Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear friends and farmers,

This weekend was absolutely beautiful. The sun was shining, it was warm and the birds were singing. Where was all of this beautiful weather last weekend during the Fall Harvest Festival?! Despite the chilly breeze and the drizzle through the morning, we still had a lot fun last Saturday as young farmers donning sweaters and rain boots joined us to harvest beans from the field.

A lot of visitors think of cows when they think of Historic Wagner Farm. That makes a lot of sense, considering we're a dairy farm. But farms in the 1920s, and even a lot of farms today, were designed to be self-sustaining enterprises. The Fall Harvest Festival is more than a fun way to celebrate fall - it also represents the other side of our work at the Farm, away from the barn and the cow pasture.

Dairy farmers in the early 1900s often grew crops to feed their family, but much of the crops they grew were feed for their livestock. A century ago, farmers and their families spent many gruelling hours collecting their harvest, in some cases by hand. Harvesting corn, for example, meant walking up and down each row and picking and husking each ear by hand. At that pace, you could only harvest a few wagon loads per day!

Harvesting the crop wasn't where the work ended. Storing the crops safely so they would last through the winter months was equally important. One of the original buildings from the Wagner family farm that is still at the Farm today is the corn crib. It's a pretty easy building to spot, because there are gaps between each row of boards that offer a glimpse at the pile of corn inside.

If you've ever eaten corn at home, you might wonder why farmers would want to store the juicy vegetable without its husk in a building where air can easily flow in and dry it out. Well, corn cribs were built to do just that - dry out and store field corn. Field corn was (and still is) typically grown in large fields is different from the sweet corn you would find in a garden or eat at home. Field corn is much harder, more starchy and used to feed livestock. If you've ever driven past a corn field, it was most likely field corn, not sweet corn. Keeping field corn dry and open to airflow would keep it from molding or rotting, which would make it unsafe for the livestock to eat.

Gathering, husking and storing field corn was just one part of the work that needed to be done for the harvest. Other crops, like hay or straw, needed to be harvested, baled and pulleys were used to hoist the bales into the barn loft. Potatoes, beans, and other food from the garden had to be carefully dried or stored. A century ago, harvest festivals celebrated more than the bounty of food from the year's crops - it also celebrated the end of long hours working the fields and bringing in the harvest!

Until next time,