A Dietitian in the Field: The Farm Equipment Museum
Step Back In Time
This windmill spinning lazily in the breeze is the first stop on my journey back in time. Back to the days when pretty much everyone grew or raised at least some of the food they ate. Back in the day, a windmill like this may have pumped water into the trough that was the “fountain” for a herd of cows. Today, it is a wishing well that supports the museum and its preservation of agricultural artifacts. I am visiting the Farm Equipment Museum today to learn about agriculture’s past.
Walking into the Farm Equipment Museum, I was overwhelmed by the space and the sheer volume of “stuff” that is housed in this building. Museum volunteers Page Baird and Dawn MacKay kindly agreed to be my tour guides. Both are active members of the group who make this local treasure possible. Page is a skilled craftsman who has restored many of the pieces found throughout the museum. Dawn has a vast supply of knowledge about the artifacts, where they came from, and how they were acquired for the museum.
This diverse collection illustrates how farm life has progressed since the mid-1800’s. From hand and horse-driven farm implements to vintage sports equipment and a rope from the original Bluenose, this museum has it all. The collection features people and products that influenced agriculture in this area. I was surprised to learn what was produced and sold in my backyard! And, it’s always fun to see things I remember from home and my grandparent’s farm on display. You never know, maybe you have an agricultural artifact on your property!
Dawn explains that the 11,600 square foot museum has displays that represent ten different areas of agriculture in Nova Scotia. Local interest historical pieces are tucked into the museum too because they are just too valuable to be left out.
My tour took me through the dairy, beef, poultry, sheep, and hog industries. Horses and oxen were important animals on the farm, as they often were the “engines” of the farm implements. The blacksmith and the cooper were another part of the agriculture picture, contributing to animal care, machinery maintenance, and the repair and movement of goods. It is amazing how many people were part of this industry.
Trades Supporting The Industry
The barrels created by the cooper were the equivalent of our modern day reusable grocery bags. Barrels were made in different sizes and were used to package and transport foods. In an early example of recycling, once the filled barrels reached their destination and the goods were delivered, the barrels were re-filled with products from the destination and shipped back to where they started.
Perishable foods, like fish, were dried before being packed. The barrel tops were labeled with stencils before being shipped. If you are curious about where some of those barrels were shipped to, be sure to ask!
Apples, both dried and fresh, as well as potatoes, were some of the other foods that were packed and shipped in the wooden barrels made by the local cooper.
A cooper is a tradesperson who built or repaired wooden barrels and casks. If you time your visit right, you may get to see the cooper at work!
Agriculture is more than just animals. It’s also the crops. And those crops are part of feeding both people and animals.
For anyone, (like me) who remembers their first job as a blueberry picker, you will delight in seeing the hand rakes (or, perhaps not!). In addition to the blueberry industry, you will find interesting bits on strawberries, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, potatoes, and many kinds of vegetables grown then and now in Nova Scotia’s fields.
I noticed that the tools of the weeder seem to be the same then as now. A hoe, is a hoe, is a hoe!
For those with a sweet tooth, check out the maple syrup and honey displays. And let’s not forget lumber and carpentry. Because without wood and those that collected it, we’d be a sorry lot! P.S. Check out the antique saws. Phew – who needs a gym if you can operate one of those monsters!!!
If you are a fan of the horror film, this section of the museum is for you. Many sharp implements used to harvest grain and hay (or scare unsuspecting individuals) are safely displayed where no body parts can be damaged! The scythes and forks were the tools used to gather hay and grain, along with the huge hay wagons.
As someone who vividly remembers stacking square hay bales on steamy summer days, I shudder to think about how challenging it would be to fill hay wagons with loose hay using a pitchfork. If I thought it was hot and sweaty work lifting bales, I suspect it was a breeze compared to the task of scooping up loose hay from the field, loading a wagon, and then transferring it to a hay mow!
The Tools To Grow Food.
Agriculture starts with people working the land. There are implements that were driven by people, by animals, and finally, by machines to explore here. It is amazing the similarities and the differences you see as you look at the progression of farm machinery through the years.
“The Fordson tractor is the oldest farm implement in the collection, dating to 1918.” Dawn MacKay
The Vintage Kitchen
My favourite place at the museum should come as no surprise to anyone, the kitchen, since that’s where the action is! The volunteers have created a cozy and welcoming country kitchen. Be sure to say hi to Ruby. She holds a place of honour, cozied up to the wood stove, right next to the tea kettle.
Just like in modern times, food still needs to be cooked before it can be enjoyed. And a stroll through the kitchen will show that many tools we use today look very similar to what they looked like in the 1800’s. There are common threads in cooking. You need a heat source, a container to hold the cooking food and a spoon to stir (and keep it from burning). Seems that some things haven’t changed all that much!
The antique dishes are amazing. The wooden table is set with a complete set of china. It’s hard to imagine those delicate dishes being held in hands that are operating some of the machinery on display. But like today, the experience of eating is enhanced by the environment we eat in, and the people we share our food with.
Be sure to check out the cupboards and the general store counter. The shelves are filled with vintage food containers. Apparently, my age is showing, since I recognized some brands that are still on the grocery shelves today!
Trust me to find the kitchen tool that is part of creating my favourite food: mashed potatoes!
Recipe Card Holder and Cookbooks
What would a kitchen be without tried and true recipes?
Wooden Kitchen Utensils
Is it possible to find a kitchen that doesn’t have at least one wooden spoon?
Cooking in or on a wood stove is definitely an art form. It takes skill to set a fire so the stew, the cookies or the bread cooks evenly (and not to a blackened stage). I wonder how many tries it took new chefs to figure that out?
“The wood stove is the oldest artifact in the kitchen. Our guess is that is dates to the late 1800’s. It is a unique piece, as it was built at a foundery in Brule, and sold for a whopping price of $12.00!”
Metal Cookie Cutters
A Baker’s Dream
I think my favourite part of my whole visit was seeing the baking tools. I remember seeing some of these items in Gram’s kitchen. Whether they came from her family or another source, I’m not sure. But she had a bread board and a collection of metal cookie cutters which were put to good use!
One convenience that I certainly appreciate is not having to churn my own butter to make those cookies, then or now!
Table Top Butter Churn
Plan to Visit
The Farm Equipment Museum is open Tuesday and Thursday, May through September. Hours are 10am-12pm and 1pm-3pm. Admission is free, but donations are gratefully accepted. The volunteers love to know who came to visit, where you are from and what you think, so don’t forget to sign the guest book.
I’ve been to the museum many times, and always see something new, so don’t think just because you were there once, you don’t need another visit. Check out their Facebook page (Farm Equipment Museum Truro) for upcoming events.
Those volunteers provide a weekly History Mystery where visitors can guess the tool and what it was used for. I am leaving you with a Museum Teaser to peak your curiosity. These three items have really interesting, but very different stories. You’ll have to step back in time yourself to hear them!