September 18, 2011

Ithaca Residents Return to 1800s for Judy’s Day

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Cornell Plantations celebrated Ithaca’s rich agricultural history with the annual Judy’s Day Family Learning Festival on Sunday. The event — a children’s fair on the F.R. Newman Arboretum with booths displaying 19th century harvest activities — encompassed the daily life of rural Forest Home, a community predating Cornell’s founding and located on what is now campus land.

Since 1997, Judy’s Day has honored Judy Abrams, a former teacher and volunteer in the Plantations, by educating the community about plants found in the area, according to Billy Kepner, a volunteer at the event. During the off-year, the Cornell Plantations brings the program to schools in the Ithaca School District.

In conjunction with the History Center in Tompkins County, this year’s theme was focused on the diary accounts of two children living during 1855, he said.

Carry Manning was 13 when she wrote her diary in 1869, and Abner Thomas was 23 when he wrote his account in 1865, Kepner said. Drawing from the diary excerpts, Cornell Plantations staff created interactive activities that replicated life in 19th-century Forest Home. Throughout the arboretum, attendants could participate in candle rolling, basket weaving and corn husking at a variety booths.

Erica Evans, a volunteer who ran the nut cracking booth, discussed the context of her demonstration.

“Black walnuts, and any kind of nut, were a really big thing in the 1800s since they’re a wonderful source of protein,” Evans said.

Dressed in costumes reflective of the time period, adult volunteers portrayed more than 100 of the occupations recorded in the 1855 Census of Tompkins County. Kepner said that volunteers made their own costumes or borrowed from the History Center.

Volunteers spanned from Cornell and Ithaca College students to local farmers. Margaret Ball, a vegetable farmer, operated a booth where children matched root vegetables with their names.

“It seems like an amazing way for kids to have fun at the arboretum and to learn a lot,” she said. “It’s great for them to learn with their hands.”

Laura Johnson-Kelly ’85, a collections specialist in Near Eastern studies and Ithaca town historian, educated attendants about milling, an important practice in Ithaca history.

“There were a lot of mills [in Forest Home] because of the water power, and people would bring grains to be ground, apples to be made into cider,” she said. Remnants of these mills can be seen from various points throughout campus.

The Naturalist Outreach Practicum class attended Judy’s Day to assess the breadth of scheduled science activities.

“It’s really fun, they engage all the senses here. You can smell stuff, you can hear stuff, you can see stuff, and eat things, which is definitely great,” Jacob Hurst ’13 said.

Other Cornell students echoed his sentiments.

“It’s really nice for an engineer to come out and enjoy the Plantations once in a while,” said Raga Kolli ’14. “It’s great to see all the kids happy as they are leaving.”

Emilee Frazier, an Ithaca resident, said she was happy to have her children exposed to nature.

“I thought it would be a fun place to take my kids and enjoy the weather,” Frazier said. “I love that there was no computers or electronics around.”

Original Author: Kevin Milian