First of the 2020 crop of Firestone Farm Merino lambs: twins born April 11. A ram and ewe are showing a few of the prized wrinkles.
As I begin my second full year as director of Greenfield Village, I was truly looking forward to welcoming everyone back for our 91st season and sharing the exciting things happening in the village. Instead, as we all face a new reality and a new normal, I would like to share how, even as we have paused so much of our own day-to-day routines, work continues in Greenfield Village.
As we entered the second week of March, signs of spring were everywhere, and the anticipation, along with the preparations for the annual opening of Greenfield Village, were picking up pace. The Greenfield Village team was looking forward to a challenging but exciting year, with a calendar full of exciting new projects.
It's not only about the new stuff, though. We all looked forward to our tried-and-true favorites coming back to life for another season: Firestone Farm, Daggett Farm, Menlo Park, Liberty Craftworks and the calendar of special events, to name a few. Each of these has a special place in our hearts and offers its own opportunities for new learning and perspectives. Despite all our hope and anticipation for this coming year, however, our plans took a different direction.
As our campus closed this past March, it had long been obvious that the year was going to be very different than the one we had planned. The Henry Ford's leadership quickly assessed the daily operations in order to narrow down to essential functions. For most of Greenfield Village, this meant keeping what had been closed for the season closed. Liberty Craftworks, which typically continues to produce glass, pottery and textile items through the winter months, was closed, and the glass furnaces were emptied and shut down. This left the most basic and essential work of caring for the village animals to continue.
Here I am with the Percheron horse Tom at Firestone Barn, summer 1985.
As proud as I am to be director of Greenfield Village, I am equally proud, if not more so, to be part of a small team of people providing daily care for its animals. This work has brought me full circle to my roots as a member of the first generations of Firestone Farmers 35 years ago. It’s amazing to me how quickly the sights, sounds and smells surrounding me in the Firestone Barn bring back the routines I knew so well so long ago. I am also proud of my colleagues who work along with me to continue these important tasks.
The pandemic has not stopped the flow of the seasons and daily life at Firestone Farm. Our team made the decision very soon after we closed to move the group of expecting Merino ewes off-site to a location where they could have around-the-clock care and monitoring as they approached lambing time in early April. This group of nearly 20 is now under the watchful eye of Master Farmer Steve Opp in Stockbridge, Michigan, about 60 miles away.
Meet the newest members of the Firestone Farm family.
After their move, the ewes were given time to settle into their new temporary home. They were then sheared in preparation for lambing, as is our practice this time of year. I am very pleased to report that the first lambs were born Easter weekend, Saturday, April 11. All are doing well, and several more lambs are expected over the next few weeks. Once the lambs are old enough to safely travel, and we have a better understanding of our operating schedule looking ahead, they will all return to Firestone Farm, having the distinction of being the first group of Firestone lambs not born in the Firestone Barn in 35 years.
The last of the Firestone Farm sheep getting sheared in the Firestone Barn.
The wethers, rams and yearling ewes that remain at Firestone Farm were also recently sheared and are ready for the warm weather. One of the wethers sheared out at 18 pounds of wool, which will eventually be processed into a variety of products that are sold in our stores.
The Henry Ford acquired the Vegetable Building from Detroit's Central Farmers Market in 2003, saving it from demolition. Like the farmers markets of today, the Detroit Central Farmers Market was a gathering place – a commercial center, a hub of entrepreneurship and a community space where family, friends, and neighbors congregated and socialized.
This farmers market can become a destination again, a resource for exploring America's agricultural past, present, and future. We need your help to make this happen. #PledgeYourPassion by making a gift this Giving Tuesday.
Learn more about the remarkable history of this important structure.
The City of Detroit invested in a new permanent market building - this expansive vegetable hall - in 1860. Located at the east end of Michigan Avenue, just east of Woodward at Campus Martius, it was roughly four blocks square, extending from Woodward to Randolph. The major building in the market was the expansive vegetable building. Market gardeners, florists, orchardists, and nurserymen sold their produce from rented stalls between 1861 and 1893.
