as home to some of the oldest and most diverse geology and flora on the planet. During the last Ice Age, the area was one of the few not covered by glaciers. Thanks also to the Siskiyous, which arc between the Cascade and Coastal ranges, and the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean climate is such that evergreens and subalpine trees, savannahs and meadows, and redwoods and oaks coexist in this one watershed.

Longtime Applegate residents identify their communities by the watershed, or "drainage," they live in, rather than a town. Photo courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Longtime Applegate residents identify their communities by the watershed, or “drainage,” they live in, rather than a town. Photo courtesy of A Greater Applegate

White colonizers in the mid-1800s settled into a series of self-sufficient “hubs,” each about seven to eight miles from the next. People still don’t use the word “town” to describe the valley’s organization. Moving east to west along what is now Route 238, Ruch, Applegate, Williams, Murphy, and Wilderville are the county-recognized hubs through the valley, though none currently offer the variety of services that would make them self-sufficient. Residents recognize 14 neighborhoods across the valley, speaking of which “drainage area” or simply “drainage” they live in, again defining their home as part of a watershed. 

Gold and timber first attracted outsiders, which led to farming and ranching as well. More recently, wine and marijuana have dominated local industry. Nearly 6% population growth occurred between 2010 and 2021.

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A new age of community-development endeavors

AGA board member Paul Tipton, until recently the board chair, has witnessed decades of community development efforts in the Applegate. When he moved to the valley in 1972, he caught the tail-end of community granges. Formed decades earlier as agricultural cooperatives, Applegate granges at their social peak hosted everything from Father’s Day barbeques to dances that lasted well past midnight. The primary grange, Upper Applegate Grange (UAG), engaged in historical preservation and supported the creation of the McKee Bridge Historical Society, which continues today. 

Paul Tipton, longtime Applegate resident and former A Greater Applegate board chair. Photo: Seth Kaplan
Paul Tipton, longtime Applegate resident and former A Greater Applegate board chair. Photo: Seth Kaplan

In the 1990s, a community newsmagazine, The Applegater, launched to offer a single communication tool for the valley, which continues today both online and quarterly in print. 

AGA began as an all-volunteer organization, with Kaplan as chair of the board and Tipton as vice chair. Kaplan had moved to the Applegate with an eye on retirement, but, as an experienced community organizer from California, where nearly half his work territory was rural, unincorporated Alameda County, he was drawn to the community needs of his new home. 

In California, Kaplan helped businesses and nonprofits connect with each other and then identify ways to enhance each other’s mission. He said he envisioned the same thing happening in the Applegate – local artists presenting in classrooms, for example, or bakers selling at a grocery store, and everyone having access to shared marketing via a valley-focused business website. With no downtown business districts in the Applegate, one-on-one connections would be necessary. Tipton said he and Kaplan hadn’t met before that first board meeting, but they immediately “forged an easy alliance” – the valley long-timer and the newcomer.

Small farms still flourish between cattle ranches and wineries. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Small farms still flourish between cattle ranches and wineries. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

Physical gathering places, preservation of historical structures, print media – Tipton named those concrete efforts as examples of community development. AGA continues that tradition with its vision plan, working groups, and many of its community-generated goals, but the touchstone it returns to again and again is less tangible: listening to what the community needs and wants and how it self-identifies. That’s part of why AGA leaders like Fehrman and Tipton think the organization has staying power. The work is never about what any one AGA leader wants, but about what the community wants.

The challenges of remote rural living

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Living in remote rural communities is, of course, nothing new to the 19,000 residents of this valley. If you get a flat tire, your cows get out, or your tractor breaks, you likely have nobody but your closest neighbors to turn to for help. Some parts still do not have cell service. But in this greatly changing world – especially regarding the economy, climate, public policy, and technology – there are bigger matters to respond to, with more serious implications, and residents of the Applegate have a new motivation to work together, as they understand the need to be more systematic and unified in their response. 

The Salant Family Ranch in Ruch is one of the many family-owned small businesses that dot the Applegate Valley. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.
The Salant Family Ranch in Ruch is one of the many longtime, family-owned small businesses that dot the Applegate Valley. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.

