Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prevalent Potatoes

By: Keelin Purcell, Manager of School and Farm Programs
In preparation for a new Lippitt Farm Walk and Talk program, my intern Jenna and I did a lot of research on farms in 1845. One of the topics that I explored was the history and use of the potato (Solanum tubersoum).
Our potatoes growing in early July.
Potatoes are fascinating in that they are so prevalent in our culture’s food, and yet many people do not recognize the growing plant. Make sure to visit to see and touch the plants growing in our Interpretive Field Garden across from the Lippitt House. Another interesting thing about potatoes is while they are referred to as a root vegetable, they are actually tubers, which are enlarged underground stems. So when we eat potatoes, we are eating stems! In contrast, a sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is a true root, as are carrots, beets, and parsnips. 
Our potatoes growing in early August.
Potatoes were very important in 1800s agriculture. They supplanted many other root crops, in part because they can be easily propagated asexually by cutting up (eyeing) and planting the previous year’s potatoes. An acre of potatoes also produces four times more dietary calories than an acre of grain.

Because potatoes do not grow true to type, they were almost always propagated asexually. However, by growing them to seed, many different varieties were produced. In 1845, there was a large selection of potato varieties to choose from, though most families grew one or two types. Potato epidemics were fairly common, because all the potatoes of a given type were clones and therefore very susceptible to contracting the same disease.
Potato choices from a 1881 seed catalog in the collection of the NYSHA Research Library.
Potatoes are harvested once the tops die back and would have been dried before going into the root cellar. Potatoes were steamed, mashed, boiled, fried, and roasted, as well as made into flour and starch.
This year we are growing Green Mountain, Red Natural, and Kennebec potatoes in our Interpretive Field Garden, as well as Fingerlings in the Kitchen Garden. I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the history of potatoes, and I am looking forward to seeing this year’s crop. My sources included Judith Sumner’s American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants 1620-1900, Charles Bosson’s Observations on the Potatoe, and a Remedy for the Potato Plague, and U.P. Hendrick’s A History of Agriculture in the State of New York.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I Did For My Summer Vacation

By: Jenna Peterson, School and Farm Programs Intern
Friday, August 12th was my last day as an intern for The Farmers’ Museum. Working as the School and Farm Programs Intern this summer was a great chance to really test out my interest in museum education. It also gave me the chance to put into practice all of the theory and ideas I learned in my museum studies graduate program.

I had some amazing opportunities; at the beginning of the summer, I dove right into planning the week-long experience for 5-7 year olds, Down on the Farm. I now know a lot more about what it takes to run a summer camp type program, and just how much communication needs to happen between the different departments to make sure such a program goes off without a hitch.
The geese following our wagon ride during Down on the Farm
For my next big project, I got to write background and structure for several of the Lippitt Farm Walk and Talk lessons. Now the farmer staff can give extra lessons on corn, poultry, and some of the odd crops we grow like tobacco and mangel-wurzels.

The last major project I tackled this summer was rewriting one of our popular school tours, Ox-Cart Man, to align with the new Common Core Standards that New York adopted. These standards are more focused on skills rather than facts, and the new lesson will help teachers and students make the most out of their visit. Although I am fairly certain I can now recite the curriculum in my sleep, I am very pleased with the finished product. I am glad I’ll be around this fall to see the Museum Teachers take it for a test drive.
One last visit to the Children's Barnyard
This summer has been an amazing experience, both for the work I got to do as well as for the camaraderie. If you haven’t yet met the museum’s staff, you should make a point to do so. They are all amazing people, and those that I got the chance to work alongside helped make this summer very special. I want to make sure to thank Mary Kuhn, who tolerated me stealing her desk and computer on a near daily basis throughout the summer. I also had the chance to work next to the amazing Public Programs Intern, Meredith, and I wish her all the best as she travels to Russia this semester.

Finally, I want to thank Keelin Purcell, the Manager of School and Farm Programs. She had only been employed by the museum for a few short weeks when she had an intern dropped into her lap. I have had internships in the past where I spent the whole time answering phones and making copies, but Keelin made sure I had a rewarding experience throughout the summer.