The growth of Central Market reflects Detroit’s growth as a city. Much of Detroit’s early history revolved around its importance as a port and strategic location in the Great Lakes. During the 19th century, Detroit’s manufacturing base and its population grew rapidly, more than doubling every 10 years from just 2,222 people in 1830 to 45,619 in 1860. The Central Market was the first Detroit market not located by the docks, reflecting the city’s transition from a port town to a city. Farmers were now coming to Detroit to sell to city residents, rather than to ship produce to eastern cities.
This certified 1884 Sanborn insurance map shows the Central Market area, including the Vegetable Building and other shops.
The Central Farmers Market began in 1843 as a simple shed built off the rear of the old City Hall building. Problems with traffic congestion caused by the market, along with the desire to make the prominent square more presentable, led newly elected Mayor Christian H. Buhl to pledge to build a new covered market building. The city hired local architect John Schaffer to develop plans. Schaffer’s design called for a “structure to be comprised of forty-eight iron columns supporting a wooden roof, [measuring] 70 by 242 feet from outside to outside.” The construction contract was awarded in June to Joel Gray at a cost of $5,312. In late September of 1860, the Detroit Free Press wrote:
“The new market building in the rear of the City Hall is nearly competed and promises to be a fine structure. It covers the whole of the space occupied as a vegetable market, and consists of an open shed, the roof of which is supported on iron columns and a well-finished framework. The roof is of slate and cost about $1,500. It is designed in time to make a tile floor and erect fountains. The building will accommodate all the business of the market and will constitute an ornament as well as a great convenience to that important branch of city commerce.”
In its first year, the market earned the city $1,127 in rent, covering 20% of the construction costs in one year. The building thrived as the vegetable market through the 1880s. The emergence of the Eastern Market, and the continuing desire to open the street to traffic, led the Common Council to decide to close the Central Market in 1892. In 1893 the Parks and Boulevards Commission, which operated Belle Isle, received approval to move the building to Belle Isle for use as a horse and vehicle shelter. The building was re-erected on Belle Isle in 1894.
In later years it was converted to a riding stable – the sides were bricked in, the roof was altered to add clerestory windows to let in light, and an office and wash area was constructed in the south end. After the riding stable closed in 1963, the building was used to keep the horses of the Detroit Mounted Police, and then later used for storage. It was considered for demolition since the early 1970s. Over the summer of 2003, the building was dismantled and the parts from the original market building were preserved for re-erection in Greenfield Village.
The Detroit Central Farmers Market vegetable building is a rare and important building. Because of fires and development pressures, wooden commercial buildings, particularly timber-framed buildings, rarely survive to the present in urban settings. This may be the only 19th century timber-frame market building surviving in the United States. Its move to Belle Isle saved it from demolition.
The building is architecturally significant. It is an excellent expression of prevailing architectural tastes, as demonstrated by the Free Press review. It captures the rapidly changing world of building construction of the mid-19th century. The building represents the pinnacle of the timber framer’s craft; it is elegantly shaped and ornamented in a way that makes the frame itself the visual keystone of the design. It was built shortly before timber frame construction was eclipsed by the new balloon frame construction, which used dimensional lumber and nailed joints. The cast iron columns that support the timber-framed roof represent the newest in manufactured construction materials. Cast iron was the favorite material of the modern builder in the mid-19th century. It was easy to form into a variety of shapes, and ideal for adding ornamentation to buildings at a moderate cost. The columns in the market building have been formed to represent two different materials – the lower section resembles an elaborately carved stone column, while the upper section looks like the timber frame structure that it supports.
The building captures the exuberance and optimism of the city of Detroit as it grew in its first wave from a frontier fort and outpost, to an important city. A “useful and beautiful” market building in the city’s central square was important to this image of this growing city – as evidenced by the fact that it took only nine months from Mayor Buhl’s inaugural address of January 11, 1860 promising a new market building, to its substantial completion. Few buildings survive from this first era of growth in the city of Detroit.