Major challenges to this are twofold. First, the Applegate Valley area is unincorporated. Residents receive limited to no services, and where services do exist, they are uneven because they come from multiple jurisdictions. They also do not have direct government representation, which can lead to feeling ignored or not prioritized. “When you look at the state processes and the county processes and all the things that are coming down, rural, unincorporated communities have no levers to push. They’re never included,” explained Fehrman. Kaplan was even blunter: “I came to understand that those with power and influence didn’t know we existed.” 

Second, exact needs are not always clear, in large part because there is not a lot of data on the area and its residents. As AGA wrote in its Applegate Valley Vision, “Not being able to understand how many of us are living under what circumstances is just one of the ways that impacts our ability to identify as a place and a community.”

Metalworker Cheryl Garcia is one of the many artists who have participated in AGA's Arts Working Group. Her oversized metal flowers line the Art Walk at Cantrall Buckley Park. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Metalworker Cheryl Garcia is one of the many artists who have participated in AGA’s Arts Working Group. Her oversized metal flowers line the Art Walk at Cantrall Buckley Park. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

AGA sees opportunity in this. Fehrman said, “We’re out here in this place where there are political differences, there are religious differences. Sometimes I describe it as the place where the left meets the right, and there’s that common place in the middle of the things that we all hold dear in the valley.” 

Listening – where the left meets the right

In 2021, AGA provided space – listening sessions – for residents to talk about such things. Their comments synthesized into goals and strategies in the Applegate Valley Vision, a community-created North Star by which they can, collectively, keep an eye on their priorities. 

A couple years before that, Kaplan had become AGA’s first paid executive director. Fehrman joined the board and immediately recognized that her experiences with listening sessions and asset mapping could support Kaplan’s ideas. 

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Listening sessions were held across the Applegate from 2019 through 2021. AGA relied on bulletin boards in the 14 small communities to get the word out. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Listening sessions were held across the Applegate from 2019 through 2021. AGA relied on bulletin boards in the 14 small communities to get the word out. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

Fehrman’s first postgraduate job was with Oregon’s Friends of Family Farmers, and she quickly learned that small farmers knew what they didn’t want – a statewide takeover by industrial agriculture – but not what they wanted. So she hosted a series of listening sessions with those farmers. These structured, guided, in-person meetings made space for people to share their perspectives, experiences, and ideas without judgment or preconceived goals. 

When Fehrman moved to the Applegate, she and a friend hosted a series of public meetings in their free time. Neighbors brainstormed neighborhood resources and assets. Fehrman and her friend organized the feedback into a shareable map of hyper-local assets. She said they all learned they had a lot more to work with than they’d realized. 

The very first listening session held by AGA in Fall 2019 for the Little Applegate Neighborhood was held in the Common Ground Barn at Yale Creek Ranch, the site of a former Boy Scout camp. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.
The very first listening session held by AGA in Fall 2019 for the Little Applegate Neighborhood was held in the Common Ground Barn at Yale Creek Ranch, the site of a former Boy Scout camp. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.

Beginning in 2019, then picking up in 2021 after the pandemic eased, AGA proceeded with similar listening sessions and asset mapping. Kaplan and Fehrman were partners in leading these, each drawing on their previous work experiences. They tried to reach as many Applegate residents as they could to let them know about the listening sessions, which would be open to everyone, participation always voluntary. They asked businesses, industry associations, and other community-based organizations to spread the word among their networks, and they advertised online, in The Applegater newsmagazine, and on physical community bulletin boards. 

AGA did not ask people to come to them, but instead met Applegate residents where they were. Listening sessions happened in all 14 Applegate neighborhoods, in backyards and barns, wineries and school gymnasiums, even at a golf course. Each session drew anywhere from about seven to 50 individuals, with over 500 people participating in total. More than 100 students from the K–8 school in Ruch shared personal essays on what the Applegate meant to them. 

At each two-hour listening session, they discussed the same topics: the Applegate’s attributes and resources, the challenges and gaps, and the opportunities, and how those could be prioritized into actions. 

Former AGA director Seth Kaplan leads the Upper Applegate listening session at RiverCrest Ranch. Photo: Ryan Pernell.
Former AGA director Seth Kaplan leads the Upper Applegate listening session at RiverCrest Ranch. Photo: Ryan Pernell.

Alan Journet, co-facilitator of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (SOCAN), said SOCAN has been pleasantly surprised “at how effective AGA has been at bringing interested Applegaters together to discuss these issues.” Though there were differences of opinion, the sessions were all about listening, not discussing and certainly not debating, so all comments were recorded and no immediate “conclusion” was reached. 

