April 2006
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Farm Day Brings Memories of Days Gone By

 
  Megan Henderson, 3, of Ashford, looks at the baby chicks at Spring Farm Day at Landmark Park. She is the daughter of Lisa and Michael Henderson.
by Debbie Ingram

It was 3-year-old Megan Henderson’s first visit to Spring Farm Day at Landmark Park in Dothan. But what a day it was! She hardly knew what to do first.

Sheep were being sheared, corn shucked and soap made from a mixture of lye and lard. Horses were shoed and hay was bailed with a mule-driven hay bailer. Huge draft horses were used to move enormous logs from one field to the next and a calf was bottle-fed by youngsters who squealed over the task and were amazed at the strength of the bovine’s suck.

The 23rd Annual Spring Farm Day on March 18 was a celebration of our country’s agricultural history. A remembrance of a time before technology and mechanization changed farming and life on the farm forever.

It was a day to remember the past, and for the youngsters, a day to take a look-see at the livestock.

"Mostly, we wanted her to see all the animals," said Megan Henderson’s mother, Lisa Henderson, who attended the all-day event with her husband, Michael. The Hendersons live in nearby Ashford. "She’s most excited about the ponies. She wants to ride."

For people like Earl Suggs, who was among the approximately 50 volunteers for the annual event co-hosted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Farm Day is like a look back to his childhood – a simpler time, for sure, but one that was labor intensive.

 
Two and a half year old twins Katie and Caroline Davenport take a break on the front porch of the general store, while their grandmother Katherine Smith, gives them a drink.  
"I was born and raised on a farm, had a small farm, but most of my income came from Pemco (World Air Services)," said Suggs, a retired airline mechanic and inspector.

Suggs has been volunteering at Landmark Park, located just north of Dothan on U.S. Highway 431, for going on 13 years. He says it is his way of giving back to the community.

Suggs and others noted this year’s attendance was the highest ever, with more than 3,500 visitors – including vendors and demonstrators – passing through the gates at the end of a long wooded lane.

"I could attest to that crowd size because we ran out of parking," Suggs said. "We had to park people anywhere. It was hard to find a place because this was an event some people tended to stay at a lot longer."

Spring Farm Day is a true family day with multiple activities and displays which attract the old-timers because of the recollections, and the young folks because of the novelty.

Angie and Brent Hicks of Dothan attend the event every year and are members of the park. They said they wouldn’t miss it; and yes, the animals – the cows, the sheep, the horses, the chickens, the ponies, the mules – that’s most of the fun for their daughter, Marlee.

 
  Janice Benefield of Dothan explains the process of making lye soap while Lynn Bauldree of Pansy cooks the mixture of lard and lye.
"Marlee wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. She’s always said that. She loves coming for the animals," said Angie Hicks, as Marlee and her friend, Kelton Bruner, bottle feed a calf.

For some, the fun included riding in a horse and buggy; for others it was watching border collies round up sheep. Some people enjoyed the old hearth cooking and quilt displays, the honey bee handling and the militia camped in the woods.

For many, the music, which pervaded the grounds, was the big draw. The event also hosted the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and such acts as the Hot Pepper Steppers and the Tallahassee Fiddlers were part of the day’s entertainment.

Along the Walk through History trail behind the barns and other structures on the 100-acre site, musicians Chuck Arney and Patsy Davis of Dothan and James Wilson of Montgomery, all donned in period attire, played Celtic music with instruments from the Colonial Era.

 
Lee Lehmann gives demonstrations at the 23rd Annual Spring Farm Day recently at Landmark Park in Dothan. Lehmann taught children how to make fire from flint, and other survival skills.  
Also along the trail, Lee Lehmann, a member of the Tennessee militia, taught young visitors how to survive in the wild. Lehmann made fire from flint and spoke about the life of a soldier and survivalist.

At the end of the trail, Lynn Bauldree, Janice Benefield and Alice Heard wore their pioneer dresses as they made lye soap in a huge kettle over an open fire.

Benefield said a mixture of lard, Red Devil Lye and water is cooked for 30 minutes, then leached through charcoal and poured into wooden frames to set up. The soap remains toxic for several hours.

Heard and Benefield, who are sisters, are both former school teachers and said they enjoy educating the public about the old-time soap-making.

"People will forget the old ways," Bauldree said, "if we don’t keep it alive."

Julie and Carl Kressman operate a 170-head cattle ranch near Bascom, FL. The Kressmans, who have Texas longhorns, said a return to the past is what Spring Farm Day is all about.

 
  Volunteers use draft horses to move logs.
"These are all things here today that you don’t see much of anymore," she said.

Houston County Agent Willie Durr agrees. He saw the delight in the faces of elementary school children as they grabbed an ear of corn from a wagon, shucked it and ran it through a corn sheller.

"We try to give them a feel for the experience," said Durr, as he offered another bare cob to a youngster. "This was a real self-sufficient time when people shelled their own corn to feed to hogs, goats, cattle, mules and other livestock.

 
Charles Newman demonstrates clothes washing from years gone by. Newman explained to visitors how labor-intensive the process was.  
"The kids get real excited about it and like to take the cob home with them" – until Durr explains that cobs were used as toilet paper. Then the children give him funny looks. "This is a real experience for them," he laughs.

The local Co-op, Houston County Farmers Exchange at 1599 Ross Clark Circle in Dothan, helps in the care of the park, providing valuable guidance on various crops and plants, and as a donor. Todd Pearce is the store manager.

"We supply some products that they use in their own farm demonstrations, to keep the grounds up and to keep the plants healthy," said Jody Enfinger, a district manager for Alabama Farmers Co-op.

"Our affiliation is on the input side – stuff they purchase and some stuff that we donate," he said.

The Midland City resident said the park is an asset to the community because young people, especially, need to be reminded of the importance of agriculture and they need a glimpse into the past – when life was a little tougher and children were expected to work alongside their parents in the fields and at the scrub board.

"I think it is important for the children of today to know how their ancestors, most of whom were raised around here and grew up on the farm, lived. It’s important for them to know their heritage."

Visitors weren’t the only people who were educated and entertained at the event. Just because they were volunteering didn’t mean they didn’t have any fun.

Girl Scout Troop 446 out of Abbeville helped with children’s activities, trying out tall wooden stilts themselves. Troop Leader Debra Baker said the park needed volunteers and she thought it would be a good service project for the girls.

They assisted visiting children with various activities, but be sure, "our number one thing is to have fun," said Girl Scout Chatesha Vaughn.

Larry Mitchell and his wife, Belinda, helped organize the children’s play area three years ago. While they teach a water safety class with the Corps of Engineers, Larry said Chatesha has it right. The area is all about fun – with a little education in disguise.

Debbie Ingram is a freelance writer living in Dothan. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..