Great Agrarian Vacations

Dateline: 2 November 2005

My idea of a great vacation is to have time off from my non-agrarian regular job so I can stay home, be around my family, and work outside in the garden, in the woods, or in my shop. I don’t need to go anywhere else. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I do not dream of a leisurely Caribbean cruise or lounging on exotic beaches. And I sure don’t dream of going to some big city!

My dream is, instead, to work as a husbandman of the land, to be a co-creator with God in the midst of His creation. In due time that will be my full-time avocation. But, for now, it is, for me, my idea of a great vacation.

Nevertheless, there are times when Marlene and I and our three boys will take a small family vacation that involves leaving our little homestead. We try to do this once a year for three or four days. That’s long enough. Our vacation destinations almost always have an agrarian theme.

One year we went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to learn about the Amish and see their farms. On the way home we stopped off at the Rodale experimental organic farm in Emmaus, PA. We have been to Genesee Country Village near Rochester N.Y. a couple of times. The Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. was our destination another time (we skipped the more famous baseball hall of fame in favor of The Farmer’s Museum!). Hancock Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire, was also a nice vacation destination. This year we visited Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts.

We went to Strubridge last month (the off season) for three nights. We always splurge and get a hotel with an indoor swimming pool because that is something our three boys make good use of and really enjoy. They would enjoy camping too but Marlene is not much of a camper any more.

We save some money by eating out of a small food cooler and drinking ice water from a water cooler. We make sandwiches and salads and have cheese and crackers and tabouli and yogurt and granola, and we restock the cooler as needed at grocery stores along the way. For one vacation meal we eat out in a nice restaurant, which, on this last trip, was a Cracker Barrel. In other words, we keep the food thing simple.

We all enjoyed Old Sturbridge Village. It was my third time there. My first time was when I was in 8th grade and my social studies class went by chartered bus on a two-night field trip. I was a suburban kid at the time and the place impressed me greatly. The second time, Marlene and I went shortly after we were married.

The village’s era is 1830 to 1840. America sure was a different place back then. The Industrial Revolution was ramping up and rural America was changing but we were still an agrarian nation..... a Christian-Agrarian nation, I might add, with Christian-Agrarian beliefs and values.

Most folks worked their own small farms back then and/or they were skilled tradesmen. Daily life centered around the family, the church, the community, and the land from whence the people drew their physical sustenance. Life was not easy. But it varied with the seasons and it was rich and full.

My boys saw a small part of what life was once like with no television, no automobiles, no computers, no plastic, no factories, not massive centralized governmental bureaucracy, no supermarkets, no skateboards, no BMX bikes, and no fast food restaurants, and they liked what they saw. Even my oldest son, who has less of an agrarian inclination (for now), thoroughly enjoyed himself. After spending a whole day, from opening to closing, my boys all wanted to go back the next day! This pleased me to no end and we returned for 1/2 day more before heading home.

My hope is that fertile seeds were planted on this trip; that, in glimpsing the past, my sons also caught a vision for their future. I am not saying we can, or should, go back. That is unrealistic. But we can recognize the best virtues of agrarian life and culture from the past, and we can endeavor to reclaim them for ourselves and our families here and now in the 21st century. Indeed, we must do this if we desire to live “the good life.”

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Living history museums, like Old Sturbridge Village, are very popular tourist destinations. Why is this? I suspect it is because, deep inside, even the most modern of “Moderns” understand that the industrial culture they live in is shallow, fractured, and unfulfilling. They long for the past, when life was simpler and people focused on the truly important things in life, like family, faith, & fellowship.

I firmly believe it is only within Christian-Agrarian culture that mankind can experience true fulfillment. This true fulfillment comes from knowing the Sovereign One, through His son Jesus Christ, from humbly acknowledging His lordship over all, from living and working close to His creation, as He has mandated that we should, and from doing all of this for His glory.

To live any other way, with any other objective, is foolishness and vanity.

