Mr Ed’s Farm is a work in progress that started a long time ago. When I was an elementary school student, Mrs. Johnson took us on a field trip. We had studied Minnesota History. We had studied American Indians. I was a voracious reader, consuming everything the school library had on the topic. I also had a vivid imagination.
The field trip was not a long one. Field trips for school kids don’t have to be. Our class went to Crow Wing State Park, just south of Brainerd where the Crow Wing River flows into the Mississippi. I had never been to a State Park. Being outdoors in a beautiful wooded setting gave me a wonderful first impression. Mrs. Johnson obviously knew a lot about the park and it’s historical significance. We walked to the place where the Ojibwe ambushed the Dakota in a battle that took place in 1768. I remember sitting in those depressions on the river bank, imagining canoes coming around the river bend. I remember looking at and studying the ruts left by the Red River Ox Carts in 1844. We had seen pictures of the ox carts in our social studies book. I could imagine the beasts plodding along with carts filled with wheat, their wheels squeaking under the strain.
The once thriving town of Old Crow Wing, abandoned after the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the river at Brainerd in 1871, fueled my imagination. Mrs Johnson pointed out where buildings had been. We tip-toed through the old cemetery, straining to read the names and dates. I don’t know if I was one of those kids who asked her who these people were. If I didn’t ask, I wanted to. I know this experience contributed to my lifelong interest in genealogy and a 34-year career in the profession of history. I am eternally grateful to Mrs. Johnson for bringing history to life and my life to history.
I had the good fortune to be involved in Beyond School Walls, the education program at IRONWORLD and the Forest History Center school field trip program. These programs serve tens of thousands of students and their teachers. I was able to witness students experience those learning moments. I was able to work with a cadre of skilled teachers and interpreters who responded to student’s questions and thoughts with enthusiasm and humility.
I retired in January of 2012, a mere two days after I reached my rule of 90. I retired, not to get away from a job I loved, but to undertake a new venture. I love history, but my heart goes back to my agricultural roots. As a kid, we never went on a farm field trip. Many of us didn’t have too, we lived the life. Most of the town kids in our school were only a generation removed from the land. They could still visit farms owned by their grand parents or other relatives.
America has changed greatly over the past two generations. The migration from rural to urban has continued at a rapid rate as farm raised children seek employment in non-agricultural professions. The number of working farms has greatly diminished during my life. Opportunities for youth to experience farm life up close and personal are few and far in-between — especially in northern Minnesota. Locating a working farm that can accommodate groups of students and provide meaningful learning experiences within driving distance of a school may not be possible for many teachers.
Mr. Ed’s Farm is located on 160 acres of land about 12 miles east of Hibbing in the Little Swan Area. Originally the land was deeded by the State of Minnesota to a railroad company in 1884. Such deeds were common back then, not to build a railroad on the land, but to sell the land to finance building railroads. The railroad sold the land to the Cloquet Lumber Company in 1888 presumably to be logged off. Hans Foss bought the cutover timberland in 1920. The adjacent road is named after him. Andrew Forsman bought the land in 1921. Mike and Mary Puleiz (Pulis) bought the farm in 1930. We purchased the farm from the Pulis family in 1985.
Like many northern Minnesota farms, it was carved out of cutover timber land. Most farmers raised small grains, hay, potatoes and kept a variety of livestock including a few dairy cows. Farmers had big gardens and raised most of the food they ate. In the early days these farms were powered by horses. This is evidenced by the fact that after we moved to the farm, I discovered many pieces of horse drawn equipment long abandoned and forgotten in the woods.
In 1985, a much younger Mr. Ed undertook the arduous process of reclaiming the land and rejuvenating what remained of the original farm. Numerous outbuildings that had fallen into disrepair were torn down. Barb wire fences, hidden in tall meadow grass, had to be pulled, rolled and carefully disposed of before new fences could be built. The old barn, built with tamarack logs most likely cut from the back forty, needed to be cleaned out and new siding applied. Fields overgrown with brush had to be cleared and reworked.
Within a short period of time, a flock of sheep, some chickens and a team of horses, brought new life to the farm. Over the years, a number of new buildings have been built to house livestock and store machinery. While the farm has tractors used for special tasks, most of the work today is performed by horses using many of the same machines and practices of the heyday of horse farming.
Successful school field trips have certain requirements. They need a relevant theme and purpose. They need a place that can accommodate groups of children that is intrinsically appealing and safe. They need to have a structured learning experience. They need to be aesthetically appealing to students and teachers. They require a high level of expertise and enthusiasm by the instructors. They need to be hands-on, engaging and involve all the students in meaningful ways. They need to be designed to encourage students to ask questions and solve problems. They need to make a connection between the theme and the student’s life. They need to generate empathy for the people whose lives are being interpreted.
