Ag museum delves into state's roots
Published: June 13, 2012
These days, there are 47,500 commercial farms, utilizing 9.25 million acres. The approximate total land area is 34.3 million acres — that is substantially less than the 90 percent of the state's land that used to be devoted to agriculture. However, Florida proudly has the No. 1 U.S. ranking in the value of production for many crops, such as oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes and cucumbers. The state also ranks 11th nationally for total agricultural sales in the United States.
Much has changed since the early days of agriculture, including the types of equipment used, farming and growing techniques, and the best practices implemented.
At the Florida Agriculture Museum in Palm Coast, the past days of agriculture await visitors through interactive exhibits, participatory experiences and other educational experiences on 460 acres of property.
There are five restored buildings one may visit on a guided tour, including the Strawn Citrus Complex, a Depression-era citrus business; the Caldwell Dairy Barn, a 5,000-square-foot reconstruction of Gov. Caldwell's 1940s dairy barn; the Clark Homestead, a farmhouse built in 1880; the Black Cowboys Exhibit, which tells the story of the great extent to which Africans and African-Americans were involved in Florida's cattle industry; and Traxler Commissary, a dry goods store/commissary dating from 1890.
All of the buildings were moved from their original locations and renovated with grant funds provided by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources.
"Visitors are always particularly taken with the Clark Homestead and the Traxler Commissary," said Mary K. Herron, the museum's director of development.
The homestead features many hands-on activities, and a chance for visitors to learn about construction, furnishings and daily life. The dry goods store/commissary store displays many of the tools used for operation.
"Both of those exhibits remind folks of how people lived in the past with very few of today's modern conveniences," said Herron. Also on the grounds is the archaeological site of John Hewitt's water-powered sawmill. The sawmill operated from 1770 to 1813, and provided lumber for many of the structures in St. Augustine and surrounding communities.
While on a tour, visitors might also meet up with Bob Garver, one of the museum's historic interpreters, who offers insights on the many exhibits by "explaining the history of our 19th- and early 20th-century buildings, the methods and equipment used in those times."
The museum is also active in the conservation of heritage livestock, including rare Florida Cracker cattle and horses.
"Both are critically endangered breeds, and both played prominent roles in Florida's history and rural life," said Herron, who explained that these animals were first introduced to Florida by Spaniards during the 1500s. Visitors can compare Cracker, quarter and Belgian draft horses with mules and donkeys. And if they bring their own carrots, they may enjoy feeding the animals.
Also at the museum are plenty of other opportunities for children, such as summer day camps and horse camps. Equestrian activities are offered, such as trail rides.
"We have had visitors from every state in our country, as well as from England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Russia, Poland, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Cuba, and more," Herron said.
If You Go
Florida Agricultural Museum
7900 Old Kings Road (12 miles south of St. Augustine)
Palm Coast, FL
Open: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
Admission: $9 for adults, $6 for children, $30 family rate for up to five people. School rates: $6 for children and their chaperones. Admission fees include a guided two-hour tour.