My family doesn’t live on a farm. Yet my children know how sheep’s wool is shorn; how butter is churned; and that by using a strong flashlight in a dark place you can “candle” a hen’s egg to see if a baby chick is developing inside.
They’re enlightened about these things because we’re fortunate enough to have in New Jersey living historical farms that recreate the sights, sounds, and experiences of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century rural life.
History On the Hoof
At these places you’ll meet historical interpreters in period attire who might encourage you to crack corn and feed it to the chickens. Huge draft horses may be pulling a plow through the crops as a farmer walks behind. You can see sheep shearing, hog slopping, hay rides, and barn dances. And there’s the chance to see how the agricultural methods of the past were used to raise livestock, grow crops, and perform daily chores.
“We let our visitors do things that they would have done if they’d lived in a rural community. It’s all about doing and experiencing firsthand the history and heritage that we all share,” says Pete Watson, director of Howell Living History Farm and a board member of the Association of Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM).
So what’s a more fitting way to celebrate the Thanksgiving season than to return to a time when the food on one’s table was largely dependent on the sweat of one’s labor? In November, check the Howell Farm in Lambertville, where they often offer an opportunity for visitors to learn to make bacon, sausage, and scrapple; attend a foot-stomping Harvest Moon Dance; harvest field corn and popcorn; and cook over an open hearth. There may even be a Thanksgiving hayride.
Or try to imagine a Revolutionary War-era family sitting down to a late fall dinner (Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until 1863) at the 14-room Historic Longstreet Farm in Holmdel. The farmhouse is open to the public on weekends and holidays. Check monmouthcountyparks.com for more information.
And at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morristown, a special “Thanksgiving—Harvest Home” feast will be prepared on Nov. 15, just as it would have been in November 1918, when the armistice ending World War I was signed. (While Fosterfields officially closes from November to March, the park holds limited special events in the winter.)
There are many historic villages and agricultural museums in New Jersey, but just these three living historical farms. Visit one to step back in time, and enjoy your Thanksgiving.
Mary Ann McGann is a freelance writer from New Jersey.