Teaching Kids History
Through Tractors and Hands-on Learning
By Jennifer M. Aguilar
What comes to mind when you hear the term, “museum?” Is it pristine white walls, or being hushed in the hall? What about priceless artifacts that shouldn’t be touched? Well, when it comes to the Farm Museum in McKinney you can think again, because this museum centers on hands-on learning! From driving a tractor to making fresh cheese, the Farm Museum gives its visitors a chance to learn all about history, not merely by looking but by doing. Perhaps best of all though is how this unique museum is giving area families a chance to make wonderful new memories, all while preserving tools and traditions from the past.
For over a hundred years Collin County was filled with family farms which produced wheat, wool, corn and cotton. Onions and bois d’arc were also prominent crops. And now, though the land and livelihood of many of its residents have seen drastic changes over the decades, the Farm Museum is helping to preserve the county’s rich agricultural heritage, not through stuffy exhibits meant to teach a kid for a day, but through meaningful and memorable interactions they can carry with them throughout life.
The museum is located within Myers Park and Event Center, and it consists of over 8,000 square feet of collections and restoration exhibits. There are also other artifacts located throughout the park, including the Blacksmith Shop, the Granary and the Confinement House. The fact that the museum is located within Myers Park seems fitting too, since the park itself has undergone quite the evolution over the years.
“Myers Park & Event Center was designated as green space for youth livestock shows and Boy Scouts. It has evolved over the years with more activities, such as weddings, cross country meets and dog agility contests – all while retaining its roots of providing services to rural youth. The Farm Museum grew from that same concept when John Wells donated the money to build the Farm Museum and donated items for its exhibits, which led to the museum opening in 1989,” said Jennifer Rogers, the Museum’s Coordinator. “Mr. Wells saw how the county was changing, with farmers selling off land for development. He was concerned that our rural history would be lost. As a result, the mission of the Farm Museum was born – to preserve and educate about Collin County’s rural heritage,” Rogers said.
As the coordinator, Rogers has been working at the museum for the past six years. “I was interested in moving to Dallas to pursue my doctorate and was looking for a position suitable to my skills and education. Since I have a Masters in Museum Studies and a Masters in Public Administration, I was looking for something challenging in the museum or administrative field… I ended up getting the best of both with a museum position for Collin County government,” Rogers said.
“When I came to the museum, it had been closed for about twelve years with periodic openings and programs. One of the first programs established, and one still quite popular today, is the Antique Tractor Driving Class where adults and youth (10 years or older and at least 47 inches tall) come to the museum to learn how to start, drive and stop tractors between 60 to 80 years old,” she said.
For the past few years Rogers has helped to further the museum’s mission, increasing its programs, but also simply striving to get the word out about its existence. If you haven’t heard of the Farm Museum, you are not alone. “Most visitors upon their first visit say, ‘I didn’t know this was here!’ like we’ve been intentionally keeping it a secret from them,” Rogers said.
Of course, those who have discovered the museum seem to enjoy its many unique offerings. That is, if the online reviews are any indication. The museum boasts an impressive 4.7 star rating on Facebook, where parents have offered specific gratitude for the many classes that have been offered, everything from gingerbread house making to felt ornament crafts over the holidays, to cheese and pie making. But it’s clear that tractor driving remains a favorite for many of the museum’s visitors.
“Children and adults love to get on the tractors (we make sure that no one can accidentally start them, take air out of the tires, disconnect the battery, turn off the gas valve, etc.). Their faces brighten when we tell them, ‘Sure you can!’ The real fun always happens when people get to honk the horn on the 1911 Ford Model T. (That works too, and we have driving classes for it in the Spring.)” Rogers said.
Though the classes at the museum vary largely, all of them center on its main goals. “The exhibits are designed to teach about the agricultural history of Collin County as the technology changed from the 1860s to 1960s and the crops changed from wheat, to cotton, to corn,” Rogers said.
“For those who have no associations with farming, it is a great educational tool for communicating Collin County’s rural heritage… The program also became a touchstone for people who grew up in cities and had no experience with farming.” Rogers said.
For those families that do have experience with farming, the museum provides a great opportunity to pass down lessons and memories. “Many of the hands-on programs and exhibits are designed for visitors to incorporate their own personal stories, their history and memories… This is an excellent opportunity for grandparents or parents to share stories and knowledge with their grandchildren or children about their life in the country,” she said.
The museum is open most Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is run largely by volunteers, including Jeff Phelps, Roger Meyer, Norman Frank and Dave Cowling, all of whom work diligently to keep the old artifacts working. “They are the Restoration Volunteers and people can see their different projects at the back of the museum when the museum is open,” Rogers said.
Upcoming special events at the museum include Cheese Making and Model T Driving Class, in the spring. You can even find a complete list of upcoming events and workshops online. There will also be a Rural Heritage Fair on May 19, 2018. “There will be merchants selling handmade crafts, demonstrators such as Blacksmiths and a new Kids Marketplace where children will be selling their handmade crafts as well,” Rogers said. Admission will be free, and parents can register their kids as merchants until February 9, 2018.
If you would like to do more than just visit the museum, and if you’d like to help further its mission, you can do so by first spreading the word about this Collin County treasure so that others can enjoy its educational – and fun – offerings. Of course, you can also contact the museum about volunteering. “We would like to be open an extra day or two a week, so volunteers willing to join the crew would be welcome!” Rogers said.
And remember, whether you’re looking for fun ways to educate your kids, or just a chance to make some memories with them, visiting the Farm Museum could be a terrific and timeless choice!