Roscoe Caron, former member of the Hoedads, reflects in Eugene's Register-Guard.
"At this moment of high unemployment, it may be instructive to look back on an earlier hard time in Oregon. In the early to mid-1970s, Oregon’s unemployment rate ranged from more than 6 percent to close to 9 percent. Yet during this time, a Eugene worker-owned company was born and within a few years was among Lane County’s top 10 payrolls. It became a private sector version of the Franklin Roosevelt administration’s Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Hoedads began in 1971 as a 20-person partnership. Two years later, when it became Hoedads Co-op Inc., it had expanded to 13 work crews employing close to 300 people — all during a severe recession. The Hoedads did reforestation work in every state west of the Rockies, including Alaska. In addition to planting trees, Hoedads fought forest fires, built hiking trails, restored watersheds, performed technical forestry work, collected seed cones, did precommercial thinning, and built campgrounds, fences and bridges.
Hoedads advocated for the right for women to work in the woods, formed a crew of Mexican-American workers and an all-women crew, and fought in the Oregon Legislature against the rampant use of herbicides. The Hoedads also lobbied extensively at the national and state levels for increased funds for reforestation, for worker safety and for the promotion of sustainable forestry practices.
In Eugene, Hoedads provided loans and grants to many local alternative businesses — from providing initial operating expenses for the WOW Hall to providing startup money for cooperative businesses — including restaurants, auto repair shops, wholesale food suppliers and construction companies. Hoedads also provided financial resources to environmental groups and a number of new community-based agencies.
Additionally, Hoedads spawned a dozen other forestry cooperatives in the Pacific Northwest, providing the business management and forestry skill training ground for many of those other worker-owned enterprises. The Hoedads also served as a role model for the national worker cooperative movement of the 1970s. Hoedads earned the respect of people throughout the United States for putting their ideals into practice.
The Hoedads flexed their organizational muscle in local politics, enlisting hundreds of Hoedad volunteers and electing Jerry Rust, the Hoedads’ first president, as a Lane County commissioner in 1976. Rust ultimately became the county’s longest-serving commissioner.
The Hoedads disbanded in 1994, due largely to the dramatic decline of forestry contract work on federal lands and the low-wage abuse of undocumented workers. Additionally, a new generation of motivated idealists did not emerge to replace those whose bodies had been broken down by the harshness of the physical labor, or those who had left Hoedads to pursue other livelihoods or to provide more stability for their families.
The Hoedads provided a seminal experience for hundreds of people from across the United States. It provided a rich medium for experiments in areas such as workplace democracy, gender, race, sexual orientation, alternative economics and the environment.
In their own unique way, the Hoedads personified the essence of what is called the 1960s — the idealism, the excesses, the bold experiments, the failures and successes. For a time, Hoedads and other forestry worker cooperatives cast the Oregon tree-planter as an iconic parallel to the Oregon logger.
It was a formative experience for many. Using many of the skills they had acquired, former Hoedads have gone on to contribute to society in many ways.
Many of the women in Hoedads who had challenged the male-only ethic of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are now working in the higher levels of those agencies. Former Hoedads have become consultants on Superfund sites, brokers for the Nature Conservancy, co-founders of the Emerald People’s Utility District, and even helped to write the new Russian constitution!
They have served as executives of the international eye bank, done reforestation work in defoliated Vietnam, led international campaigns against female genital cutting, directed drug and alcohol programs at White Bird and served as a president of the Oregon Country Fair. They are researchers in hydrology, neurology, geography, soils and solar energy. They are teachers, lawyers, labor organizers, nurses and Eugene city councilors.
Hoedads from across the United States will gather in Eugene this weekend to celebrate the Hoedads’ 40th anniversary. While some circumstances are different in this current recession, the example of the Hoedads still holds. Regular people can band together and, using their brains and their labor, collectively provide an antidote to hard times."