News from Garfield Farm
Garfield Farm Museum will hold its 20th Annual Rare Breeds Livestock & Poultry Show and Sale on Sunday May 21 from 11 am to 4 pm. The only show of its type held in Illinois, looks at the loss of genetic diversity amongst domestic animals that humans have depended upon for food, fiber and work for hundreds of years. For many visitors to the show it is the first and perhaps last time in their lives they might ever see some of these highly endangered breeds.
Since the museum began the show in 1987, there have been two major trends that are affecting the survival of these animals. The most disturbing factor is that with each new generation of Americans, fewer people have any connection to traditional agricultural which over centuries developed the diverse number of breeds. As farms have become larger and small farmers retired or passed away, agribusiness' focus on just one or two breeds of an animal, has resulted in the steep decline of all other breeds.
For the average consumer who is used to getting whatever they want at the supermarket, the idea that pigs or cows need preserving is often met with disbelief. Yet at the same time, consumers are aware of issues of climate change, new diseases, wars that disrupt trade, genetic engineering, and oil based economics. Any one of these potential changes can disrupt the very abundance of a most basic need, food for a planet of 6 billion people.
Farmers around the globe have bred animals and crops to meet very specific needs in their local environment. The current strain of bird flu that has raised concern is having a devastating impact abroad on domestic poultry, especially chickens. Wild birds are not as greatly affected as a percentage of the population is always carrying some variety of flu just as humans have annual bouts of flu. The highly bred Leghorn chickens for egg production and the White Rock Cornish Cross chickens for meat, raised by the millions, may lack the hardiness to survive an epidemic. It is possible in the numerous old varieties of chickens, such resistance or lack of susceptibility exists. This is the kind of genetic trait needed to combat the rise of new diseases.
Climate change calls for animals that are suited to warmer, colder, drier, or wetter conditions depending on locale. American agriculture is based on petroleum to get crops in the ground, to produce fertilizer, to produce animal feeds. Cattle that can put on weight or produce milk by just grazing pastures will become more important, than fast weight gaining breeds that require large amounts of expensive petroleum based feeds. Ironically, as science seeks genes to genetically modify animals and crops, the source of those genes are dwindling in number.
Over the last 20 years, the owners and breeders of rare breeds are themselves become rare. However, another important trend is the new demand for high quality foodstuffs that come from organic sources, local sources, and/or environmentally sustainable operations offers hope for mankind's historic wealth of genetic diversity. Farmers who have seen alternative ways to prosper, first time farmers who do not come burdened with agribusiness traditions, and owners of small acreage that want a few sheep or chickens for atmosphere or weed management have been discovering rare breeds that meet their needs. Large populations of new immigrants also bring food traditions that call for more diverse types of breeds.
Garfield Farm's Rare Breeds Show offers the chance to meet breeders of these animals. For families, it offers the opportunity discover that just as there is a fascinating variety of dogs, there are many types of farm animals that can spark the imagination of children who so thrive on novelty.
Breeders can still register for the show by contacting the museum. Tours of the restored 1846 inn will be given from 12 noon to 4 pm by interpreters in period clothing. Food will be available and several lectures are planned. Loren Marceau plans to be on hand to shear the museum's sheep. Spinning demonstrations and a class on wool spinning and plying for a $60 fee will be offered. There is a $6 donation for adults and $2 for children under 13 years of age to the show. A portion of the proceeds benefits the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, the national organization working to preserve America's genetic heritage of farm animals.
Garfield Farm Museum is five miles west of Geneva, IL off ILL Route 38 on Garfield Road. The museum is supported by donations is the only surviving historically intact former 1840s Illinois prairie farmstead and teamster inn being restored as an 1840s working farm museum. For information call 630 584-8485 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.