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Farm Livin’ Is The Life For Me

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Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farms reflected: “We used to be a nation of farmers, but now it’s less than 2 percent of the population in the United States. So, a lot of us don’t know a lot about what it takes to grow food.” Being a city girl – and one in serious need of a green thumb at that – I would agree with Ms. Redmond’s assessment. However, there is good news for the agriculturally-uneducated: a wealth of living history farms and museums that explore the world of agricultural and rural life.

One of the most significant events in the history of farm and rural life museums occurred in 1926 with the opening of Colonial Williamsburg. Created by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Colonial Williamsburg was a new form of museum in which the buildings were the items on display, in which history came alive through a place you could touch, a time you could journey to, people you could speak to, and events you could participate in.

Williamsburg was followed by Henry Ford’s attempt to bring America’s rural and agricultural past to life: the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Located in Dearborn, Michigan, Greenfield Village was the largest history museum of the age when it opened in 1929. Ford approached his museum a little differently than Rockefeller. While Rockefeller had restored a historical site, Ford imported historical items from various states to create his own village.

No matter their methods, Ford and Rockefeller had started a trend in the museum world that would lead to the creation and restoration of farm and living history museums around the world.

They had something else in common, though: a somewhat idealized picture of what American life was like in colonial times or on the farm. One of the commonly issued criticisms about living history museums – about museums in general, one could argue – is that a part of the story is always left out.

Museums, charged with the dual task of welcoming newcomers and the continued education of veteran visitors, sometimes have to toe that middle line. Seeing as though a very limited percentage of the American population has had exposure to farms, food production, and rural life, it seems appropriate to me that these museums err on the side of introductory information. If that doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, go ahead and ask the tough questions of the museum’s history interpreters: you might be surprised what you’ll learn.

Here is just a glimpse at some of the agriculturally-themed museums in the United States:

So, if you are part of that 98% of the American non-farming population, why not take advantage of the fact that it’s Harvest Time and go see what is going on down on the farm.

2 Responses to “Farm Livin’ Is The Life For Me”

  1. LL on October 1st, 2009

    You need to correct “Greenwich Village” to Greenfield Village. Your list is a good effort but I would have suggested Conner Prairie, http://www.connerprairie.org, Living History Farms, http://www.lhf.org, over some of your other Midwestern sites.

  2. Museumist on October 1st, 2009

    Thank you. A definite oversight on my part!

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