If you are interested in interning with either the Farmers’ Museum or at the Fenimore Art Museum, make sure to check their websites for upcoming information on potential internships. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Making Hay While the Sun Shines: Farm Life in August

By: Garet Livermore, Vice President for Education

Summer Farm Scene, Old New England Illustrated

One of the realities of farming is that it is outdoor work requiring the farmer to work in conditions as varied as the blizzards of January and the heat of summer.  This is especially true during the hot, sunny days of July and August when farmers need to go out into their fields make the hay that will feed their animals throughout the year.  Even, like in the illustration above, the farmers’ cows have the good sense to find a cool shaded section of stream to stand in, the farmer and his family must toil in the sun and heat to cut, dry and gather the hay to store in the barn for colder weather.  Haymaking was demanding work that required whole families and communities to work together to successfully bring in the crop.

Cutting Hay, Old New England Illustrated

Despite the perception amongst some that cutting hay is simply a large mowing job, haymaking is a very critical process that requires much planning and knowledge of the crop and local weather conditions to be successful.  The old adage “making hay while the sun shines” was a vital fact of life for 19th century farmers.  They needed to cut whole fields of hay with scythes and allow for drying time.  Scything was best done in a group so that whole rows could be evenly cut at a time. Neighboring farmers helped out and competed with one another as to both the speed and the quality of the cutting.  Jared Van Wagenen described a typical 19th century cutting party in Schoharie County:
“Always they laughed and gossiped and chaffed a little .  Then the man whose turn it was to lead struck three sharp taps on his stone with his scythe, a sound that was both a signal and a challenge, and they were off.  If someone lagged in his stroke, the fellow literally at his heels cried out the jocular warning: “Get out of my way or I’ll cut your legs off.”
 A talented man with a scythe was hard to find and a valuable addition to the haying crews.  It was said that the best men could cut an acre of hay a day by hand.  This was soon superseded by the horse drawn mowers of the 19th century that could easily cut 15 or more acres per day.

Bringing in the hay, by Charles Fredrick Zabriskie (1848-1914), Cyanotype photograph, PH 19634.  Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Cutting the hay was just the beginning of the process. The farmers then had to dry the hay before it could be put in the barn.  Hay needed to contain less than 22% moisture to avoid spoilage or, worse, causing a barn fire through spontaneous combustion. Drying was managed by raking the hay into long windrows and then periodically “tedding” or fluffing the hay with a rake or other device to completely dry the stalks in preparation for storing the hay in the barn.

Woman Driving Hay Rake, Unidentified photographer, ca. 1907-1915. F0014.2011(08). Plowline: Images of Rural New York.

In the 19th century, hay dried in the field then was brought in bulk on a haywagon to the barn for storage in the attic, or hayloft. This required forming a chain with many people moving the hay into the loft with pitch forks, a very labor intensive process in the heat. By the early 20th century new machinery had been invented that more efficiently compressed the hay into bales into the field which could then be stacked in the barn.

Gathering Hay for Storage, Pierstown, NY, by Charles Fredrick Zabriskie (1848-1914), black and white photograph, PH18830.  Fenimore Art Museum, Coopertown, New York. 

Midday meals brought out to the fields, called “dinner” in the rural Northeast until fairly recently, were a welcome respite from the hot, dusty work of haymaking.  Typically haymakers, wives, sisters and daughters brought hampers of cold meats, bread, cheese and pie to the fields and layed out blankets under nearby shade trees.  The favored drink of the season was switchel, a thirst quenching beverage made from cold well water, honey or maple syrup, apple cider vinegar and ground ginger. The taste of switchel has often been compared to a combination of lemonade and ginger-ale.  Here is a recipe to try on a hot day:

Switchel, or Haymaker’s Punch

1 cup Honey or Maple Syrup

1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1tablespoon ground ginger
2 quarts water
Mix together the evening previous store in the refrigerator and enjoy.
Chase hay Pressing, by Arthur J. Telfer (1859-1954), dry collodion negative, 5-07492.  Smith and Telfer Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York. 

