Pasto Museum to feature history of small grains at Ag Progress Days

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Pasto Agricultural Museum will focus on the history of small grains, highlighted by demonstrations of horse-and oxen-drawn threshers, during Penn State's Ag Progress Days, Aug. 13 to 15.

With an exhibit titled "Small Grains from Threshing Floor to Table," the Pasto Museum portrays the historic endeavor of bringing small grains from field to fork. Featuring daily demonstrations of a horse-treadle-powered thresher and oxen-driven burr mill, and depictions of early baking practices, the display will draw a complete picture of vintage grain production and utilization.

During all three days of Ag Progress Days, the museum will showcase samples of grains -- such as rye, wheat and oats -- that visitors can try grinding with the stone tools that native people used. Guides will discuss how cut grain was bundled and "shocked" to dry and store in the field. And large equipment will be on display and hand tools available for close inspection.

A threshing floor "stage" will be the center of demonstrations at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, when audiences can witness history in action. The treadle-powered thresher and oxen-driven mill will show how technology helped get the work done on the farm in the latter half of the 1800s.

"On Wednesday, we will be joined by Gemelli Bakers, of State College, to bring a taste of small grains to our visitors," said Rita Graef, museum curator. "Tony Sapia, owner of the bakery, has researched historic recipes, and his team will create traditional treats, such as spoon breads and Johnny cakes in a wood-fired brick oven."

Tracing each improvement on the equipment used to harvest and process grains reveals how tools affect the work we do, and how the work we do affects the tools we use, according to Graef. "Farmers have been trying to grow and harvest more grain per acre and per man-hour for centuries," she explained.

Growing enough food for an exploding population is not a new theme. As cities grew after the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution took hold of the U.S. economy, farmers got more serious about trying to produce more food for a growing population with a shrinking agricultural workforce.

"Inside the museum, exhibits will be operated by tour guides during Ag Progress Days, so come in and enjoy the cool air conditioning of our new building while you see first-hand a working early drop reaper and horse-drawn binder," said Graef.

"The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills has partnered with the museum to install an exhibit showcasing the technology of the water-powered grist mill. Visitors will be able to grind grain into flour with a new hands-on exhibit."

In addition to the small grains exhibits and demonstrations, the Pasto Museum will unveil a new permanent exhibit: a technology timeline of grain harvest, beginning with the ancient clay sickle to the present day combine.

"At about 6,000 years old, our clay sickle is not quite as old as recently reported finds in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East, considered the birthplace of farming," said Graef. "But when visitors consider using it as a cutting tool, it won't be difficult for them to imagine that the work was not easy."

The recently enlarged and renovated Pasto Agricultural Museum will provide visitors with a glimpse into farming's past. With exhibits highlighting the history of agriculture and rural life, the 8,400-square-foot facility showcases an intriguing collection of artifacts.

Located on East 10th Street near the top of Main Street on the Ag Progress Days site, the Pasto Museum provides a comprehensive view of the era when energy for work was supplied by the power of humans and domesticated animals.

The approximately 1,300 items in the collection are concentrated in the time period between 1775 and 1940, although the assemblage of objects spans 6,000 years, from 4,000 B.C. to the 1940s.

"Our emphasis is to provide visibility for technological developments in agriculture between 1775 and 1940," Graef said. "The mission of the Pasto Agricultural Museum is to provide the public with an understanding and appreciation for early agriculture and rural life, especially in Pennsylvania and the northeastern United States."

Sponsored by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Ag Progress Days is held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 13; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 14; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 15. Admission and parking are free.

For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days website. Twitter users can find and share information about the event by using the hashtag #agprogress, and Facebook users can find the event here.  

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Last Updated July 24, 2013