OTHELLO, Wash. — For 37 years, Pirie and Jane Grant have grown hay, wheat, beans and potatoes on their central Washington farm. They've tilled the soil, rotated crops and nurtured their slice of the land so well that agricultural groups have recognized the Grants for their sustainable practices.
The art community is now recognizing it too. Through a partnership between American Farmland Trust and Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Wash., artists from across the Pacific Northwest are visiting farms in the region to document -- in their own way -- conservation efforts by farmers.
Some are using photographs; others are painting landscapes. Michelle Arab, a landscape architect from Seattle and the artist assigned to the Grant farm, is building a sculpture she hopes will represent the wildlife habitat the family has fostered for decades.
"You really do get the sense that they care about this place and wildlife," Arab said, taking a break from gathering tules from a wetland for her artwork. "I only hope I can do justice to this place."
A nearly $45,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services made the artist-farmer exchange possible.
Under the program, 12 artists from Washington, Idaho and Oregon each visited farms in their home states. Their assignment: Use art to showcase sustainable land practices, conservation efforts and environmentally friendly farming.
The image of spiky-haired artists roaming a conservative farmer's land might seem unusual, said Don Stuart, Northwest field director for American Farmland Trust, an agricultural advocacy group. But sometimes it takes offbeat efforts to get the point across, he said.
"If people can see an artist's rendition of how a farmer has dealt with erosion of soil, or how he has preserved wildlife habitat on the farm, maybe the fact that it's a little different will make that message stick," Stuart said.
The artists appreciate the opportunity to explore new territory, said Lee Musgrave, curator of contemporary exhibits at the Maryhill Museum of Art.
"There aren't a lot of exhibits that deal with the issues these farmers deal with, or in an artistic way," Musgrave said. "I see that as a real opportunity for this exhibit."
In the process, normally tight-lipped farmers have found themselves sharing their views on everything from pesticide use to God. The two sides can't help finding common ground, said Jane Grant, a farmer's wife who paints in her spare time.
"I think art and farming go together. They should go together -- it's management of the landscape," she said.
Bonnie Meltzer of Portland, Ore., has begun piecing together a sculpture in the shape of a farmer's overalls. The hinged front panel opens to reveal three panels that each tell a story of the Sweeney farm in Dayton, Ore.