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One of the highlights of our Sturbridge trip this year was the turnip toss contest. My youngest son, James, made the winning toss for his age group. The prize was a bunch of raffle tickets for a Sturbridge Village gift basket that was being given away at the end of the week. James’ mom filled out his tickets and he put them in a box with hundreds of other chances. Two days after getting home, we got a phone call informing us that James had won the basket. It arrived in the mail a short while later, packed with some choice examples of Sturbridge Village craftsmanship. There was a tin cup, a tim wall sconce, a hand-turned, red, glazed, earthenware pot with a lid, a crock-like creamer with decorative cobalt blue markings, a handmade whisk broom, a hand-forged iron hanging hook, and a book about old pottery. James likes the tin cup best because he can use it and he spent a lot of time watching the tinsmith those two days. We have put the pottery on a high shelf where it will stay safe and serve as a lasting memento of this year’s wonderful agrarian vacation.

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Have you been to other living history museums that you can recommend to us?

8 comments:

Zach said...

The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan is good, although very expensive. It attempts to reflect Mr. Ford's interest in (naturally) the industrial revolution and (more surprisingly) in agrarianism.

I think it is much more successful regarding industry, but there is still much to be gleaned there.

I am also partial to Sauder Village in Archbold, Ohio. It is much smaller and more affordable than The Henry Ford, and focused entirely on the farming/small village history of the area. Both 'Sauder' and 'Frey' are names from the original Mennonite emmigration to the Black Swamp. A bit of personal connection -- my father tore down the old granary on the farm at the same time Sauder Village was creating the 'Natives and Newcomers' exhibit. The old timbers are now part of one of the buildings there.


peace,
Zach

The Bradshaws said...

We spent a few days in September in Williamsburg, VA--the first time our children had been there. (I think this is normally quite expensive, but we managed to get in on a fantastic deal.) The focus there is primarily politics and 1775 happenings preceding the Revolution, and was immensely interesting and educational.

One of the best parts, however, was a new addition they are working on--Great Hopes Plantation--to show a more rural side of life in that region and era. Not yet fully developed, it was, nonetheless, one of the highlights for us. We spent a long time talking with one of the master farmers--mainly about heritage breeds--and another lady about herbs.

Mary Susan

Jeff said...

In our neck of the woods in Kentucky, we have several living history sites that we enjoy.

There are two Skaker villages, the best one at Pleasant Hill.

However, our favorite site is The Homeplace at the Land Between the Lakes. This is an operating mid-1800's pioneer era farm (16 log structures) located in a beautiful hollow. We always enjoy the annual Harvest Festival.

Jeff said...

Oops.

Pleasant Hill

reformed farmer said...

The Hop House at the Genesee Country Village came from the old farm I lived on growing up in Spencerport.

Herrick Kimball said...

Thanks for the recommendations everyone.

Scott,
That's neat. I was surprised to find out that the growing of hops was a big thing at one time here in upstate NY.

high hopes gardens said...

Living History Farms (now in Des Moines, Iowa, it didn't used to be in town!). http://www.lhf.org/

Has four areas - an Ioway Indian agrarian village, an 1850 pioneer era farm, a 1900 farm and an 1875 village. It's definitely worth a day in each season to visit.

Rick said...

One living museum we did not enjoy visiting was Plimouth Plantation. Debbie and I went about twenty years ago, before we had any kids. The folks there are intensely devoted to not breaking character, to the point where if you wander up to a group of residents having a conversation they treat you as if you are a stranger in town who, well, wandered up and started eavesdropping on a conversation. Perhaps it was a bad day, perhaps they do it differently now, perhaps we just didn't know how to approach it--in any case, we were creeped out and left after a quick (and consequently expensive) look around.

Colonial Williamsburg, on the other hand, is our sort of place. The interpreters strike a good balance between staying in character and being welcoming and informative. Many of the things I first learned about pre-modern agrarian culture came from wandering around the town and finding out about the lives of the wigmaker, the printer, the pharmacist, the brickmakers, and so on. The wigmaker made our kids' hair stand on end by asking their ages, and then saying "Oh, that must mean that in your household you do ..." and then going on to detail the customary chores in colonial Williamsburg for a child that age.

Colonial Williamsburg has an odd price structure, very expensive for one day (something like $33), but for four or five dollars more you can get an annual pass, which makes a multi-day visit pretty reasonable.