The fact that most of us have become city kiddies belies our agrarian roots. Only a few generations back our ancestors led self-sufficient lives on farms. When massive numbers migrated to cities during the Industrial Revolution, family farms still drew people to visit from time to time.
Now our immediate ancestors are more likely to have an urban background, and family farms are fading, so who has farms to return to?
Some kids have never seen nor sniffed a cow up close and personal, nor plucked a warm egg from a hen’s nest nor picked and eaten a fresh ear of corn in a field. Some of us probably have not done these things in a long time because we just aren’t as close to the land as we once were.
If your ancestors worked the land and no living relatives do now, you may have to be a bit more creative about including ancestral agrarian pursuits to add interest and educational value to your reunion.
In all fairness, and to bring this to a contemporary point, if there are tours of large corporate farms they are well worth the time to see how our food starts. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a working farm or exhibits that include demonstrations of milking, (sheep) shearing, egg gathering – things farmers take for granted. You may even encounter some fascinating creatures you know little about such as llamas, ostriches and buffalo all part of modern agri-businesses. Even fish farms may have tours.
Rural communities have many farm-related county fairs and festivals as events that differ from theme parks and cities. Reunions in autumn can enjoy harvest festivals as well.
Historians and historical societies had the foresight to preserve farms and displays, and some offer re-enactments of farm life from earlier eras. Elmer Pavlis, Buckley, Michigan, has farmed since he was 13 and started collecting shortly thereafter. He has collected gadgets, trinkets and tools dating from colonial times to the early 20th century and displays an extraordinary assemblage at This Ole Farm Museum. He is the tour guide and renowned for how much history he knows about all the tools and yesterday’s rural life. The farm museum is at 11459 Pavlis Rd., Buckley, Michigan. Reservations are necessary for a tour; call 231-269-3672.
Reunions at farms here and abroad
Diane Owen, Minneapolis, Minnesota, of the Glasrudag Family Reunion, wrote, “We usually go to the family farm in Spring Grove, Minnesota, but also located a tourist community nearby where family can make arrangements and children and adults have lots of activities, but the town is small enough that everyone is safe and can wander at will.”
Even when we went to Norway, 165 Americans met 180 Norwegian family at the family farm.
Three wealthy family benefactors contribute sponsor-level donations every reunion. The sponsors pay extra for activities and receive special recognition and a golf shirt to identify them. We charge only a minimal amount for the actual reunion that way.
We sing Norwegian songs at the banquet on Saturday night, and we have a large spread of pictures from past reunions. We always hand out a survey at the end of a reunion asking for preferences, dislikes and ideas, and asking for volunteers. We track down a “head of a branch” of the family to keep us up-to-date.
Generations from around the globe
More than 240 descendants of Martin and Mary Nissly gathered for a family reunion at the original farmstead northeast of Dallas Center, Iowa. Clair Baldner, great-grandson of Martin and Mary, lives in the original home with his wife, Ann.
Martin, the Nissly family patriarch, had a brother John, who originally came to Iowa and bought the first farm, intending to settle. When he returned to Pennsylvania for his bride-to-be, however, she refused to come “way out west.” John sold his farm to Martin, who brought his wife, Mary, and two sons, Noah and Levi. Six more children were born in Iowa.
The Century Farm home looks much like it did when it was built in 1883. The small “weaning” house no longer stands next to the main house. It was for newlyweds to wean themselves from the main family before moving to their own farm. The “bank barn” still stands and is in use. A “bank barn” is built into a hill, as many barns were in Pennsylvania, with a drive that leads up into the hay mow on the second level.
The farm has grown from two 40-acre parcels to 160 acres. Clair’s son, Stewart Baldner, a fifth-generation Nissly family member, still farms the original land.
Clair and Ann planned the reunion and sent e-mails to each primary family to send to extended families. Second and third cousins came from Greece, Australia, Mexico, Canada and 11 US states. On Sunday morning, 140 people gathered in the machine shed for a church service, followed by a spread of good food.
“We were overwhelmed with the appreciation of family members that they could have the reunion at the original homestead,” Ann said. “So many people made the effort to get here. It was a joyous time.”
From a story by Maxine Grove in the Dallas County News, Dallas, Iowa.
Up close and personal
Everyone loves Adams Farm in Mount Snow, Vermont. This sixth-generation working farm is home to 100+ friendly farm animals you can visit and interact with. Take a hayride, wander through craft and quilt shops, or enjoy a bonfire and marshmallow roast. Mount Snow Valley info 802-464-8092.
Or be cowed at the Van Der Geest Dairy Farm near Merrill, Wisconsin. The Van Der Geest Dairy Farm was designed with tours in mind, giving groups a bird's eye view of operation, but not disturbing the process. Van Der Geest milks 3,000 cows, each three times a day – an almost continuous milking schedule – with only five workers per shift and computerized technology. The tour takes place on a catwalk above the operations, and you can descend to a lower level where the milk is collected for shipment. Visit www.vandergeestdairy.com.
Get the scoop when you tour the Mayfield Dairy, one of the largest dairy plants in the southeastern US. Enjoy a short video history of the dairy, see how milk is bottled and learn why Mayfield’s is called “The World’s Best Ice Cream” at the ice cream parlor. Call 423-745-2151.
Sweetwater Valley Farms boasts the best farmstead cheese in Tennessee, with names like Tennessee Aged and Volunteer Jack. See how cheese is made and taste samples while petting calves. Call 865-458-9192.
Follow John Deere
Quad Cities (Illinois and Iowa) Convention & Visitors Bureau (QCCVB) has created themed multi-day tours for groups. The “Crop Circles” Tour highlights Quad Cities' connection to John Deere, maker of tractors and farm implements. It begins at the John Deere Historic Site in Grand DeTour, Illinois, where John Deere first established his blacksmith shop, where an actual blacksmith is still creating iron designs. Follow Deere's path to the Quad Cities, where he set up his factory on the banks of the Mississippi River in Moline, Illinois. Tour John Deere attractions, family homes, an area family farm and grain elevator.
The QCCVB is happy to customize your itinerary for the area. Click on “For Planners” at www.visitquadcities.com to see tour details.
Quad Cities is located on the Mississippi River and is made up of the riverfront cities of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.