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Farm Days

 
ABOVE  Children find the activities engrossing, including planting seeds in the pumpkin patch.

Near the end of her long life, Amelia Little re-called her childhood on the Little Farm in New-bury, Massachusetts, with great fondness. “Friends came and played with us—we played all kinds of games in the barn. We had nothing that we called a playground. You just made your own playground.” Amelia recalled her secret place in the attic, piles of hay she loved to jump into, cookie jars that were perpetually full of gingerbread, and above all, the games that she and her companions invented in the great wide fields around their house.

Nearly a century later, on a warm day in late April, three boys, two girls, and a dog are playing a spirited game of tag in the pasture behind the stone house. They shriek with laughter as they weave quickly through the farmyard, stopping only to shout a greeting to the two piglets that are napping in the sun in the corner of their pen. Like Amelia and her companions, the children have made their own playground. Later, one of the boys pumps water from the old well, while the two girls explore rooms indoors that represent different periods in the house’s long history.

 

ABOVE  Children engrossed in piecing together the past in the archaeology display.

This lively mix of education, enjoyment, and engagement drives the transformation of the Little Farm (formerly known as the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm), which has just completed its first season as a historic site for children and families. Through their interaction with the site, children and adults together consider issues of time and culture, identity, and the various ways of learning about the past—all in an open, fun-filled environment. Hands-on learning stations, where children can literally get a feel for the past, are situated throughout the house. At one table, children can process “excavated artifacts” and learn about the archaeological dig that informed the furnishing of the house’s Boardman Parlor. In the nineteenth-century parlor they can sit in a horsehair rocker, rummage through a steamer trunk, try on kid gloves and old spectacles, and see three-dimensional images by looking through a stereopticon. The kitchen, full of canned and dry goods, cooking implements, medicine, and utensils from the 1930s, offers a chance for adults to share reminiscences of their childhoods with the younger generation. It’s even possible to get misty-eyed over a bottle of codliver oil, as one grandmother discovered this summer on a visit with her family.

The power of the Little Farm rests not only in its extraordinary manor house but in the land, 230 acres of open space in a community where farmland is rapidly disappearing, and in an agricultural tradition that is centuries old. Animals have returned to the farm for the first time in nearly three decades, with the introduction of two Yorkshire/Berkshire cross piglets who spent the season in their cozy pen modeled after the last chicken coop on the farm. The pumpkin patch, planted and tended by children, yielded a bumper crop, and next year’s 1930s kitchen garden will produce rhubarb, raspberries, and herbs. The old well has a new hand pump, and cedar tables are available for picnickers.

 
ABOVE LEFT A child marvels at an old-fashioned stereopticon.

ABOVE RIGHT Befriending pigs at the Little Farm in Newbury Massachusetts.

The primary identification that people will always have with the Little Farm is of great age, with ancient buildings and huge trees that summon up feelings of comfort and nostalgia. This sense of place is the most powerful element of the Little Farm. Those who grew up in the area remember it as a mysterious place with occupants right out of a story book—the gruff but kindly farmer, the ladies who gave tea parties in their medieval house. Newcomers will likely recall visits to the country when they were young, while children find a world of hidden treasures. This season, visitors often commented on their deeply personal responses to the living past and the new experiences they found here. We will have succeeded if, in fifty years, someone starts a story with “There is this old farm out in Newbury that I would go to with my grandfather...”

-Bethany Groff
Regional Site Manager

Farm Days