For 30 years customers engaged with vendors at the Vegetable Building in Detroit's Central Market. For 110 years the building served the public in a variety of ways on Belle Isle. Your donation will help The Henry Ford rebuild this structure in the heart of Greenfield Village. There it will inspire future generations to learn about their food sources. Make history and #PledgeYourPassion this Giving Tuesday.
Jim McCabe is former Collections Manager at The Henry Ford.
The act of farming draws nutrients from the soil. If the nutrients are not returned, the soil will become depleted and lose productivity. One of the best ways to restore the soil is to recycle what was removed from it by spreading manure on it. This International Harvester Manure Spreader made a dirty job not-so-dirty.
Caring for the Land: Forgotten – Then Re-discovered
To the Europeans who settled colonial America, the availability of land seemed limitless. Farmers paid little attention to caring for the soil, quickly abandoning the fertilizing activities they had practiced in Europe. These farmers felt it more cost effective to simply move on to new land when the soil lost productivity, rather than put in the effort to restore its fertility.
Buying fresh produce direct from local farmers is a key to our efforts today to “eat local.” Nearly 90 years ago, Clara Ford was advocating the same thing, to improve on diets that were undermined by too much processed food and--more importantly to her--to improve the situations of rural farm women.
Barns are one of the best ways to tell where you are when you are traveling—especially if you happened to be traveling through the United States 150 years ago.
Barns are generally the largest man-made feature of the rural landscape. They can tell you a lot about the type of farming that is going on, as well as the cultural background of the family that built them. Unlike houses or commercial buildings, barns generally lack stylistic adornment. Since building a barn was often a community undertaking, the general form and the details of barn construction often changed slowly—barn-builders were limited to construction techniques that everyone in the community knew how to do. As a result, until the late 1800s, barns tended to differ more from place-to-place, than they did over time.
The barn at the Firestone Farm tells us that the Firestone family was of German ancestry, that people from the Germanic sections of Pennsylvania settled the community where the family lived in Ohio, and that their farm was the typical mix of livestock and grain crops found in the northeast and upper Midwestern United States.
What physical clues tell us this?
The Firestone barn is of a type known as a Pennsylvania-German bank barn, or “Sweitzer” barn, one of the primary barn types found in the United States before 1880. Bank barns are large, multi-purpose structures that combined several farm functions under a single roof. Two-story and rectangular in form, they have a gable roof with a ridgeline running the length of the building. They are called bank barns because one side of the barn is built into the bank of a hill, allowing wagons to be driven into the upper floor of the barn. The opposite side of the barn has an overhang, known as a projecting forebay. Livestock were kept in the lower story of the barn.
This story originally ran in the June-May 2013 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.
Greenhouses on rooftops in city centers, next to supermarkets, on hospital campuses, in Antarctic research centers, on golf resorts and on space stations.
I continue to see new applications and extensions of hydroponic growing popping up in nontraditional spaces around the world, especially as populations increase and arable land declines. For me, I consider it my privilege that I have been able to help design cropping systems in some of these spaces — from the British West Indies and downtown Montreal to a suburb of Detroit — that are maximizing production while using less energy and natural resources.
Hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, isn’t a new science, but it is a versatile one.
Almost all commercial greenhouse vegetable production is grown hydroponically. Some of the largest growers in the U.S. and Canada, such as Village Farms, Windset Farms, Eurofresh Farms and Houweling’s Tomatoes, have hydroponic greenhouse operations equaling 200 or more acres in size, with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce and various herbs growing.
One of my most recent challenges was designing a small greenhouse for Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in a suburb outside Detroit. The objective was to produce vegetables hydroponically to increase production in the limited area of the greenhouse. At the same time, they wanted to grow an assortment of vegetables.
To do this, we designed a number of different hydroponic systems to meet the specific needs of each crop. Plant towers increased production of various herbs, as greenhouses have vertical space that must be optimized in its production systems. A water culture system called nutrient film technique (NFT) was the choice for lettuce and basil. Tomatoes, peppers and other vine crops are grown in buckets of perlite with a drip irrigation system feeding the plants with a nutrient solution.
