, 2015

Northern Neck Farm Museum:
A growing weekend attraction

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
Special Events
June 28: Threshing Day, 10 a.m.
August 9: Young Farmers Day, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
September/October: Corn maze and pumpkin
patch, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Sundays, 1-4 p.m.
October 18: Fall Farm to Fork Dinner, 5 p.m.
October 26: Harvest Festival and closing day, 1-5 p.m.

Flowing fields of wheat, corn and soybeans wave to motorists driving along the roads in the Northern Neck. Farmland is as much a part of the landscape in Rivah country as waterfront. And farming is as much a part of the area’s heritage as fishing, oystering and crabbing.

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So it’s only natural that along with museums paying tribute to watermen and steamboats, the Northern Neck includes a museum honoring the hardworking men and women who farm the land. The Northern Neck Farm Museum at 12705 Northumberland Highway between Burgess and Horsehead opened in 2008 and was founded by fourth-generation farmer, the late Luther Welch, and his wife, Margaret. The museum pays homage to the men and women of the Northern Neck who work the fields and raise livestock. Close to 1,000 people visit the museum every year, according to Luther’s son and board member, Alan Welch. The museum is open May through October.

A red metal and concrete barn-like building serves as the visitors center and exhibition hall, housing antique tractors, old hand tools, planters, seed hullers, butter churns, wheat threshers, photographs and books. There’s even a hands-on children’s area with farming games.

The core collection belonged to Luther Welch, who had thousands of pieces of farm equipment, ranging from gleaners and tractors to corn pickers and nearly 100 antique blocks and pulls.

Outside, there’s a working sawmill, donated by Dale Clarke in memory of his father. It’s up and running on special occasions at the museum and is operated by Clarke and Johnny Jones.

A windmill, the first item erected on the museum grounds, greets all visitors as they enter the driveway. It’s a landmark of sorts, donated by the late James Vincent Garland of Callao.

“Luther wanted to educate the children and adults too on where their food comes from,” said Margaret Welch. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t know where their food comes from, that you just don’t go to Food Lion and it’s there. Somebody has to grow it.”

Visitors can see where and how some of their food is raised during the summer, when the museum has one of four teaching gardens in the Northern Neck cared for by the Northern Neck Master Gardeners.

The garden was started to help children and adults alike understand the basics of vegetable gardening and encourage environmentally-friendly vegetable gardening concepts. The garden is also used to provide fresh vegetables and fruits to those in need through local food pantries.

According to one of the garden’s founders, Diane Keane, the garden was originally 20 feet by 50 feet, but is now well over a quarter of an acre. Master Gardeners work in the garden one or two days a week from March through November.

The typical early crops of broccoli, lettuce, spinach and onions are planted in the spring. During the summer, gardeners grow tomatoes, a variety of peppers, eggplants, melons and squash.

During the summer months, Northumberland YMCA summer campers come to the garden one day a week to learn about gardening.

When the vegetables are harvested, they are donated to the area food banks. Since the garden was started in 2009, over 6,000 pounds of produce have been grown, according to Keane.

The museum is open May through October from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children ages 6-18. Children ages 6 and younger are free. Family memberships are also available.

Upcoming events include Threshing Day on Saturday, June 28. The demonstrations of grain threshing machines and equipment begin at 10 a.m. and continue until the wheat runs out, according to A. Welch. There will be farm equipment displays and demonstrations from the horse-drawn era to the present.

“We’re going to do it the way they did it 70 years ago,” he said. “There will be a stationary wheat threshing machine driven by a 1937 tractor.”

According to Welch, the wheat will be cut by hand and fed by hand into the machine.

The sawmill will be operating and there will be a child’s bounce house shaped like a barn with a silo and slide.

Young Farmers Day will be held August 9.

“Our special days are free” said Welch.

Volunteers, many of them among the 200 museum members, man the exhibition room on Saturdays and Sundays through the six-month season.

“We are always looking for volunteers to help,” said Margaret Welch. A. Welch added the museum is also always looking for antique farm equipment to add to its already vast collection. In fact, the tractor and equipment collection is outgrowing its exhibition hall.

 Luther Welch had a vision for a much larger museum and back when the museum opened some seven years ago, local model maker Bob Butler crafted a model of what the founder eventually wanted the museum to look like. Shaped like a barn, the model is on display at the museum.

“We do so much here that people just don’t even know about,” said Margaret Welch.

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