Living History: Meet the Philip Foster Farm camper turned staffer
In 2010, Katherine Smith, who goes by Katie, stepped onto Philip Foster Farm for the first time. Eight years old with a love for history passed down from her father, Smith fell in love with the living history homestead.
Now, twelve years later, 20 year old Smith sits at a wooden picnic table beneath a gazebo on the property. Her floral dress reaches her ankles in a modern take on country wear, and her auburn hair is up in twists. She works here at the farm and has done so since she was fourteen.
"I started here as a camp kid when I was eight, and kind of never left," Smith says.
She started returning the following years as a camper, and eventually started volunteering at the farm as she got older. In high school, she became involved with the Trails Across Time Living History Immersion Program through Summit Learning Charter, a 6th-12th grade program that has students working from a one room schoolhouse two times a week and online schooling for the other three days of the school week.
Being in the Trails Across Time program gave Smith volunteer experience at the farm that quickly gave way to being offered a job at the site.
"Through that process I learned how to run the till and run tours, deal with paperwork and teachers and train volunteers and things," Smith said. "And I think January of the next year I was offered the job.
From that moment forward, Smith began working a part time job at the farm, starting as a tour leader and now working as an assistant manager, office administrator and director in training.
"With each additional responsibility that they've given me I've learned more and it's built a lot of confidence not only in what I do and what I want to do, but also outside of work, I know what I'm capable of," Smith said.
Smith's job at the farm looks different every day. Some days she's indoors logging the site's artifacts or inputting volunteer hours. Other days she's leading tours of campers or working behind the counter at the site's store. And, alongside all this, Smith gained a variety of skills far beyond the job description.
"I'm not only an office administrator and assistant manager but I'm also an emergency seamstress when I need to be," Smith said. "I got trained in first aid for a while and I got a food handlers license just for things that were popping up and needed a position."
The work at the farm has been busy yet rewarding for Smith, however she is now seeing the twelve years at the site coming to a close.
An engagement ring sits on Smith's left hand ring finger. She is leaving soon, eloping with her partner and moving to Salem to work as a float teller. It's a shift from the 12 years spent at the farm in Eagle Creek, growing up just seven minutes away from the place she attended as a child, went to school at, and worked at for the majority of her life.
She holds up a photo of her wedding dress, a white skirt with a long train attached to an ornate bodice. The ending is bittersweet, an undeniably exciting future spans ahead of Smith as she prepares to leave the farm. But the upcoming joy cannot completely erase the sadness that leaving will cause.
"Yesterday I made the mistake of starting to go back through photos, and I cried so much," Smith said with a slight laugh.
She recalls a moment last month while planning for the farm's Mary Charlotte Garden Party.
"We were standing in the Lucy house all together…" Smith said. "All the women of the farm together in one room talking about how we're going to plan this thing just like we do every year and realizing 'Oh, I'm not going to do this again. This is it.' And your heart kind of hits your stomach."
Despite her upcoming departure, Smith holds the farm in reverence in how it affected her life.
"I'm very grateful for the farm," Smith said. "If it weren't for the farm I'd be in a very different place."
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