Hay Wagons on Main Street, by Arthur J. Telfer (1859-1954), dry collodion negative, C-508332.  Smith and Telfer Collection, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Junior Livestock Show

By: Meredith Doubleday, Public Programs Intern

Despite the fact that I have lived locally my whole life, I have never attended the Junior Livestock Show until this year. I have driven by the grounds a hundred times but never stopped to see what all the excitement was. However, since I am working in the Education Department this summer, I had the opportunity to help out at the event.

One of my tasks was to assist Richard Walker as he photographed portraits of many of the participants and their animals. The first thing that struck me was how much these kids cared for their animals. It was even evident during the photography shoots. The strong bond established over the many months leading up to the livestock show was clear in the intuitive and easy manner with which they handled their animals. This photo of Austin Ainslie of Herkimer County with his Jersey Dairy Cow is a good example.

The parade of champions on the last day was definitely the highlight of the three-day event. All the winners led their animals into the ring with pride one final time while their names were announced. My favorite part was when Fuchsia R. Holly, the pig, was led in by Shannon Spargo of Schoharie County. Unlike all the other animals who were led by their exhibitors, the pig was rolled into the tent in a cage with wheels, which was made by a local 4-H member.

This is Nathan Hay of Schoharie County and winner of the Livestock Cup. He is pictured with Ms. Justice his Simmintel Beef Cow, his sister Sarah Hay, Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO of The Farmers’ Museum, Joseph Booan, Mayor of Cooperstown.

This is Victoria Opalka of Montgomery County, winner of the Dairy Goat Cup, and her goat Secret Star Farm Summer’s Eve. She is presented with the award by Paul D’Ambrosio and Assemblyman Bill McGee.

The last award, the Dairy Cup, was given to Clyde Sammons of Montgomery County. He stands proudly with his Hostein Dairy Cow, Stonecree Advent Adorable-Red, Commissioner Darell Aubertine, and Assemblyman Bill McGee.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lippitt Farm Walk and Talk Lessons

by: Jenna Peterson, School and Farm Programs Intern
Part of my internship this summer has been gathering information on different agricultural topics, and using it to write interpretive lessons to be delivered by our farm staff. The farmers do an amazing job of talking about a variety of farm subjects, and I was able to provide them with more primary source material to work with, including census data, journal articles, and seed catalogs all from the middle of the 19th Century.

One of the reasons to have a goose on the farm is to collect their down feathers for use in pillows. 
There are four different talks that can be given based on these lessons; corn, poultry, crops, and the interpretive field garden. The corn talk focuses on changes in technology and farming practices, and how that impacted corn growers in the 1840’s and today. While I don’t think I was assigned to research corn because I am originally from Iowa, it probably didn’t hurt! The poultry talk focuses on the different varieties of poultry farmers would have had, including chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and even pigeons. We have everything but the pigeons here at the museum, so it is a great chance to see how they would have been raised. For the crop talk, the focus is more on the unexpected crops farmers grew alongside those we think of today. This means looking at things like buckwheat, barley, hops, tobacco, and my personal favorite, mangel wurzels. Be sure to check out this post from Farmer Marianne about mangel wurzels if you are interested in learning more!

Mangel wurzels, a type of beet, were commonly used as animal feed.
The final talk is not actually given by our farmers, but is instead led by myself or my supervisor. We take visitors through the interpretive field garden planted in front of the Lippitt House, and discuss the history of these field crops, as well as the different parts of plants that we eat. Did you know potatoes aren’t actually the root of the plant? Come listen to our talk and I’ll tell you all about it!

Corn was planted in a checkerboard fashion with squash and beans, modeled after the Native American Three Sister's Gardens.
These talks will take place at 2:00pm every day through Labor Day. They leave from the steps of the Hop House, and are open to all visitors. If you happen to be near the museum, stop by and learn more about farming in 1845. 
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