A pivotal figure in the development of agricultural history presentations in museums, Darwin Kelsey, who died in 2016, was also among today’s innovators, challenging the field of public history to take an active orientation to issues of critical urgency in food and farming. His career spanned influential work at Old Sturbridge Village in the 1960s, Lake Metroparks Farmpark, and the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy, a unique organization that partners with farm preservation and support efforts within Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio.
An excerpt from our interview with Darwin:
We don’t wax very nostalgic about the past. The future is really about understanding the past and the present, what works and what isn’t working, and what we can do about that. We’re not about really replicating the past. It’s not that there aren’t ideas or lessons there, but there was a lot of screwing up there, too. America was settled in ways that really did screw up the environment–denuded the mountains, denuded the plains. Most of our programs talk about what works, who’s doing what to solve problems. On the back page of all the requests for proposals that we send to prospective farmers is a quote from John Ikerd that I love: “Some folks have a hard time believing that the future can be much different, and possibly much better than the past or the present. In reality the future is almost never like the past or present. The challenge is to help shape a future that we want.” I think that’s what we’re trying to do.