“The enthusiasm was palpable – that people were coming to ask them and that they got to talk about the things they loved about this place and that they were scared of or unsure of,” Fehrman said of each session.

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A community vision emerges

After the sessions concluded, Fehrman, with Kaplan’s support, got to work organizing the community’s feedback. During the multi-month deep dive into the session notes, 25 goals emerged, with five focus areas each, that might be met by the 90 strategies identified, with more than 500 actionable ideas. Topics include housing, education, transportation, the local economy, and communication; resiliency around wildfires, earthquakes, and climate changes; and internal diversification and equity and representation at the county and state levels. 

Listening sessions attendees listen as AGA's Megan Fehrman clarifies a point. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Listening session attendees pay close attention as AGA’s Megan Fehrman (center) clarifies a point. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

Goals and action items alike all came directly from the community in the listening sessions; AGA just looked for the patterns in the comments. These form the bulk of the nearly 90-page Applegate Valley Vision. 

The draft was then presented in two big community meetings, one at each end of the valley, and more input was requested on particularly complex topics. Tourism in the valley, for example, is considered a mixed bag by many residents; emergency preparedness can be a matter of life or death. AGA felt that these, plus eight other topics, could benefit from more community exploration before their sections were finalized. In this way, the community who had supplied the information for the vision plan then also shaped the document itself. 

Each listening session bringing interested Applegaters together to discuss the critical issues facing all valley residents. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.
Each listening session drew interested Applegaters together to discuss the critical issues facing all valley residents. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.

Now, the community is following through on this self-directed work with individual working groups. Journet, for example, went from being a participant in a listening session to helping establish the Climate Working Group because his personal and professional passions focus on the vision plan’s climate-related actions. Other working groups include Food & Farm, Outdoor Recreation, Forest & Fire, History, and the Arts. Each group identifies and works towards its own goals. For example, the Arts Working Group, which includes performance artists, visual artists, graphics designers, woodworkers and others, is exploring art workshops, open studio tours, a shared makers’ space or gallery space, and an increased connection with Applegate Valley wineries and their existing events.  

One thing that all residents of the Applegate Valley agree on is that this remote corner of Southern Oregon is a very special place, and one worth preserving. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
One thing that all residents of the Applegate Valley agree on is that this remote corner of Southern Oregon is a very special place, and one worth preserving. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

Placemaking – identifying what makes the Applegate so special

The process has been an effort in self-identifying: people imagining their own community for themselves. This kind of placemaking doesn’t make a community something that it is not, but instead highlights and lifts up what it already is. Placemaking, Fehrman explained, is a community saying, “‘We have this really special and unique place, and we’re going to enhance the things that make it special and unique, and we’re going to focus on the things that the people that live here need or want to make it even better for their quality of life. And when you come visit, you can experience that.’” 

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Christina Ammon, a longtime Applegate resident who has worked with AGA as a copywriter and helped it create a Wander Applegate website aimed at locals and tourists alike, defined placemaking as putting yourself in a spot from which you can advocate for yourself. This is especially important for a community with currently little say in county and state government. 

Author Hazel Vaarde, longtime resident of the Little Applegate instills a plant tour with her own mix of placemaking advice, ancient lore, and humor. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Author Hazel Vaarde, longtime resident of the Little Applegate, instills a plant tour with her own mix of placemaking advice, ancient lore, and humor. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

Now retired after Fehrman’s gradual transition into AGA directorship, Kaplan still lives in the Applegate. During a break at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair, he explained that establishing AGA early was necessary to successfully build community in a systematic, sustainable, formalized way – in a way that went beyond one-off neighbor-to-neighbor relationships and that would be able to grow the area’s resources. Without such an organization as AGA to mobilize residents, apply for governments funding, and even record the community’s self-expressed identity, discussion would be unlikely to transform into action. 

AGA is not alone in its efforts. AGA, the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization, and the Siuslaw Vision were the first three members of The Ford Family Foundation’s Rural Community Building Collective (RCBC), which now connects community organizations across Oregon and Siskiyou County, California. Susy Lacer, co-chair of Siuslaw Vision’s steering committee, said, “AGA is an amazing organization. I am always inspired by what they have accomplished. … I have relied many times on lessons and learnings they’ve generously shared.”

