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Student helps digitize Barnes-Aastad history

MORRIS – Beginning in January, Center for Small Towns’ student Abigail Thebault-Spieker has been digitally archiving documents for the Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association.

The idea for the project began when Dean Meichsner, Barnes-Aastad treasurer, was trying to find the original by-laws and realized that it would benefit Barnes-Aastad to have a digital archive of all the historical and current documents.

Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association is a support group for the USDA Agricultural Research Service that was founded in the 1950s. The group consists of agribusinesses and individuals who support ag research. Each year, members go to Washington D.C. to express stakeholder support for the lab.

Prior to the project, Barnes-Aastad had not formally organized and archived their historical content. Originally, Thebault-Spieker scanned multiple boxes of materials including meeting minutes, correspondences, planning documents and commemorations dating back to 1959. Once she completed the scanning, Thebault-Spieker began compiling significant events from each of the years for a presentation that she gave at the Barnes-Aastad annual meeting.

“None of the original Barnes-Aastad group is around to share the history [with new members],” said Meichsner. “Unless you have a history to look back to, you wouldn’t know what happened. It will be nice to be able to share this information as the membership continues to change.”

In addition to digitally archiving the documents, Barnes-Aastad now has research to highlight how the organization has evolved over the years.

“It was comforting to know the history,” said Sue Dieter, Barnes-Aastad consultant. “The documents showed that history keeps repeating itself. There is a cycle where there is not enough money. But the history highlights the initiative of the [Barnes-Aastad] group and the people working hard.”

Membership for the Barnes-Aastad Soil and Water Conservation Research Association remains open.

“We have 12 members on the Board of Directors and everyone is a volunteer,” said Meichsner. “Being volunteers is a kept when it comes to DC. They are giving up time to visit with senators and representatives, which makes a difference. The [elected officials] are used to seeing paid people lobbying but we are all volunteers.”