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Rivah Visitor's Guide

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Northern Neck Farm Museum:  A touch of Agriculture

The corn maze is open September through late October.

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Flowing fields of wheat, corn and soybeans wave to motorists driving along the roads in the Northern Neck. Farmland is as much a part of the landscape in rivah country as waterfront. And farming is as much a part of the area’s heritage as fishing, oystering and crabbing.

So it’s only natural that along with museums paying tribute to watermen and steamboats, the Northern Neck includes a museum honoring the hardworking men and women who farm the land. The Northern Neck Farm Museum between Burgess and Horsehead in Northumberland County opened in 2008 and was founded by fourth generation farmer, the late Luther Welch, and his wife Margaret. The museum pays homage to the men and women of the Northern Neck who work the fields and raise livestock. Close to 1,000 people visit the museum on Northumberland Highway every year, according to Luther’s son and board member Alan Welch. The museum is open May through October.

A red metal and concrete barn-like building serves as the visitors center and exhibition hall, housing antique tractors, old hand tools, planters, seed hullers, butter churns, wheat threshers, photographs and books. There’s even a hands-on children’s area with farming games.

The core collection belonged to Luther Welch, who had thousands of pieces of farm equipment, ranging from gleaners and tractors to corn pickers and nearly 100 antique blocks and pulleys.

Outside, there’s a working sawmill, donated by Dale Clarke in memory of his father. It’s up and running on special occasions at the museum and is operated by Clarke and Johnny Jones.

A windmill, the first item erected on the museum grounds, greets all visitors as they enter the driveway. It’s a landmark of sorts, donated by the late James Vincent Garland of Callao.

“Luther wanted to educate the children and adults too on where their food comes from,” said Margaret. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t know where their food comes from, that you just don’t go to Food Lion and it’s there. Somebody has to grow it.”
Visitors can see where and how some of their food is raised during the summer, when the museum has one of four teaching gardens in the Northern Neck cared for by the Northern Neck Master Gardeners.

The garden was started to help children and adults alike understand the basics of vegetable gardening and encourage environmentally-friendly vegetable gardening concepts. The garden is also used to provide fresh vegetables and fruits to those in need through local food pantries.

Hundreds gathered for demonstrations by farmers and native Americans during last year’s opening day festivities.

According to one of the garden’s founders, Diane Keane, the garden was originally 20’X50’ but is now well over a quarter of an acre. Master Gardeners work in the garden one or two days a week from March through November.

The typical early crops of broccoli, lettuce, spinach and onions are planted in the spring. During the summer, gardeners grow tomatoes, a variety of peppers, eggplants, melons and squash.

During the summer months, Northumberland YMCA summer campers come to the garden one day a week to learn about gardening.

When the vegetables are harvested, they are donated to the area food banks. Since the garden was started in 2009, over 6,000 pounds of produce have been grown, according to Keane.

Visitors will probably see the gardeners busy weeding and planting when the museum holds its official opening day for the 2014 season on Saturday, May 3. Held from noon to 4 p.m., it includes a variety of demonstrations and displays. It’s one of seven special events hosted by the museum during its six-month season.

Of course, there are the two Farm to Fork Dinners, which brings food directly from the field to the table on Saturday, May 17 and on Saturday, October 18.

Return visitors are also familiar with the museum’s corn maze and pumpkin patch, which is open from late September through October’s closing day on Saturday, October 26.

A young visitor tries to catch a chick during Young Farmers Day.

This year the board of directors has added Threshing Day on Saturday, June 28. The demonstrations of grain threshing machines and equipment begin at 10 a.m. and continue until the wheat runs out, according to A. Welch. There will be farm equipment displays and demonstrations from the horse-drawn era to the present.

“We’re going to do it the way they did it 70 years ago,” he said.

“There will be a stationary wheat threshing machine driven by a 1937 tractor.”

According to Welch, the wheat will be cut by hand and fed by hand into the machine.

The sawmill will be operating and there will be a child’s bounce house shaped like a barn with a silo and slide.

Young Farmers Day, which was added as a special day last year, will be Saturday, August 9.

“Our special days are free” said Welch. “On regular weekend days, we ask a $2 donation.”

Volunteers, many of them among the 200 museum members, man the exhibition room on Saturdays and Sundays through the six-month season.

“We are always looking for volunteers to help,” said Margaret Welch. A. Welch added the museum is also always looking for antique farm equipment to add to its already vast collection. In fact, the tractor and equipment collection is outgrowing its exhibition hall.  Luther Welch had a vision for a much larger museum and back when the museum opened some seven years ago, local model maker Bob Butler crafted a model of what the founder eventually wanted the museum to look like. Shaped like a barn, the model is on display at the museum.

In the next few weeks, the museum will be busy hosting school children on field trips from Lancaster, Northumberland and Richmond counties.

“We do so much here that people just don’t even know about,” said Margaret.

posted 04.30.2014

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