Historic Harvest Fest brings Suffolk County farm back to 1800s

Sign welcoming visitors to the Historic Harvest Day at Suffolk County Farm and Education Center on Nov. 12.

By Kaitlyn Martin and Antonia Brogna

Dressed in a frontier-style long floral skirt, a white apron, hiking boots and a tan hoodie, Pat Baade put a hand on the wooden butter churn in front of her. Behind her there was a large piece of fabric with a clunky black stove and a farm sink painted onto it, a mock kitchen. The lights in the room were turned off. Twenty-seven people sat on benches around her.

“Today we’re going to pretend like we’re in the 1800s,” Baade said. “If you were a child back then, you would’ve lived on a farm, and you would’ve started working at four years old. And you would’ve had to churn butter, which is what we’re going to do today.”

Butter churning was just one activity offered at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center’s second Historical Harvest Day on Sunday, Nov. 12. The Yaphank-based farm offers educational opportunities for children like field trips and seasonal programs and also hosts several family-oriented events.

“We’re open every day from nine to three free of charge for people to just come in and walk around,” education coordinator Allison Grief said. “We do special events, like today, our Historic Harvest Day… and just kind of get people to enjoy being outside, doing some quality family activities.”

The center also hosts bigger events, like Pumpkin Fling in October and Baby Animal Day in May, which Grief said can bring in up to 4000 people.

There are other similar attractions on Long Island and in the surrounding areas. Old Bethpage Village Restoration is open seasonally and has 36 historic buildings, complete with costumed interpreters to educate visitors about life in the 1800s. The Smithtown Historical Society also holds educational programs, although its primary focus is history instead of farm life. Historic Richmond Town in Staten Island has four sites in one museum, including Decker Farm, which is “New York City’s oldest continuously working family style farm,” according to its website.

The Suffolk County Farm and Education Center’s Historical Harvest day brought in 100 or so people who enjoyed hayrides, farm animals, hot apple cider, 1800s-era toys and more. Educators and volunteers, like Baade, were on premises to lead some activities and provide families with facts and explanations about life on a Long Island farm in the 1800s.

“I think to make [the children] aware of where their food actually comes from,” Baade said. “A lot of them think you just go to the store to buy it, and to get them enthused about that, and maybe, you know, have something at home where they start a vegetable garden in their backyard.”

While the children played with wooden toys, pet farm animals and helped churn butter, many of the parents appreciated the exposure to nature their families were getting.

“I think it’s important to see, you know, a fire is built with wood and some bricks, and animals, before you get the bacon that you like to eat, there’s the pig that you have to feed, and if you get the milk you like to drink, there are the cows that you feed and take care of it, and so on,” Vaughn Davis, father of two, said. “It’s something you don’t get where we are in Bay Shore and especially in the city, where I work, so it’s good that they get to be exposed to this and experience that as well.”

The farm’s year-round fun, educational events have created a lasting impact on some families, making them loyal and enthusiastic patrons.

“It’s a beautiful day, it’s a beautiful place to come,” Jen Boese, who attended Historic Harvest Day with her husband and four young children, said. “We come for any event they have. The kids love it.”

Even the most ordinary chores were more fun when done the old-fashioned way, it seemed.

“We did laundry,” Boese’s daughter whispered eagerly to her mother. “Don’t forget we got to hang clothes up, too!”