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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Until We Meet Again

April 16, 2020 Archive Insight

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.

Learn more about our sheep in this segment from The Henry Ford's Innovation Nation:

Winnie, the Firestone shorthorn heifer, enjoying her hay.

In the barn, we also have one of the cows expecting a calf later in the season, and Winnie, a shorthorn heifer, provides daily delight with her playful antics. Several of the horses rotate from the William Ford Barn to Firestone, except for Wilbur. He has proven to be the slowest eater in all the land. This trait of his requires that he get special attention and a place where he can take all the time he needs at Firestone Barn.

Over the course of the winter, many sources are used to acquire the stock of heirloom seeds needed to accurately plant our 18th-, 19th- and early-20th-century kitchen gardens. Some vegetables require seeds to be started ahead of time and planted as young plants in May. These seedlings are nearly ready to be planted in individual pots.

As Mother Nature waits for no one, plans are in place to till and plant the fields and kitchen gardens. The heirloom varieties of vegetables featured in the Daggett, Firestone, Ford Home and Mattox gardens are in the safe hands of Mary Weikum and her master gardener dad. Seedling plants will be ready to go at planting time. The Firestone cornfield will also be made ready for its mid-May planting with the help of Steve Opp and Melvin Daily.

Ben and Sam, the new team of Percheron horses that arrived in Greenfield Village earlier this winter.

The staff at the William Ford Barn also have full days caring for the herd of horses. Their time is well spent in the further training and acclimation of the new team of black Percherons, Ben and Sam.

Except for the wellness checks of buildings and grounds provided by our security, facilities and grounds essential staff, the rest of Greenfield Village patiently slumbers in anticipation of the return of our guests. Until then, the work is very much focused on Firestone Farm and William Ford Barn, at least until the grass really starts to grow around the village.

As we approach what would have been Greenfield Village opening day, please do not despair. The village is in capable hands. All is safe and sound and eagerly awaiting everyone’s return. We will all meet again … on the Village Green. 

(And in the meantime, if you are longing to walk through the streets of Greenfield Village, use our Google Streetview maps to make a virtual visit to Firestone Farm, Cotswold Cottage, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park complex, Liberty Craftworks, and the rest of your Village favorites. You might just catch sight of a high wheeler or Model T roaming the streets.)

Jim Johnson is director, Greenfield Village, and Curator of Historic Structures and Landscapes at The Henry Ford. 

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farms and farming, farm animals, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, by Jim Johnson, Greenfield Village, COVID 19 impact

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