MONTEREY COUNTY — Ellie Clifton is the new executive director of the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum (MCARLM).
Clifton began her position in mid-June, and at 22 years old, she is bringing a fresh and youthful perspective on running the local museum located inside San Lorenzo Park in King City.
“I have a love of history and a passion for the museum and the Salinas Valley,” Clifton said. “To be offered a position like this is a dream.”
One of Clifton’s first tasks when taking the reins was selecting four new interns from King City High School.
“Four kids from King City High School work weekends here,” she explained. “I always push for the weekends to get my interns more exposure. They are way better tour guides than I will ever be. We get to hire and train four high school students, which is just so cool.”
The intern program was started by the prior executive director, Jessica Potts, who left the position after becoming Soledad’s recreation manager.
“I have some big shoes to fill,” Clifton said. “Everything she did for this museum. Everything she put in place. I hope I can be everything she was and put my own twist on it, for sure.”
With a young perspective comes a push for digital content.
“I’m pushing our social media showing because that’s our day and age,” Clifton said.
Clifton credited Potts with starting one-minute history videos with the interns, and said she wants to continue those online videos. The MCARLM website was also recently updated, and plans are in the works for more blog articles written by interns.
Inside the museum, Clifton said she wants to expand the concept of traveling exhibits and have them be a regular thing at the building, that way exhibits rotate and locals have a feeling the museum isn’t the same year after year.
“I want to make the museum and place for people to learn, enjoy and feel included,” she said.
In addition to making everyone feel welcome, Clifton wants to counteract the sense that history is a dying field of study.
“History is something people don’t think about,” Clifton said. “We learn from our past, especially in ag. The farming practices we use today are based off trial and error, so I think history is a huge part of that. Teaching it is huge.”
MCARLM features the main barn museum, an array of artifacts throughout the park, an irrigation museum and multiple historical buildings. Tours, including with local schools, are offered regularly to share the historical items collected on site, from agricultural tools to classic cars.
“We have the main museum barn here, where we have information about the Salinas Valley, Monterey County ag,” Clifton said of the main barn that visitors drive past as they enter the park. “Then we have the irrigation museum. The history there is so interesting because water is such a huge part of agriculture and seeing how even salt water from the Monterey Bay has impacted the Salinas Valley.”
Beyond learning about natural resources and the human impact on and use of those resources, there are buildings brought in from other areas, such as the train depot from across King City, Spreckels house from Spreckels, or the Gloria schoolhouse from Gonzales.
“Spreckels is such a huge part of the history of the Salinas Valley because of the sugar beets,” Clifton said. “Gloria schoolhouse was an original out of Gonzales. How cool can you get? All of these buildings are original and all of these artifacts are from this valley.”
The museum also hosts events on a monthly basis.
One of the first events Clifton planned this year was a book signing last Sunday, Sept. 11, for the new King City history book from local historians John and Karen Jernigan and Howard P. Strohn. More than a book tour and signing, the event also featured food and wine.
“The book is so interesting and a huge portion of the pictures came out of our archive,” Clifton said.
Plans on expanding the museum store are in the works, with Clifton explaining she wants to feature items from local small businesses to get them more exposure and to give visitors an additional reason to come back to the museum.
Clifton now leads a team of six, including herself, and has recently added a few part-time employees.
Her own past includes working in education and growing up around agriculture. She described herself as “an ag kid,” having grown up on an apple farm and a ranch, and also having been an officer while in the Future Farmers of America.
“I’m not just somebody off the street, I really do care about the museum and San Lorenzo Park,” Clifton said. “My heart is in this town, this community, and this valley.”
Since starting, Clifton said the tight-knit nature of King City has meant numerous people have stopped by to meet the new museum director they heard about. She said working in her new position has been a dream and hasn’t felt like work.
Youth hasn’t been a hindrance for Clifton in her new role.
“The truth is, you have to incorporate the younger community into big positions like this because some people aren’t willing to grow with the times, and somebody like me is more than willing,” Clifton said. “Age has nothing to do with capability or skill. I’m happy to bring a younger perspective.”
In addition to her own leadership, Clifton noted the MCARLM board is seeking board members.
Board positions require a person be age 18 or older, and Clifton said she would like to see younger members for a fresh perspective even on the board level. The board meetings take place on Thursday evenings and prospective members need to attend three meetings before the existing board decides on adding them.
Multiple positions are open, and those interested can contact Clifton at [email protected] or by calling 831-385-8020.