In late April, the family and I had the opportunity to head on over to Gainesville for the Farm and Forest Festival! Hosted by the Morningside Nature Center, we can honestly say this was a very unique experience. We were a bit concerned at first, as when we went to park the car, we could only see one small portion of the event, but it turns out there was quite a bit to do and see.
So before I go into what was available at the Farm and Forest Festival, let me tell you a little bit about where it was hosted. The Morningside Nature Center is operated and primarily funded by the City of Gainesville. We have been to a handful of nature centers, but must admit that this one is one of the largest, and most diverse we have been to. In addition to a great outdoor meeting place, the Morningside Nature center also features a living history farm, section on Native American culture, as well as over 6 miles of walking trails. Various programs are offered throughout the week and once a month history comes alive at the Living History Days where actors portray turn of the century farm residents and workers.
On a very gloomy April morning we trekked over to the Farm and Forest Festival. The weather was sprinkling all morning, but the event still went on. When we arrived, we eagerly paid the admission of $5 per adult, as our little guy was still free. There was ample parking when we pulled in, but we were expecting something different from what we experienced. Not that it’s a bad thing by any means, but just different. Most of the festivals we go to have lots of vendors, food trucks, and other visitors. This was a much more serene environment.
Please don’t misunderstand me, there was excitement but just of a different kind. There was a band playing that was actually pretty good. There were only a handful of vendors. Because we had about a two-hour trip to travel to the Farm and Forest Festival, we did some “baby maintenance” so to speak, and pulled out the festival map to see what we were in for.
Inside the main festival area, there was a great kids area setup with a tactile station where kids could learn about different natural features, and even a coloring and craft area to enjoy while listening to some music. There weren’t many vendors setup, but the few that were there were very eco oriented including a solar company with all sorts of info on how to go green.
At this point, we were disappointed until we discovered on the map that there were other sections of the festival to checkout. If we had drove for 2 hours for just a band and a craft area I would have never heard the end of it from the Mrs. Through the mist and weather we walked over to the Living History Farm that is part of the Morningside Nature Center. We were relieved to see quite a bit more to do, see, and eat!
As we entered the farm, a nice sign actually told us about a free cellphone tour that is available to visitors. They offer maps you can grab and call a number that explained highlights of the farm which was a wealth of information. I put the phone on speaker and we learned about a typical farm setup at the turn of the century. As we proceeded down the path we came to an old wooden school house. The teacher was dressed up as Abe Lincoln, which we didn’t really understand at first, but he was super excited about playing the part so we indulged him. He was a wealth of information about what learning was like during the late 1800’s and got a quick tour of the school house. Lets just say I’m happy that we now have all the modern conveniences at schools like plumbing, cafeterias, and more.
Once we actually got to the farm, we were amazed at the size and scope of the place. We’re no strangers to agritainment, but this farm was representative of the needs of an entire family. Using the cell phone tour, we learned about the differences in gardens and learned about their setup. For example, the size of the garden right next to the homestead was to sustain the family and the larger field was for a “cash crop” so the family could earn money.
On the other side of the Farm and Forest Festival, a penned in area held the family cow and a small flock of sheep. Right on site was as small carpentry workshop and even a blacksmith setup. The size of the place was actually very eye opening. It wasn’t huge, but was certainly larger than the homesites we have today. I couldn’t help but think that it was an awfully small plot of land that would allow the family to be self sufficient. This wasn’t a plantation or anything, but a typical homestead one might experience at the turn of the century or earlier. I wonder how many people have similar setups now a days and live “off grid”.
By the barn, there were opportunities to get up close and personal with the cows, sheep, and even a chicken or two, but the Farm and Forest Festival is certainly not a petting zoo. At the carpentry workshop, kids had the opportunity to build their own birdhouses with period tools and supplies, or even go for a hayride around the farm. The hayrides were a few dollars extra but because of the weather we didn’t want to be too far away from cover in case the skies opened up.
As you know, I’m all about great event food! We had a nice breakfast so we weren’t exactly starving but we decided to sample the local cuisine for the Farm and Forest Festival. Right in the middle of the farm was a great concession area with old time food! I ordered up a ham and cheese fried sandwich (I don’t recall but there was a specific name for them). It was pretty much like a fried calzone with ham and cheese inside. They also had sweet varieties including pumpkin, and apple pie! I sipped on an ice cold cream soda while I waited for my food to be cooked. No commercial deep fryers here! No sir, just an old cast iron pot filled with oil on a burner! It was pretty cool to see them roll the dough out and make the small pocket before they put it in the fryer. Concession food is either unremarkable or delicious. This was delicious and was shared amongst our family. The food was reasonably priced and proceeds went to the Morningside Nature Center.
While I was off waiting on deep friend deliciousness, my little guy and Mrs. found what was the best value of the Farm and Forest Festival: the corn stand! For only $1 you could scarf down a whole cob of corn dripping in butter. If you aren’t into the butter thing, you could order it without so don’t worry, you had healthy options as well. What we thought was unique is that the corn was boiled in the husk, and made for a very authentic dining experience.
Before we left the farm portion of the Farm and Forest Festival, we checked out the homestead and realized that we have many creature comforts that just didn’t exist years ago. Surprisingly enough it looked like lots of kids could fit in the lost upstairs, and every square inch of the home served some sort of purpose. Before we left, we were treated to some real home made biscuits, with hand churned butter and cane syrup. The butter was like nothing we had ever tasted before! The smooth creaminess was really indescribably delicious. It actually has inspired me to try to make some homemade butter in my kitchen aid mixer at home!
At the Farm and Forest Festival education building, we discovered that there were multiple critters to check out in display cases. Out little guy got a chance to pet a snake and see some frogs, lizards and more up close. The staff was really friendly and were a wealth of information about local reptiles, and wildlife. In the back of the education center, there is an entire area devoted to the Native American inhabitants of Florida and families could experience indian style homes and discover what it was like to live prior to European settlement. Unfortunately by the time we made it to that section there wasn’t much to do, as the Native American dancing was completed for the day.
On the out of the Farm and Forest Festival, we took a look around a new wooden boardwalk that stretched out through a swamp eco system. It was interesting to see this naturally restored habitat without litter and other interference, but the mosquitos were awful! I suppose that was par for the course since it was Florida and a swamp, but I have a feeling that the little benches setup along the boardwalk don’t get much use.
On the way back to the car, the weather took a turn for the worst. The Mrs. and the little guy took shelter under a trail information kiosk while I pulled the car around. Not to bad of an afternoon, but it was quite a drive for us. Overall the Farm and Forest Festival was a good weekend excursion, but it lacked the excitement of many other trips we had taken. It wasn’t a loss though, as time spent with family is NEVER a bad thing. We could classify this event as more of an educational experience than a festival. The price was right, so if you’re local there really isn’t much to lose. I have a feeling that the reason there was such a low turn out was the weather and the fact that it was the Saturday before Easter. There were lots of competing Easter Egg Hunt events throughout the community competing for attention. The event workers also seemed disappointed with the turn out and said in years past there were many more in attendance. Our recommendation is that this event would be great for kids 8 years and older who are interested in farming and animals or who love history. There wasn’t much for the very little ones to do. If you’re looking for something to do next year; pack a picnic lunch, listen to some music, and check out a living farm at the next Farm and Forest Festival.
Farm and Forest Festival Details:
|Date(s):||2015 TBD||Time(s):||10am to 4pm|
|Address:||340 E University Ave Gainesville 32641|
|Estimated Cost For A Family of 4:||$16|