The versatility of hydroponics applied at its simplest best.
Better by design, hydroponic operations, whether they are large and commercial or smaller scale like the hospital’s greenhouse, require less space, less energy to run and consume less water. And, without the presence of soil, they don’t have to rely on artificial pesticides. Instead, they can use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a biological procedure powered by natural predators and bioagents (pesticides made from natural sources), to control pests.
For the end consumer, that equates to crops free of disease, improved food safety and even increased nutritional value.
Howard Resh is the manager of the hydroponic farm at CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa in Anguilla, British West Indies, where fresh salad crops are grown for the guests of the resort. Dr. Resh is also an international consultant on the development of hydroponic operations. He has written five books, with Hydroponic Food Production in its seventh edition, and also has a website.
As spring officially begins today, Michiganders breathe a collective sigh of relief. For those who have experienced it, the winter of 2014 has been memorable; this is especially true for the Firestone and William Ford Barn staff who braved polar vortexes and many feet of snow to ensure our animals had the shelter, food, water, vet care, and stimulation they needed.
Throughout the winter months, we still had vet appointments, our farrier still changed horseshoes, we still taught horses new skills (when conditions were safe for humans and horses alike), and we still moved tons of hay and grain. Carrying several 50-pound hay bales is quite a task; doing the same through drifting snow and arctic winds is heroic! The folks who do this day-in and day-out do not see themselves as heroes, however. They have a deep dedication to the animals that make Greenfield Village home. This is inspiration enough to do whatever is required—and more!
As the days get longer, the sun stronger, and birdsong louder, we think about spring and our spirits are lifted. On the farm, spring means new life: blossoms, pasture grasses, oats, wheat… and lambs! As we prepare for our new arrivals (which should begin around the same time Greenfield Village opens for our guests), staff are busy preparing lambing jugs—small, private pens wherein lambs and mothers can bond, shearing pregnant ewes so that they are more comfortable and hygienic for birthing, and undergoing yearly special training that prepares everyone for the challenges and excitement that comes with lambing.
Despite the threat of more snow and cold temperatures, we know both spring and lambs are on the way… and we are eager to share both with our guests when Greenfield Village opens on April 15th! See you then.
Ryan Spencer is former Senior Manager of Venue Interpretation and Firestone Farm at The Henry Ford. He encourages all to think spring!
Raise your hand if a visit to your local cider mill is on your to-do list right now. (We thought it might be!) The promise of cooler days and falling leaves have many of us pining away for a glass of cold apple cider.
Almost 30 years ago the Firestone Orchard was planted in Greenfield Village. Having an apple orchard was an incredibly valuable asset to 19th century farmers like the Firestones, according to Firestone Farm Manager Ryan Spencer. Apples had a variety of uses beyond simple consumption. Not only might a farmer have his own orchard, but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see an apple tree right by the farm house’s kitchen window; it made for easier apple snacking!
From ciders to jams and jellies, apples were an important staple on the farm. Apples were often dried or stored in cellars to be consumed when fresh fruit wasn’t available at certain times during the year. Dried apple pie was a regular option for the family diet during the winter, a fact that many farmers lamented over time.
The types of apple varieties available in the late 19th century were ever-changing as farmers heard about certain varieties doing well in one part of the country and wanting to try those out for themselves.
Between the 1870s and 1900, America lost a lot of great apple varieties. Why? Orchards began to dwindle in number due to concerns of disease and the temperance movement. (It’s safe to say that Carrie Nation was no fan of applejack.) While all of this was going on, Washington was actually planting more apple trees, soon making them one of the largest apple producers, thanks to the state’s good climate.
Today at Firestone Farm you can find our staff drying apples, pressing sweet apple cider, or making apple sauce and apple jelly during the early fall. During our Fall Flavor weekends we’ll not only be doing that, but we’ll be giving tours of our apple orchard, too. Right now our Baldwins and Belmonts are getting ready, our summer Rambo is looking good, and our Maiden’s Blush is, well, getting a bit rosier.
