Agriculture has changed a lot over the course of human history. With fewer people today living and working on small farms, it’s easy to forget just how essential farming is. Heritage farms and agricultural museums teach visitors about the vital industry and how it’s changed over time, giving them the opportunity to connect with nature and the food system. They can also foster an appreciation for the immense role agriculture plays in our lives by encouraging visitors to participate through interactive experiences and demonstrations.
Faith groups wanting to learn all about agriculture can get their hands dirty at these destinations across the country.
Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center
Wisconsin has a reputation as America’s Dairyland, but the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center demonstrates that Wisconsin supplies much more to the food system than just milk. The center, which opened in 2018, teaches groups about the wide variety of foods produced in Wisconsin.
Its many educational exhibits showcase the extent of agriculture’s contributions to the state, including some of its lesser-known crops like Christmas trees and ginseng. The center also discusses sustainable farming practices and advances in modern farming technology.
“Agriculture contributes over $104 billion to our state economy annually, so that is really highlighted here in our facility,” said Abigail Martin, program manager at the center. “Everything from farm to table we’re talking about.”
No one’s downplaying dairy here, though. Visitors can tour the nearby Grotegut Dairy Farm to see what a working dairy farm is like and to learn how dairy cows are cared for. The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center also offers guests the unique opportunity to witness the birth of a calf in the on-site Birthing Barn.
Groups can take self-guided tours through the center’s 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and farming simulations to learn about the agriculture industry. There are also plenty of Wisconsin-produced items for guests to sample, from small-batch premium-quality ice cream to goods at the center’s Farmhouse Store.
New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Groups seeking to experience the spirit of the Southwest can find an interesting facet of it at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. The museum, which opened in 1998, was founded to preserve the cultural history of farming and ranching in the state. The museum does just that — with 24,000 square feet of exhibits, 47 acres of land, a variety of livestock and year-round demonstrations, this destination is a great place for those looking to get an up-close look at life on the range.
The museum’s most fascinating feature might be the history of the land on which it was built.
“They were growing food in this region 4,000 years ago,” said Craig Massey, a public information officer at the museum. “It’s got a really long and diverse history in agriculture.”
The area also has a rich history of livestock, as some of the first cattle, sheep and horses in this region were said to have been introduced by the Spanish as early as the 16th century.
Visitors can tour the museum’s many indoor and outdoor exhibits, including replicas of a New Mexico colonial home and a mercantile store, artifacts related to farming and colonial life and unique displays of art. Another interesting feature of this museum is the large number of live animals tended by working cowboys. Groups can take a livestock tour, where they’ll learn about the different types of cattle, sheep and ponies living on the ranch and get to see demonstrations such as milking cows and spinning wool into yarn.
Gorman Heritage Farm
Small, family-run farms are often associated with simpler times, when people were connected firsthand to the crops they grew and the animals they raised. However, the landscape of agriculture has changed, and fewer of these family farms remain operational today. For groups looking to step back in time, a visit to the Gorman Heritage Farm is in order.
At this farm, just outside of Cincinnati, groups can experience all the charm and beauty of a working heritage farm. It began as a family farm over a century ago and has undergone many changes since. The Gorman Heritage Farm was converted into a nonprofit farm in 2003 to educate the public about agriculture, farming and the environment. It serves as a testament to how farming has changed but also how it has stayed the same.
Visitors can connect with nature and get a glimpse of life on a working farm by participating in some of the day-to-day farm tasks, such as feeding the farm animals, planting seeds and grinding corn. Farm staff or volunteers can take groups on guided tours through the farm’s 122 scenic acres of gardens, walking trails and farmyards, or visitors can explore all the farm has to offer on their own.
In addition to learning about farming practices, guests can check out the farm store, which sells farm-fresh products such as eggs, produce, honey and meat.
South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum
Brookings, South Dakota
Groups with a passion for history, science or technology will enjoy a trip to the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. What started as a small zoological collection in the late 19th century has transformed into a hub for the preservation of all things agriculture. The museum, affiliated with South Dakota State University, is designed to educate visitors about the history of agriculture and rural life and encourage a better understanding of the connection between our daily lives and the agriculture industry.
Groups can arrange guided tours through the museum’s exhibits, which include a replica of a traditional farmhouse and early models of modern farming equipment. The collections of artifacts from pioneers and early farmers chronicle not only agriculture’s history but American history as well.
The museum also educates about agriculture today; interactive exhibits give visitors insight into the breadth of the industry and demonstrate how it affects more than just our food system. Sarah Jacobs, education coordinator at the museum, said that though many of us don’t have close connections to farms anymore, agriculture and its byproducts make our lives easier in ways most of us have never considered.
“We really strive to teach the public that even though you might not be directly connected to agriculture anymore, that agriculture is still a part of everyone’s daily lives,” she said.
Eco City Farms
Prince George’s County, Maryland
When picturing a farm, one typically visualizes hundreds of acres of green pastures. One farm nestled in the urban areas bordering Washington, D.C., proves that farms need only a few acres to serve their communities. Founded in 2010, Eco City Farms is a nonprofit farm with two locations in Prince George’s County dedicated to educating communities about sustainable agriculture in urban areas.
Founder and CEO Margaret Morgan-Hubbard said she created the farm because of concerns about the lack of healthful options for people in lower income urban areas. But her goal was twofold; she endeavored to not only provide healthier options but also inspire individuals to take control of their own health.
“We try to be something that serves the community,” said Morgan-Hubbard. “Regardless of whether they want to do farming or not, we also teach them about growing food and being healthy.”
A visit to either of the farm’s locations gives visitors opportunities for hands-on learning about farming essentials, sustainable agriculture and nutrition. Custom tours can be arranged to allow visitors to explore whatever aspects of urban farms they’re most curious about. Whether it’s composting, beekeeping, building hoop houses or harvesting produce, there are plenty of ways for groups to participate in farming.
Urban farms aren’t intended to replace rural ones, but they do offer some creative solutions to problems faced by many communities across the United States; a visit to this one-of-a-kind farm is sure to inspire optimism for the future of agriculture.