A peek at the past

Andrew D. Brosig/Torrington Telegram Sisters Anna May Byrd, 10, and Mitzi Byrd, 9, from Guernsey, Wyo. dig red potatoes in the demonstration field Saturday during Harvest Festival at the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering, Neb. The girls attended the festival with their parents to learn more about agriculture and where their food comes from, their mother, Melissa Byrd, said.

GERING, Neb. – Anna May and Mitzi Byrd spent part of their day Saturday, digging potatoes like their grandparents might have.

It wasn’t forced labor. The girls, from Guernsey, Wyo. came to the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering to get a peek at the past through the 23rd annual Harvest Festival.

“It’s awesome,” said Mitzi, 9. “I love potatoes. If my dog, Cheyenne, were here, he’d be eating the potatoes and running around like crazy.”

David Wolf, executive director of the museum, said Harvest Festival came into being before the two parent museums – the Farm and Ranch Museum and the North Platte Valley Museum – merged several years ago.

“This was an event the Farm and Ranch Museum did as an opportunity to display their equipment from their collection,” Wolf said. “It shows the heritage of our region. 

“It’s to show young kids, and to remind people, this is how their grandfathers or fathers or they themselves used to farm – how hard it was, the equipment they used to farm.”

And teaching young people about everything that’s involved in getting food from the farm to the table is an important aspect of the day, and the overall mission of the museum, he said.

“That’s a huge thing we’re going to start pushing at our museum – farm-to-table,” Wolf said. It doesn’t come from a grocery store. There’s somebody out there with the skills and the labor to grow it, whether it’s vegetables or it’s crops or it’s livestock.”

Anna May Byrd, 10, agreed. Coming from a farming and ranching background herself, Anna May enjoyed the opportunity to learn.

“I think it’s turned out pretty fun,” Anna May said. “People like farmers and stuff, they work really hard to put food in the stores. We just pick it up from the store; we don’t actually work for it.”

It was important for Mitzi and Anna May’s mom, Melissa Byrd, to bring the girls to the Harvest Festival. It wasn’t their first time at the museum, but it was their first time, participating in the annual event.

“We used to have a ranch just north of Alliance (Neb.),” Melissa said. “Now we live out in the country near Guernsey, still farming and ranching.

“We’re a farming and ranching family,” she said. “It’s good for them to know about the American farmers.”

Harvest Festival, which featured both horse-drawn equipment and tractors on display and during a parade, was more than just a learning experience for young people, though there was plenty of opportunity for that. The annual event also served as something of a walk down memory lane for some attendees, including Bob Ring of Scottsbluff, Neb., and David Cronk of Torrington.

Cronk, owner of Goshen Diesel Service in Torrington – who brought a John Deere stand-alone engine to exhibit – wanted to be a rancher when he was younger, but “was 21 years old when I learned I was about a million dollars short of being a rancher. But I keep feeding my ag interest – I have a little hobby farm with a little cow herd. And I try to stay active with the older” equipment.

Ring, who retired from farming southwest of Lyman, Neb., about seven years ago, also enjoyed seeing the old horse-drawn equipment and the antique and vintage tractors. A volunteer with the Legacy of the Plains Museum,Ring said the show always brings back some good memories.

“I used a lot of this stuff,” Ring said. “Seeing how we harvested sugar beets – I don’t think too many of the young people know how sugar beets were harvested, back in the old days. That’s important, because people really had to work hard for a living back in the old days.”

Another highlight of the event is, each year, the museum plants, grows and features one crop, giving harvest demonstrations showcasing the techniques and equipment used throughout the years, Wolf said. This year’s crop was sugar beets, with volunteers and retired farmers using a variety of equipment to show how it was done.

This year’s show featured equipment used to harvest beets in the 1940s, 1950s and before, Wolf said.

“It’s a way to showcase how agriculture used to be,” he said. “Now, people see the big planters and combines – that not how it used to be.

“I hope people get a better appreciation of our past, where our culture has come from,” Wolf said. “They’ll tour the museum and see we’re not just one culture, we’re several different cultures – Hispanic, Japanese, German, Russian, Greek. This is their legacy. The community around them has been shaped by what has come in the past.”

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