In the mood to bake something with apples now? Try a few recipes from our historic recipe bank as you get ready to embrace all-things apple this fall. Looking for something a bit more modern? Try this recipe for applesauce cake from the 1997 edition of The All New Joy of Cooking. Whichever recipe you try, make sure to tell us what you thought of the recipes by sharing your reactions with #THFOnLiving.
Boiled Cider Apple Sauce (from the 1877 edition of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping)
Pare, quarter and core apples sufficient to fill a gallon porcelain kettle, put in it a half gallon cider, let it boil. Wash the apples and put in kettle, place a plate over them, and boil steadily but not rapidly until they are thoroughly cooked, testing by taking one from under the edge of the plate with a fork. Do not remove the plate until done, or the apples will sink to the bottom and burn. Mrs. W.W. W.
Beat together four eggs, one tea-cup apple-butter, one of sugar, one level table-spoon allspice, and one quart sweet milk and pinch of salt; bake in three pies with an under-crust; - and, by the way, never omit a pinch of salt in custard and lemon pie; and, in fact, many kinds of fruit pies, such as green-apple, currant, gooseberry, and pie-plant, are improved by it.
Pare some apples and cut them in thin slices – put them in a bowl, with a glass of brandy, some white wine, a quarter of a pound of pounded sugar, a little cinnamon finely powdered, and the rind of a lemon grated; let them stand for some time, turning over frequently; beat two eggs very light, add one quarter of a pound of flour, a table-spoonful of melted butter, and as much cold water as will make a thin batter; drip the apples on a sieve, mix them with the batter, take one slice with a spoonful of batter to each fritter – fry them quickly of light brown – drain them well, put them in a dish, sprinkling sugar over them, and glaze them nicely.
Every winter, Firestone farmers work hard preserving meats from our December butchering. Hams, bacon and fatback are all cured using a process that would have been very familiar to the Firestones in 1885.
Every day, Firestone farmers rub these cuts of meat with a mixture of salt, sugar and various spices. The salt dehydrates the meat, while sugar prevents it from getting too tough and the spices help to give the meat a nice flavor. It takes several weeks for larger cuts of meat like hams to finish curing. Once a week, old cure is removed from the meat and it is replaced with fresh cure.
Once the meat is cured, it is wrapped in cheesecloth sacks and hung in the cold room located in Firestone Farm’s cellar.
Near the meat are several other foods that were preserved last year, including dried chili peppers, pickles and crocks of sauerkraut as well as jars of tomatoes, pickled green beans, applesauce and more.
When you visit from April through November, make sure to check out the Firestone home's cellar and cold room - you'll be sure to notice our cured meat hanging from the ceiling in our cold room...and as the year progresses and the time for butchering once again approaches, there will be very little cured meat left hanging in cheesecloth.
The Firestone Farm corn field is making some terrific progress, even though a flooded field in May forced us to replant. (The weather is something farmers struggle with, regardless of the year— whether it's 1885 or 2011!) In fact, it looks like most of our corn plants will still be "knee-high by the Fourth of July," despite all of our spring flooding - huzzah!
Last week, we cultivated our corn for the second time this year. Cultivating is when we loosen the soil and remove the weeds around each corn plant.
Because the Firestones did not use herbicides to kill weeds in their fields, they planted their corn three feet apart in each direction so that they had room to cultivate. And like the Firestones, we use a horse-drawn cultivator remove weeds in our cornfield.
We take our cultivator down each row from north to south, east to west, and then diagonally. This takes a great amount of patience and skill on the part of horse, driver and operator.
We used one of our newest horses, Henry, to cultivate. Although he is very young and new to this job, he handled the tight turns well and only stepped on a few corn plants. It looks like Henry and his partner Tom are turning out to be great additions to Greenfield Village!
Ryan Spencer is manager of Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Working at The Henry Ford was a childhood dream of his – although he did not realize then that it would involve so much manure.