The educational theme for Mr. Ed’s Farm is “Agriculture is important and relevant to humans.” The program’s purpose is to provide an opportunity for students to experience life firsthand on a working livestock and crop farm. The program incorporates agricultural history because it focuses on farm life in northern Minnesota during the 1930’s when horses were the major source of power and farm families grew most of their own food.
Mr Ed’s Farm has the infrastructure to support a school field trip program. The buildings and livestock enclosures are learning friendly. The croplands are being actively farmed. Children are naturally drawn to animals. The inventory includes eleven species of farm animals typically found on a diversified northern Minnesota farm during the 1930s. Percheron draft horses provide the bulk of the power for the farming operations.
A structured field trip experience is under development. While the farm will be able to accommodate children of all ages, the core structured program is initially being designed for students grade 2-6. The tour will be designed to accommodate classroom size groups. Each group will be assigned a facilitator. The hands-on activities for each learning area will be age appropriate. There will be a combination of individual, team and all group activities. The field trip experience will be initially designed to be three hours in length with a picnic lunch time.
The following is under development:
Students, upon exiting the bus, will be greeted by their facilitator. After welcoming the class to the farm, the facilitator will inform them they will be helping with the chores. They will be assigned to teams of 4-6 depending on the class size. Each team will be featured in certain parts of the tour.
Initially we have identified five major learning areas. They are: Animal Husbandry, Crops and Soil, Farm Mechanics, Horsepower and Feed and Seed. Each group will rotate through the learning stations. Upon reaching a station, the facilitator will ask the assigned team to step forward. Team members will be instructed on how they need to work together to accomplish their task.
Feed and Seed: This station will explore what a farmer needs to do to raise grain for the animals and himself. There will be different grains to identify, corn to shell, grain to clean and feed and flour to grind.
Animal husbandry: This will be a series of mini stations to learn about the care and feeding of sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, goats, llama’s, ducks, rabbits, dogs, barn cats and horses. It will also highlight the reasons they are raised and the products they provide.
Farm mechanics: This station will feature how things work, what the machines are used for and what is involved in maintaining and repairing equipment and tools. Basic principles of physics will be explored.
Crops and soils: This station will focus on the importance of soil and how farmers are stewards of the land. They will learn about the characteristics of different kinds of soil, about seeds, weeds, insects and diseases. Planting, tending and harvesting will be included.
Horsepower: This station will feature the care and use of draft horses, historically and today. Students will learn about feeding, training, harnessing and maintenance of working horses.
All group activities will include planting a garden, turning a horsepower and a horse drawn wagon ride.
As the tour progresses, the facilitator will help students make connections between their individual responsibilities. For example: What happens if the seed is not cleaned and weed seeds removed? The point is to make the students aware of the many things a farmer has to do to grow food for people and their livestock. Everyone’s job is important and connected to everyone else’s.
The learning experiences will be designed to engage the students in problem solving exercises. For example, students may be asked how do you know how much to feed a horse? They will need to take into consideration the size and condition of the animal and what type of work it is doing. What do you think will happen if… questions will be posed and students will be asked for their suggestions and solutions.
The learning experiences will incorporate relevance and empathy whenever possible. For example, drought and potato bugs were major problems in the 1930’s. Students will be asked to imagine that they had to get their food from a garden and that they had to raise food for their animals. Then they would ponder the question; What would happen if it didn’t rain? Or if the potato bugs ate all the leaves and blossoms and there were no potatoes to dig? What if a fox got all your chickens and you had no eggs to sell or trade for food?
The facilitators will incorporate stories from the Great Depression era on how people coped with natural and economic hard times. These stories will emphasize what it was to be a child on a hard scramble, northern Minnesota farm. The conversation will be interspersed with thought-provoking questions: What would you do? How do you think those kids felt? How would you feel if this happened to your family?
Finally, the field trip is intended to leave the students with a memorable experience. This is the day they got to visit Mr. Ed’s Farm. This is the day they were asked to help with the chores. This was the day they got to see, feed and pet real farm animals. This was the day their class worked, played and shared a real horse drawn wagon ride to see huge draft horses performing farm work.
Students learn where food comes from.
Students learn the meanings of words like agriculture, crops, livestock husbandry, planting, harvesting, soil and more
Students learn about daily life and seasons on a farm
Students learn how they are connected to each other and the world they live in by working together to produce a crop.
Students learn how, children born in another time, lived and how that compares to their lives today.
Please feel free to provide comments, suggestions and ideas. Mr. Ed’s Farm is a work in progress. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.