Harvesting a Heritage: Teaching with Historic Farms
Farms are like neighborhoods or small towns because they are a collection of related buildings. The location for a farm, like a town, may have been chosen because of a nearby water supply, a well-traveled road, the railroad, building materials, or because of the climate, terrain, and soil. Farm buildings have different and specific functions, but each is important to the whole operation. Farmers are versatile people. Their knowledge and skills are usually a combination of formal schooling, traditional training passed from generation to generation, and experience. As a piece of living history that can teach about yesterday and today, farms, especially those that have been in operation for many years, are fascinating to visit. The world depends on farms and farm families for food. This is the most practical and urgent reason for being concerned about the welfare of farmers and the careful management and conservation of farm land.
The land provides clues about the people who lived and worked on it. Tools, earthen mounds, pieces of pottery and other artifacts, both ancient and more recent, can enlighten us about people who lived on the land many centuries before or just a generation or two previously. A carefully built stone wall, a fence row, a hedgerow, a windbreak, building foundations, a cemetery, even flowers that bloom where a house once stood are all pieces of evidence. We can use this evidence in classrooms to begin to understand by whom and how the land was used.
Farm buildings form working villages. They can provide information about the daily life of those people who lived and worked the farm, types of crops and animals raised, food storage, processing, construction technology, available materials, and ethnic origins. Existing buildings (or their archaeological remains) such as a spring house, granary, detached kitchen, corn crib, chicken coop, stable, tobacco barn, dairy barn, tool shed, or privy are visible sources of information about the lifestyle of farmers at different periods of time.
The Farm House is the focal point of the farming operation, much like the city hall of a community. Houses may be rich repositories of cultural history. Studying the architecture of farm houses is just one way of appreciating their value. The homes document methods, skills, and craftsmanship of the builders, the economic and social status of the owners, the use of local building materials, ways of controlling climate and environment, and the family's evolving lifestyle as reflected in the design of the house. Farm houses are often based on folk styles rather than on drawings provided by an architect.