Applegate Valley ranchers still exemplify the rugged, individual spirit of the original settlers of the region. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Applegate Valley ranchers still exemplify the rugged, individual spirit of the original settlers of the region. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

And, thanks in part to the diversity of resident-driven goals and strategies guiding AGA’s work, AGA has been received well by its community. Perhaps no one prioritizes all the 500 actionable ideas in the Applegate Valley Vision, but likely every individual can find at least one they agree needs to happen. 

As is the case everywhere, the people of the Applegate Valley are not monolithic in their perspectives and lived experiences. But the rural/urban divide often supersedes differences in politics, religion, and social outlook, uniting all Applegate residents as “rural,” no matter any other disagreements they may have with each other.

A bumper sticker on a vehicle from Buncom expresses the philosophy of valley residents. Photo: A Greater Applegate
A bumper sticker on a vehicle from Buncom expresses the philosophy of valley residents. Photo: A Greater Applegate

“Most folks are aware of the ‘differences’ here, but it’s not really an issue. We all have to live together and do business with each other,” said Fehrman. This translates to how AGA, an apolitical and nonreligious nonprofit, has been received by the community. “For the most part, it feels, to me,” she added, “like a live-and-let-live attitude. If people want to get involved, they do. If not, they don’t, and we don’t bother them.” 

Tipton said that in the history of AGA, there has been only one person who wanted neither to be involved nor to ignore the group. The man told Tipton that he, and others whom he did not identify, had not had the opportunity to participate in AGA’s work. Tipton conversed with him, including welcoming him to join them now. That was nearly a year ago; the man never replied.

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“That’s part of why I think AGA has the ability to survive and grow,” Tipton said. “We do have the support of a large and committed portion of the community… We’re doing something good in the community, and people recognize it.” 

The rural nature of the Applegate is best expressed by the old Williams post office. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.
The rich history of the rural Applegate is best expressed by the old Williams post office. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.

Erin Chaparro is one of those individuals, recognizing AGA’s efforts on both a professional and a personal level. Chaparro is co-founder with her husband, Jeremy Hall, of Blossom Barn Cidery in the Applegate. She said AGA staff have been supportive from the moment their tasting room opened in March 2023, from advertising the cidery on the organization’s calendar and social media to including them in a meet-up of local farmers. AGA staff visit and discuss ways the organization could help. Chaparro also appreciates how AGA helped smooth her family’s personal transition from Eugene to the Applegate. “We didn’t expect to become members of a new community so quickly,” she said, crediting the “great sense of community” AGA fosters.

What comes next? 

From her perspective leading the Siuslaw Vision, Lacer said, “Rural community-building work is hard! We like to say that if it was easy, it would be done already.” AGA leadership agrees and keeps its expectations nimble. Kaplan said a successful AGA is simply composed of “every action that brings people together or brings greater understanding among people with different interests.” Fehrman emphasizes that AGA’s Applegate Valley Vision is more of a living document than a plan. There are no timelines or must-dos written in it. It’s a “guiding post for discussions…active, dynamic, emergent,” she pointed out. It’s a place to be inspired and to see oneself in. 

The Non-Profit Network is one of several networking groups, including the Business and the Food & Farm Networks, that have drawn people from across the valley to work together. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.
The Non-Profit Network is one of several networking groups, including the Business and the Food & Farm Networks, that have drawn people from across the valley to work together. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate.

Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh, whose House District 5 spans Southern Oregon from the Applegate Valley northeast to the Green Springs region, recognizes the legislative power within that clearly stated self-identification. Marsh was an early supporter of AGA because, she said, “rural communities can benefit from a central entity that plans, organizes, and implements an array of initiatives.” Marsh offered internet access as an example: “AGA brought the need for broadband expansion to my attention, and I was able to help secure state funding for staff capacity to focus on the issues and how to resolve them.” 

If AGA disappears tomorrow, the Applegate will continue being the Applegate. If AGA stays forever, the Applegate will continue being the Applegate. With or without a supporting community-development nonprofit, “people have to be innovative to live here,” Kaplan noted.

