Recently I learned about Accokeek Colonial Farm, located on the Potomac river in Maryland near Indian Head, directly across the river from Mount Vernon. When I found out they were having a special Heritage Breeds Day, I thought it a great opportunity to visit this treasure of a local resource. Combining both of my favorite passions, history and sustainable farming, it sounded like a perfect day out for me.
The park was founded in 1957 to protect the view from George Washington’s Mount Vernon across the Potomac River, and the Accokeek Foundation, established to run the park, was one of the nation’s first land trusts. The foundation also promotes land conservation efforts to ensure continued protection of the viewshed and working landscapes.
The park actually has several components: the National Colonial Farm, which is a living history museum representing the farm’s history as a colonial tobacco farm, complete with log buildings, authentic heritage breeds, wooden stockades and animal pens, and period dressed staff to help interpret the site. Through heritage breed livestock and seed saving programs, nearly extinct heirloom crops and animals are preserved for future generations.
The breeds barn was small but interesting: containing breeds of pigs, sheep, chickens and cows that were traditionally used in this area during the colonial era and afterward. The heritage breeds all had great names, like American Milking Devon Cows, Hog Island Sheep and Ossabaw Hogs.
When I arrived, I realized that it was also Children’s Day at the park, an outreach day that engages kids in learning about colonial history and farm life. Kids were visiting stations throughout the colonial farm that would teach them an aspect of colonial life. When I visited the heritage breeds barn, the kids were turning in an egg they had to collect from the previous station – a hen house.
There are also beautiful walking trails around the fields, a fishing pier with a stellar view of the Potomac and Mount Vernon and picnic areas.
In addition, Accokeek also has an organic farm on the property, which is used to teach farmers and others the tools and knowledge to practice sustainable farming. Garden and farm fans of all levels can also volunteer to work at the park’s organic farm and gardens. Twice a month, the Green Thumbs program allows gardeners at all ages and skill levels a chance to help out and get their hands dirty with the museum’s gardens. Sustainable farming fans can get a chance to learn more about organic farming principles on the Ecosystem Farm as volunteers working along side farm staff to every third Thursday. Sign up for both on the website.
As if that were not enough, Accokeek also offers lectures and educational events related to food, local food systems, farming and colonial history. Recent offerings include a lecture on southern Maryland food systems and an edible forest gardening workshop. Monthly Foodways is a kitchen table conversation that introduces you to the epicurean delights of colonial Marylanders, which in May, focused on deer’s place on the table 300 years ago with venison recipies. The park also runs various events throughout the year, so check their calendar for upcoming events.
With so much on offer, Accokeek is a wonderful, lesser-known site with enough to do in a beautiful setting, both for those wanting to learn about sustainable agriculture, those with an interest in colonial history and outdoor fun for families, or all of the above. And with free admission, the price can’t be beat for a day’s entertainment.
For more information, visit the Accokeek Foundation website at http://accokeekfoundation.org