A Taste of Agrarian Life at Coggeshall Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island

Staff Writer
The Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol demonstrates 18th-century farm life
Beans
Lexi Van de Walle

Interpreters prepare a johnnycake recipe from 1796.

Coggeshall Farm Museum is a living history farm museum on 48 acres on Bristol Harbor, R.I. With a long history as a tenant farm, Coggeshall is a time capsule of New England agrarian life, and an educational and entertaining place for children and adults to experience, hands-on, what farm life was like more than 200 years ago.

Click here to see the Coggeshall Farm Museum Slideshow!

The interpreters, which are what the docents are called, were the best part of my recent visit. Wearing authentic hand-sewn costumes, they bring the farm alive while they do the daily work in the kitchen garden, and fields, tending to 60 varieties of 18th-century herbs, fruits, and vegetables and eight heritage breeds of farm animals. 

The kitchen tools and farm implements are reproductions of those typical of the 18th century. While I was there, the interpreter prepared a traditional New England johnnycake recipe from 1796. These cakes are flat cakes made from locally grown cornmeal and fried in freshly churned butter in an authentic open hearth. 

After spending a couple of hours walking around, and corralling the turkeys and chickens into their coops for the night, I began to realize that the key lesson that the museum wants to convey is that of species preservation. Reminiscent of Michael Pollan’s message in The Botany of Desire, the farm’s mission is to preserve genetic and cultural diversity. Most of what they raise at Coggeshall are categorized as breeds and seeds "at risk for extinction" in Slow Food USA’s "Ark of Taste" catalog, including the beautiful, regal (and friendly) Narragansett turkey that kept fanning his feathers for my camera, and the curiously funny-looking Canada Crookneck Squash.

All in all, Coggeshall Farm is a bucolic getaway that preserves and teaches about food production methods of the past for the delight and benefit of future generations. 

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