Local business owners gathered at the Lindsay Lodge and Restaurant for a Business Network meeting. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate
Local business owners gathered at the Lindsay Lodge and Restaurant for an AGA Business Network meeting. Photo: courtesy of A Greater Applegate

“Classic Oregon ruggedness, individualism – this is outlaw country to a certain extent,” Fehrman said. “We’re conveners, collaborators, facilitators,” she said of AGA. “We’re going to try to help others do what they do better.” For example, a resident who owns a forestry company attends all the meetings of the Forestry and Fire Working Group. In part, he does so to network professionally, Fehrman explained, but the existence of AGA’s working groups has opened the door to him engaging neighbor-to-neighbor as well. And recently, the Applegate Valley Vintners Association led the effort to launch a community glass recycling center in Ruch, with the goal to expand to several valley hubs. AGA is an official supporter of the project and helping to explore recycling options.

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“What could make more sense than being inclusive, going to where the people are, and keeping community at the center of your work?” asked Lacer. “By believing that rural people know best what is needed in their communities, and how best to achieve that, lasting and effective change can happen.”

Local celebrities, including Applegater editor Barbara Holiday, journalist and author Paul Fattig, and Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterer took on the tough job of judges for the picnic's pie contest. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Local celebrities, including Applegater editor Barbara Holiday, journalist and author Paul Fattig, and Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterer took on the tough job of judges for the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair’s pie contest. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair – united in name and place

Back at the Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair, the Jacksaphine Band played for people dancing in sundresses and short sleeves. Frontman Ernest Adan had tossed out the portmanteau – Jacksaphine for the Applegate’s primary counties of Jackson and Josephine – during a quick conversation with Ammon months before as they’d both floated along the Applegate River. Ammon brought the name to an AGA meeting, and later, in one of those middle-of-the-night-type realizations, Fehrman said she realized that a truly special community event, which is an idea in the Applegate Valley Vision, could be just that: a blending of place-names to create shared meaning from two definitions. 

Across the lawn, the satsuma plum pie from a 150-year-old grange recipe won second place in the pie-tasting contest. “This was the best plum pie I ever had,” one judge wrote. Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterer, one of the pie judges, assured those standing near him that the unique taste was not to be missed.

Jim Reiland, an AGA Board Member, holds up an award-winning pie to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by Tim Ream, the emcee and auctioneer for the day. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Jim Reiland, an AGA Board Member, holds up an award-winning pie to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by Tim Ream, the emcee and auctioneer for the day. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

At the Applegate trivia table, people lingered and laughed, exclaiming over their correct answers and begging to be able to phone a friend for the ones they didn’t know. The questions covered topics broad and deep enough for newcomer and long-timer alike – from what kind of water rights are the most coveted in the Applegate to name three flowers that grow in the Applegate to where in the Applegate can you sometimes find Korean food?

And when asked her thoughts on AGA, place, and identity, community member Raven Brault – whose “old-school peach pie perfection,” the judges called it, took first place in the pie auction – responded, “You don’t think about it, and then it makes you more connected to where you’re living.” 

Raven Brault, whose traditional peach pie took first place in the pie auction. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate
Raven Brault, whose traditional peach pie took first place in the pie competition. Photo: Angelique Stewart for A Greater Applegate

Maybe, ideally, AGA’s work is invisible, but felt in every moment of every day. Maybe, what happens is the work eventually moves out of the head – listening, talking, and planning – and finds its way, quietly and sustainably, to exist in the heart and deep in the bones, exactly where this love of place has always been for the people who make the Applegate their home.

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The second annual Jacksaphine Count(r)y Fair will be held September 21, 2024. Join the AGA email list, info@agreaterapplegate.org, to stay up-to-date, or email Megan Fehrman, megan@agreaterapplegate.org, to learn more about volunteering at the fair. Check out AGA’s Wander Applegate website to learn more about visiting the Applegate Valley.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Kristin Thiel is a Portland-based writer and editor. She has written book reviews and album liner notes, has documented composer-filmmaker collaborations, and appreciates that writing for Oregon ArtsWatch allows her to continue exploring a variety of arts topics. She is coeditor of and contributor to Fire & Water: Stories from the Anthropocene, an anthology of short stories published by Black Lawrence Press in 2021. She has lived in seven different Portland neighborhoods and explores Oregon through backpacking and road-tripping, wine and beer tasting, show and gallery visiting, running and hiking--some of those, sometimes, with her cat on a leash by her side. 
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