Spending Time at Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol

[ 1 ] July 11, 2012 |

Today I welcome guest contributor, Elaine Beebe. Elaine lives in Barrington with her daughter. A freelance writer and editor, Elaine has covered everything from climate change in Bhutan to bands that will never become famous, California charter schools to the Pillsbury Bake-Off. If she were a super hero, she would be Grammar Girl, proofreading faster than a speeding bullet. – Anisa

At Coggeshall Farm Museum’s “Breakfast in the Barnyard,” visitors of all ages soak up New England’s past in a tranquil setting.

Unlike most historic sites, no one famous lived here. By recreating the everyday life of a 1790s tenant-farm family, the farm unveils a realistic, untold and interactive portrait of history.

Coggeshall’s directors are sticklers for accuracy, well beyond the standards of most living-history museums. Whenever possible, the species of animals and plants are identical to or approximate those of 18th-century Bristol. So are the farm tools and the animals’ diet of hay grown onsite — did you know grain is junk food for animals?

On this June morning, we help farm manager Jon Larason, dressed as a tenant farmer, with the barn chores. We’re treated to not one but two special introductions: A flock of tiny, fuzzy turkey chicks scooting after their mother, and a gaggle of six-week-old goslings, newly downy.

Larason skillfully explains to youth what their 18th-century lives might be like. “From age 12 until marriage,” he says to an 11-year-old girl in a hoodie, “you might well be a dairymaid, taking care of the cows.”  She winces, then smiles slowly, flashing back to the present.

Kids of all ages leap to hunt for eggs in the henhouse, a likely chore for the youngest children back then. Climbing high on piles of hay, toddlers to pre-teens gather more than 30 tan chicken eggs and larger, speckled turkey eggs. Rhonda Sabo of Newport and her 3-year-old New Yorker grandson, Noah, like brushing Josie the donkey and Beau, the 1900-pound ox.

The tour concludes with buttery johnnycakes cooked in a cast-iron skillet on the fireplace hearth, overseen by Justin Squizzero, director of historic interpretation, in natty deerskin breeches. A mother and pre-teen daughter from Texas already are asking about other farm programs, such as “Kids in the Kitchen,” where farm manager Shelley Otis introduces heirloom species in the garden she cultivates.

Was it a typical breakfast in the barnyard? “I like working with living things because they’re unpredictable,” Larason says. “It’s different one day to the next.”

BREAKFAST IN THE BARNYARD: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Coggeshall Farm, Coggeshall Farm Rd., Bristol, R.I. $8 adults; $5 seniors and children 6-12. Members, $5 adults, $3 seniors and children 6-12. Children 5 and under, free.

KIDS IN THE KITCHEN:  This youth version of the farm’s popular “Historic Foodways and Hearth Cooking Workshop” teaches how to cook farm-raised produce over the hearth as if you lived 200 years ago. Wednesdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Reservations required: phone 401.253.9062 or email info@coggeshallfarm.org. $20 /person; $18/person/members. Ages 6-18; for safety, children 6-12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Photo Credit: Coggeshall Farm

Category: community news, farms/orchards, local ri area


Elaine Beebe

about the author ()

Elaine Beebe lives in Barrington with her daughter. A freelance writer and editor, Elaine has covered everything from climate change in Bhutan to bands that will never become famous, California charter schools to the Pillsbury Bake-Off. If I were a super hero, I would be Grammar Girl, proofreading faster than a speeding bullet.

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  1. Elyse Major elyse says:

    i haven’t visited coggeshall farm in years. beautifully described … sounds like a return visit needs to be planned.

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