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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Walla Walla Valley farms also produce scholarships and grants

Walla Walla Union Bulletin Op-Ed Walla Walla Valley farms also produce scholarships and grants

“Farm to Table” — food that is locally produced and available directly to consumers — is increasingly popular.

The availability of local produce and meats from the rich agricultural Walla Walla Valley is part of our high quality of life. But did you know that farmland in our Valley also produces scholarships and grants?

The Blue Mountain Community Foundation is also “local and direct” as a community foundation — holding and investing assets for the greater good through making grants and scholarships. A neutral nonprofit that can and does benefit many other nonprofit organizations in the region. But there has been a group of potential donors in our area we have not served as well as we could. Until recently the Community Foundation has not been able to give farmers the option of giving agricultural land, keeping it in production and keeping the family name alive.

Several farmers contacted us last year asking what their options might be if they gave their farm to the Community Foundation. At the time the Foundation’s policies were to sell and invest the proceeds of any gift of real estate in order to grow the assets in this way. After a couple of these conversations it became clear that the Community Foundation needed to change its policies in order to better serve the community. We didn’t have to look far for an example, either — only as far as Highway 124 and the Touchet River, west of Prescott. The Community Foundation has been the owner and trustee of the Lamar Farm since the early 2000s. This land produces wheat AND scholarships!

In 1872, James Lamar bought land in this part of the county known as the Eureka Flat, whose fertile soil has been measured to a depth of 200 feet. His brother Joseph joined him a few years later. Both were originally from Weston, Mo., and tried their hands at various endeavors in California and Oregon before finding their home in the Walla Walla Valley. Starting with sheep ranching, they began cultivating wheat for the first time there in 1881. The land is still in production and still is known as “Lamar Farm” even though no one with the name of Lamar has been associated with it for a long time. This is possible because it has become part of a nonprofit organization that is able to exist in perpetuity.

The Lamars were an interesting family. Based on articles written around 1912, it seems that the brothers were known for having a good sense of humor as well as being frugal. Despite this frugality, they were also known as being warmly hospitable. They gave generously to the Stubblefield Home for Boys and supported Whitman College. Both brothers were lifelong bachelors despite the best efforts of friends to “fix them up” They preferred to remain in the original cabin, built in 1863 and without electricity or running water, which may have had something to do with their continuing bachelorhood. Although they built modern homes for employees on the farm, they preferred the old cabin because it was more “homelike”. That historic cabin, one of the oldest in Walla Walla County, is still located on the farm.

The story of how the Lamar Farm came to the Community Foundation continues through one more generation of Lamars. With James gone, and neither of the brothers having children, Joseph wrote to the brother, L.L. Lamar, who had stayed in their hometown, and presented an opportunity to his three sons. He promised the farm to the nephew(s) who would move to Walla Walla and take on the farm. Nephew James N. Lamar was the one who took him up on it, and who ultimately donated the farm to charity through a bequest.

James N. Lamar passed away in 1963, a resident of Weston, Mo. We do not know much about the nephew James Lamar except that he continued the have the land farmed, visited Walla Walla from time to time and was philanthropic. We know it was important to him that the Lamar name continue in Walla Walla. His estate created a charitable foundation to hold the land, and Baker Boyer Bank was the trustee. This arrangement lasted until the early 2000s when the Community Foundation became owner and trustee, and the charitable foundation was dissolved.

Although the Lamar Farm’s path to the Community Foundation was circuitous, gifts of agricultural land to the Community Foundation are thanks to the clear commitment of the Board and staff to honoring donor intent. For James N. Lamar, not only does this gift result in over $100,000 a year in scholarships (half to Whitman College), but also to fulfill his expressed wish that his uncles’ graves have flowers occasionally and that a permanent bronze plaque be placed on the property telling their story. 

From Farm to Philanthropy is a real option for people wishing to honor their family’s heritage and benefit the community for generations to come.

Kari Isaacson is executive director of the Blue Mountain Community Foundation. For more information about the program and the Farm Committee advising the Foundation, please contact Isaacson at kari@bluemountainfoundation.org.

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