The CHN blogger was out and about recently and attended an informative and interesting talk at Belgenny Farm in the Home Farm meeting hall. The presentation was delivered by Peter Watson from the Howell Living History Farm in Lambertville, New Jersey, USA.
Mr Watson, an advocate of the living history movement, was the guest of the chairman of the Belgenny Farm Trust Dr Cameron Archer. Mr Watson was on a speaking tour and had attended a living history conference while in Australia.
Peter Watson and Howell Living History Farm
Peter Watson presented an interesting and far ranging talk about Howell Living History Farm in New Jersey and its programs. He was responsible for setting up the Howell Living History Farm.
Mr Watson said, ‘He initially worked in the US Peace Corps in West Africa and gained an interest in the living history movement through teaching farming methods.’
‘The 130 acre farm was gifted to the community in 1974 by a state politician with the aim of showing how farming used to be done in New Jersey.
Mr Watson said, ‘We took about 10 years to get going and deal with the planning process, which was tenuous for the government authorities who own the farm. Politics is not good or evil but just develops systems that do good for people. New Jersey state government have purchased development rights per acre from land developers.’
Howell Living History Farm is located within a one hour of around 15 million and the far has 65,000 visitors per year and 10,000 school children.
Mr Watson said, ‘The main aim at the farm is the visitor experience. The farm represents New Jersey farming between 1890 and 1910 – a moment in time.’
Mr Watson says, ‘We do not want to allow history to get in the way of an education experience for the visitor. The farm visitors are attracted by nostalgia which is an important value for them.
Most historic farms are museums, according to Mr Watson and he said, ‘At Howell Farm visitors become involved in activities.’
The farm uses original equipment using traditional methods and interpretation with living history.
The living history movement is concerned with authenticity and Mr Watson said, ‘Living history is a reservoir of ideas in adaptive research using comparative farming methods between decades.
Mr Watson illustrated his talk with a number of slides of the farm and its activities. He stressed to the relieved audience that the farm activities used replica equipment, not historic artefacts.
Howell Living History Farm offers a strong education program for schools.
‘This is a different experience for school groups and we do not want to do up all the old buildings. Different farm buildings show a comparative history – 1790, 1800, 1850,’ Mr Watson said.
Stressing how the farm lives up the principles of the living history movement Mr Watson said, ‘The farm is a learning, education and entertainment facility using traditional farming methods that provide an authentic and ‘real’ experience. The farm seeks to preserve the traditional methods which have cultural value.’
Literature prepared for the Howell Living History Farm education program states that:
Howell Farm’s educational programs engage students in the real, season activities of a working farm where hands-on learning experiences provide the answers to essential questions posed by the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Standards of Social Studies, Language Arts, Science and the Next Generation Science Standards. The farm’s classic, mixed crop and livestock operations accurately portray the era of pre-tractor systems, creating a unique and inspiring learning environment where history, technology, science converge…and where past and present meet.
‘The farm is a guided experience and there are interpreters for visitors. Story telling at the farm is done in the 1st-person.’
‘The farm has a cooking programme for the farm crops it grows, which is popular with organic producers and supporters of organic farm products. Crops grown using traditional methods include oats, corn and wheat.’
‘The farm sells some its produce and it includes honey, corn meal, maple syrup, used horse shoes, wool, flour.
‘We sell surplus produce at a local market. Activities include apple peeling. There is a sewing guild every Tuesday and the women make costumes.’
‘The farm has an ice house which makes natural ice during winter. Mr Watson made the point that ice making in the US was a multi-million dollar industry in the 1900s.
The promotional information for the farm’s seasonal calendar program states:
Howell Farm’s calendar reflects the cycles of a fully functioning working farm in Pleasant Valley, New Jersey during the years 1890-1910. Programs enable visitors to see real farming operations up close, speak with farmers and interpreters, and in many instances lend a hand. Factors such as weather, soil conditions and animal needs can impact operations at any time, resulting in program changes that reflect realities faced by farmers then and now.
The farm has run a number of fundraising ventures and one of the more successful has been the maze.
Mr Watson said, ‘The farm maize crop has been cut into a dinosaur maze of four acres and used as a fundraiser, raising $35,000 which has been used for farm restoration work.’
‘The farm is a listed historic site with a number of restored buildings, which satisfy US heritage authorities to allow application for government grants,’ said Peter Watson.
‘Traditional farm fences in New Jersey were snake-rail fences which have been constructed using ‘hands-on’ public workshops.’
Mr Watson stressed, ‘The farm is an experience and we are sensitive about where food comes from. Animal rights are a problem and you have to be honest about farming practices.’
Scott Magelssen, Living History Museums, Undoing History Through Performance. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Scarecrow Press, 2007.
Howell Living History Farm 70 Woodens Ln, Lambertville, NJ 08530, USA
The Howell Living History Farm, also known as the Joseph Phillips Farm, is a 130 acres farm that is a living open-air museum near Titusville, in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey. Wikipedia Area: 53 ha. Operated by the Mercer County Park Commission.