By Casey Duckett
Director of Operations and Interpretation
This is the third year I have maple sugared at Coggeshall Farm Museum. The first year was a modest affair, near the house under a tarp, sitting in a puddle, trying to keep the fire going over two days. The second year I sugared at the farm we decided to host the event for 14 days over three weeks. We set up camp with one convertible wedge tent in our maple grove, and had more to do at camp. This year we decided to go big in terms of our camp, and set up my big wall tent, the convertible wedge, and a fly to block wind. 14 out of the 16 days of this event have gone by, and as usual, nature has proven that it is bigger than us. It's a common theme as a living history professional, and an important one.
The first week of mapling at Coggeshall Farm Museum this year was great. In six days, I spoke with over 1,000 people directly, was filmed for two television segments, and an online segment. The weather was mild, and the sap was flowing pretty well at first, slowing a bit due to too warm conditions by the first weekend. That's when we started to hope for colder air. We wanted to make this event last.
Then, we were reminded "be careful what you wish for." Freezing temperatures and high winds became the norm. Branches froze and cracked, occasionally falling near the camp. For a few days we persevered by our fires, out in the cold. Many people were still coming for the event, although they typically went back inside our farmhouse quickly to get out of the cold, and enjoy some johnnycakes. Soon we were out of sap to boil. The winds were too fierce. The cold was too sharp. There was no point in pretending: it was time . . .
By Emily Liss
Foodways and Garden Manager
As the newly-minted Foodways and Garden Manager, my every waking moment is consumed by food: planning for it, planting it, harvesting it, processing it, eating it, and let's face it, even dreaming about it, too. And frankly, that's as it should be. Much of the story of human history is the story of our relationship with food. Today, we don't think about obtaining food all that much, aside from a weekly trip to the grocery store, and we certainly take for granted the incredible abundance and variety to which we have access.
I don't bat an eyelash when I see strawberries for sale in November, or apples in April, nor when I see products imported from the other side of the world. It seems like every week, there's something for sale that I've never even heard of before -- what on earth you do with breadfruit? This modern way of eating is both a marvel of science and technology, but also raises some unsavory questions about how exactly our food is being produced, and what exactly it contains.
One of the questions I'm often asked on the farm is how a Bristol tenant farmer would have eaten in the 1790's. Visitors often have the idea that the diet was either perfect (no GMO's!), or it was terrible (scurvy, anyone?). I'm here to tell you that, like everything, it was complicated.
On one hand, the standard 18th century diet was not especially diverse. The majority of their daily caloric intake was grain and animal-based, including eggs, meat, milk, and fish. Vegetables were thought of more as "sauce," . . .
By McKayla Hoffman
Often, the first impression that guests at Coggeshall Farm Museum report is the wonderful smell of the fire in the hearth. Every time I hear that, for a brief moment, it’s perplexing. I hardly smell the fire burning in the hearth anymore. I wonder if those living in the farmhouse during the 18th century would have said the same thing.
In the morning, when I work to get the fire going (not always an easy task), I’m thinking about all the chores to check off my to-do list. Meanwhile, a fire burns in the same hearth that sustained many tenant farm families for over 200 years. That hearth—the heartbeat of our old, beautiful house—continues on.
We work side by side with guests collecting firewood of all shapes and sizes, pitching hay into wheelbarrows for the cows and hanging sage to dry in the kitchen so we’ll have it all winter long. Some days, caught up in the minutia of our day, we may temporarily forget that those who lived so long ago survive through us, dwelling in the meeting place between our modern hands and their methods.
My senses are never dulled to the curiosity and awe of our visitors. Sometimes it’s surprising, being on the other side of their thought-provoking questions. It’s akin to someone walking into your house and studying the way you pour a bowl of cereal or turn on the television with a remote control. “Where did you buy your remote? Where did you get that milk?”
We can honor the lives of past people by wearing their carefully layered clothing, by practicing their craft, by tilling the land as they did. . . .
By Casey Duckett, Assistant Director
Coggeshall Farm Museum
It is the first evening of the new year. I am exhausted, my body hurts all over, and I couldn't be happier.
In my first year at Coggeshall Farm Museum, I have had the pleasure of pushing myself to produce the best results possible, outside of my comfort zones, as a living history professional. I have had to be a better carpenter, blacksmith and landscaper than I thought I'd ever need to be. All while using late 18th-century technology.
I have had the opportunity to educate thousands of students from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In this role I've been able to help make new connections for students between their lives and the past. I've taught them how food gets from the ground and from livestock to their plates. I have sparked interest in sustainable agriculture and wilderness preservation. I have impacted and hopefully improved lives.
I have no script per se, beyond the knowledge acquired during my career in living history and the research we have conducted here at Coggeshall on 1790s tenant farming. Every day is full of new challenges and opportunities.
I have been able to work with a talented, passionate and wonderful team of professionals from wildly varied backgrounds, who have all come together out of a love of farming, history and/or education.
I often remind myself that all this has happened because I told a friend I'd help him with a project. I think about how much impact the word, "yes," has had in my life. . . .
By Cindy Elder
Executive Director, Coggeshall Farm Museum
We have reveled in a gentle autumn, yet memories of winter quicken the pace. Tasks that must be done before the snow falls climb quickly to the top of our to-do list. Light clothing soon will give way to heavy cloaks, hats and mittens.
At Coggeshall Farm Museum, we are blessed to be touched intimately by the seasons as we do our daily work. Drawing from Ecclesiastes, I give you the seasons, seen through the lens of our 18th-century living history farm.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born,
and a time to die;
a time to plant,
and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
By Cindy Elder, Executive Director, Coggeshall Farm Museum
The rhythms of daily life are etched into the world around us. Nowhere is this more visible than in the trees which quietly witness little milestones and major events, recording them for the careful eye to read.
At Coggeshall Farm Museum, wood processing is intertwined with every element of the farm. We chop wood to heat the farmhouse, split rails to repair our fences, produce shingles and boards to repair our buildings, whittle tool handles and knitting needles, carve wooden troughs with an adz, harvest fruit from trees and tap our maples to produce syrup.
In the late 18th century, the area surrounding Coggeshall Farm would have been largely cleared of trees to make way for farmland. Our now plentiful supply of trees helps us to appreciate the utilitarian value of these silent giants, who capture the passing of time in their rings.
On one cross-section of a log we find man-made tap marks from maple sugaring conducted decades past. On another log we discover the precise pinpoint holes encircling a trunk, which we theorize were left by a yellow-bellied sap sucker. An axe-hewn trunk reveals an artist's image of time.
When we take a moment to slow down and look more closely at the world around us, wonders are revealed. What once seemed to be a simple pile of firewood becomes a glimpse into the past and a clue to our ecosystem.