Wealth of Winter Activities With Primrose Farm Park Programs
How are you going to keep them down on the farm, especially through the long, cold months of winter? With tantalizing new programs and treasured favorites, farm fans can get an up-close-and-personal view of what life was like on a 1930s-era small family homestead.
Because farming doesn’t end once the crops are harvested, the St. Charles Park District’s Primrose Farm offers workshops, storytelling times, and informative sessions that provide an in-depth look at what daily life was like on such farms. Activities such as feeding and caring for livestock, for instance, and preparing and preserving meat comprised a major part of every day.
One of the most important events to take place on a small farm was the annual hog butchering, and Primrose Farm’s 3-day examination of this essential activity is a staple of the fall and winter season programming, according to Kirk Bunke, Primrose Farm manager.
School groups can visit Primrose Farm on Thursday, Nov. 29, from 10 a.m. to noon, when they can learn about the rich cultural tradition behind hog butchering. Because this process is best done during cold weather, traditional farm families often saw the annual hog butchering as a cause for family gathering, a festive occasion that enabled them to celebrate the end of the harvest season and honor the bounty about to be provided for their winter sustenance. Geared toward high school students, this program will provide insight into the cultural importance of hog butchering and discuss the science and anatomy of pork processing.
Those wanting to obtain a more practical knowledge of hog butchering can attend a Hog Butchering Workshop on Friday, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4p.m. This intensive, all-day program provides hands-on instruction about the kinds of techniques used by generations of hog farmers to clean, dress, and butcher a hog, and covers various methods for curing and preserving meat. Two Birkshire hogs that have been raised at Primrose Farm will be prepped and ready for scalding, scraping, field dressing and butchering.
An overview of hog butchering is offered on Saturday, Dec. 1, for anyone wanting to learn the basics of cut selection and curing processes such as smoking, salting, pickling, and brining. In addition to demonstrations on the various methods of preparing cuts of meat typically enjoyed today, participants will also learn about the kinds of processing typically employed in the 1930s to provide cuts such as jowl bacon and picnic butts.
Hogs aren’t the only livestock raised and cared for at Primrose Farm. Another popular program that continues through February is “Chicken and Eggs.” Every Saturday morning from 10:30 to 11:30, children under the ages of 14, accompanied by a parent or guardian, can help gather eggs straight from the nest. The best part? They get to take the eggs home!
During the course of this decidedly non-Easter egg hunt, participants learn about the diet and management needs of the Farm’s resident Columbian Wyandotte chickens, a now-endangered species that was once commonly found on small farms in the early 20th-century.
“This is especially relevant now that so many localities have approved ordinances for homeowners to raise poultry in their backyards,” says Bunke.
Nor are chickens the only Primrose Farm critters available for animal “meet and greets.” Through the “Feed the Animals” program children can help Primrose Farm staff feed and groom other farm livestock such as Shropshire sheep, Belgian draft horses, Jersey cows, and the Columbian Wyandotte chickens mentioned above. Along the way, they’ll learn about the animal’s heritage, grooming and housing requirements.
“It’s a great way to learn about why farmers choose the animals they do, and learn about whose responsibility it would have been to feed and care for this livestock,” says Bunke.
Though typically less hands-on, another valuable way to learn about life on the farm is through the Family Story Time sessions open to children ages 3 to 6 years old. Held on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 2 p.m., Family Story Time gathers participants in the summer kitchen where staff members read a story that focuses on different facets of daily farm life. A snack is provided, and sometimes there is even an animal resident in attendance!
Of course, farming isn’t all work and no play. During the winter, a farm is a great place to get outdoors and explore nature, and one of the ways a farmer back in the 1930s would have gotten around the property is by strapping on a pair of snowshoes. Primrose Farm Park will host Sunset Snowshoe Hikes each Saturday on Jan. 5, Feb. 2, and March 2, when staff will take participants on a guided hike from the farm down to Otter Creek, where they will observe overwintering wildlife such as deer, beaver, and coyotes, and look for resident songbirds and birds of prey such as hawks and kestrels. The 90-minute session includes a brief orientation session for those who have never walked in snowshoes.
“Snowshoeing really isn’t hard to master,” says Bunke. “Basically, once you’ve taken a couple of baby steps, you’re good to go.”
The program concludes back in the summer kitchen with a comforting mug of hot chocolate. What better way to end a day spent down on the farm?
SOURCE: St. Charles Park District