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Traveling exhibit of Missouri’s farming history is at Springfield’s History Museum on the Square

Published: May. 7, 2022 at 8:10 PM CDT|Updated: May. 7, 2022 at 9:21 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missouri’s agricultural industry contributes over $94-billion to the state’s economy. No matter what you eat, we all owe a debt of gratitude to a farmer somewhere for what we put on the table.

That’s why a traveling exhibit in Springfield looks at one of the state’s most important industries.

”Agriculture has always been a difficult way to make a living, right?”

Those words from local farmer Curtis Millsap are very accurate, but those who till the soil and raise livestock have always been the lifeblood of our country. And from now through June 19, at the History Museum on the Square in Springfield, you can get a better idea of Missouri’s rich agricultural heritage from the exhibit covering a wide range of topics.

“You can learn about prehistoric farms from up to 10,000 years ago,” said Meg Pearson, the museum’s Visitor Experience Coordinator. “A lot of the really common crops in this area like apples, soybeans, and rice actually came from entirely different continents like Asia, Europe, and Africa. They were brought to Missouri and just flourished here. So they’re not even technically native plants in this area, but they are now a huge part of our community and our agriculture.”

The exhibit shows how farming has changed over the years. For instance, southwest Missouri was once known far and wide for its apple production, which is no longer the case.

“Back in the day, there were orchards all over the area,” Pearson said. “On the railroad, when you were coming through the Ozarks, they would call it the ‘Land of the Big Red Apples’ because there were so many delicious apple orchards, including the Haseltine family and those owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almanzo.”

As you walk through the exhibit, you’ll find lots of information, photos, and artifacts with many farm tools dating back to the late 1800′s or early 1900′s.

An 1887 cookbook has the receipt for a hickory nut cake requiring “a heaping teaspoonful of baking powder” and a “coffee cup of hickory nuts.”

At the entrance to the exhibit is a table with a sign that says, “Knot Just Rope...Test your knot-tying skills!” There’s an instruction book and various ropes on the table, plus a pole nearby that says “Hitchin’ Post” with knotted ropes.

“You can learn everything here from how to tie knots that farmers have been using for decades to information about the different fairs that have arisen from the Missouri agriculture empire,” Pearson pointed out.

For instance, you may not have known that the State Fair in Sedalia has a Trail’s End monument commemorating the 1860′s cattle drives from Texas that were depicted in the TV show Rawhide, where cattle were brought to Sedalia because that was the closest railhead to ship the livestock to eastern markets.

You also may not have known that Greene County’s dairy industry during the early 1900′s was dominated by a Japanese immigrant, Jei Okino. Okino’s wife was a descendant of the Danforth family, and Jei started his dairy on the Danforth’s farm in 1908. Until the 1950′s, Okino Dairy made home deliveries around Springfield before selling directly to Highland Dairy and eventually closing in the early 1960′s.

But his products were quite popular.

“Leading hotels and restaurants in the area would even put signs in their windows saying, ‘We serve Okino Buttermilk’ because everyone who was trying to come off as luxurious and fancy had to have Okino Buttermilk,” Pearson said.

One of the more unique exhibit articles is somewhat of a mystery.

“There is a painting from 1872 that is an aerial view of Springfield,” Pearson explained. “I personally would love to know how they got an aerial view of Springfield in 1872. It’s not like there was a giant cliff just north of town that we all missed!”

In conjunction with the exhibit, Millsap Farms north of Springfield will be holding a twilight walk on Wednesday, May 18, from 6-8 p.m. in conjunction with the Springfield Community Gardens. Several speakers will be part of the educational tour.

The topics?

“Where we’ve come from in the Ozarks as far as food, even looking all the way back into indigenous foodways,” Millsap answered. “And then also, where are we today. Our food supply locally has dwindled so much that everything comes from elsewhere. Learning about that kind of inspires us to move the needle back the other way a little bit. We’ve never been in a better time to be growing local food. There’s more interest, and there are more people recognizing that they want to eat from something they know. You just can’t know the farmer in California, Mexico, or China. So I do think it’s a growing trend that will continue just based on that.”

The twilight walk is free, but the organizers ask that you reserve a spot ahead of time.

To do so, CLICK HERE.

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