story: Jon Lewis photo: courtesy of Far West Heritage Association
Who knew wheat could be so fun?
Need proof? Visit the Patrick Ranch Museum the weekend of June 12-13 and take in the eighth annual Country Faire and Threshing Bee. There will be tons of fun, says Jan Holman, museum curator and event coordinator.
Organizers have put an extra emphasis on entertaining the younger set in the shaded backyard of the two-story Glenwood farmhouse. Children can “fish” in the 70-year-old fountain using special poles and magnetic fish, make wheat dolls, paint fences, get their faces painted, create boats out of walnut shells, churn butter, ride pedal tractors or simply play in a sandbox.
“The opportunities are endless and they continue to expand,” Holman says of the entertainment options, adding that there will also be live music throughout Saturday and Sunday.
But it’s not just the kids who will have a good time. The whole family will enjoy a trip to the ranch, which for all intents and purposes will be a visit to the farming lifestyle, circa 1880. Visitors will step out of their cars and into a world where ingenuity was critical, cooperation was essential and hard work was abundant.
Celebrating agriculture’s times gone by is the driving force behind the festival. “The objective of the Patrick Ranch Museum is to acquaint people with the history of agriculture,” Holman says. “This is our outreach opportunity.”
Antique binders, threshing machines, trucks and tractors, working alongside teams of massive draft horses, serve as colorful tools to teach not only how food gets from the farm to the kitchen table, but how California’s great Central Valley became the “bread basket” to the rest of the country.
“We’re teaching the history of the late 1800s,” Holman says. “Some of these people farmed thousands of acres. Our ranch was 20,000 acres of wheat, barley, pigs and cows. They’d do crop rotations. They’d get it planted, harvested and send it to San Francisco on barges.”
Now reduced to 28 acres and administered by the Far West Heritage Association, the Patrick Ranch Museum is still a working ranch packed with teaching moments. During the weekend festival, spectators can watch workers cut the wheat in the field and follow along as a thresher separates the grain from the stalk.
Those interested can make a batter out of the freshly ground flour, drop biscuits on a cast iron skillet, bake them in an oven and enjoy them with a drizzle of honey—from the field to the kitchen table in a matter of minutes.
There’s also time to relax near the pond, admire the Sierra Nevada range to the east and learn how the mountains supply the valley with water. There is plenty more to learn during the day. “The bypass in front of the ranch used to be the Northern Electric Railroad, and we tell how that changed things. The road coming from the east was the Marysville stagecoach road to Chico, and behind it is the California and Oregon Railroad, which came through in 1870. That opened the valley up as a wheat basket to the world,” Holman says.
The threshing bee itself is a great example of the 20th Century farming life, Holman says. “Not all could afford these big pieces of machinery, so men and women would work together and travel from farm to farm to harvest each farmer’s wheat. And the women had to feed these crews. The workers would start at 4 am, breakfast was served at 6 and supper at noon.”
In keeping with that hearty lifestyle, festival organizers have ensured there will be plenty to eat. A food court on the farmhouse lawn will feature hot dogs, hamburgers, tri-tip sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks and water.
Adding to the experience will be stock dog exhibits, period craft booths, a country art show and sale, a museum store and tours of the first floor of the historic 1877 Glenwood farmhouse. A tram will weave its way through the wheat threshing venues every half-hour.
Holman says there is ample parking on the Patrick Ranch grounds and a free trolley will provide transportation from the Chico Transit Center at Second and Salem streets. The trolley leaves Chico on the half-hour and returns on the hour.
Admission is $7 for adults. Children 14 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. For more information, contact the Far West Heritage Association at (530) 892-1525.