Sometimes as New Yorkers, we tend to take for granted the places closest to us. For example, I have always wanted to visit the Statue of Liberty, but never made the time. However, when I finally decided to go, the government shut down, causing national parks and monuments to close. Instead, I decided to look in my community for a place to visit.
The Queens County Farm Museum is located just one minute away from my home. In fact, I drive past the museum every morning. According to the Museum’s website, the farm started operating in 1967. The site boasts the rich history of the farm, which went through several owners before eventually being sold to the New York City Department of Parks in 1975. The historical landmark, which is now a museum, is located on what is now known as one of the largest “undisturbed’’ plots of farmland in New York City.
While driving on Little Neck Parkway, I recently noticed a big, white sign, large enough to notify the entire neighborhood. On it, in bright, warm, fall colors were the words, “Fall Festival: Free Entry!” Right in our backyard was this jewel of a “museum” that we had not taken time out to explore. I had never considered the possibility of a “festival” at a museum, so I was intrigued by the event. A sign was posted just a week or two before, advertising the county fair. However, we never had the time to enjoy the Ferris wheel, or reap the benefits of the roasted corn aroma that lingered over Glen Oaks for an entire weekend. This fall festival, my wife and I decided, was not something we could miss.
Equipped with our learning tools such as cameras, iPads, paper, and pens, my wife and I ventured down three long blocks on a bleak, rainy Sunday afternoon, to attend the fall festival at the Queens County Farm Museum.
When I heard about the farm museum, I was expecting to see old disabled farm tractors, paintings dated back to the fifteenth century, and old farm equipment. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw people from all walks of life looking at farm animals and plants and enjoying themselves with the many farm attractions and activities. There were fruit stands, outdoor games, a scarecrow contest, various rides, and best of all, aromatic flavors from the various food vendors. My wife and I decided we would explore this new interactive museum. In fact, we decided to treat the farm like a fair and enjoy all the provisions that were there. We began to act like grown kids.
We frolicked around the park, observing the children as they played loudly in the pumpkin patch. As I listened to the joyful laughter of children and their parents as they struggled to navigate through the large corn maze in the middle of the farm, I became filled with nostalgia. The sounds of farm vehicles, the smell of roasted corn and butter, the sound of farm animals, the trickle of raindrops on my head all reminded me of the countryside in my native Jamaica. For a moment, I forgot about the hustle and bustle of New York life and joined the other farm visitors on this journey through what seemed like a rustic escape in the middle of one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world.
What an incredulous experience to see cows, goats, chickens and horses at a museum! I watched the children pet the chickens, marvel at the llamas, and fight for opportunities to get closer and stare at the ponies. To me, the animals were no marvelous sight. In fact, these were normal backyard farm animals in Jamaica and what was more intriguing to me were the reactions of the people as they “oohed” and “ahhed” at what I would have considered banal under other circumstances. I had once been a busy city resident who took these very sights for granted while living a hectic life in Jamaica. I never thought that people in other lands would be fascinated by the presence of pastures in their city. I also did not imagine that I would ever take time out for a bumpy hayride in the back of an orange tractor trailer. I had never taken time out to listen to the roaring of a tractor’s engine or the sound of sprinklers watering vegetables, nor had I considered that people from other places would be fascinated by a patch of lettuce or a row of pumpkins, which I often ignored in my own backyard. But on this day, I realized that a museum was far more than a number of artifacts sitting behind a closed glass. I had lived in a museum my entire life but I, too, was a New Yorker who had not the time to explore my own surroundings until I paused to notice the things around me.
The lion in my stomach roared with desire and I perused the vendors who were scattered all over the farm. They were selling fresh fruits and vegetables, burgers and sandwiches, roasted corn, and candy apples. There were so many food options and so little time to try them all! As I contemplated, I saw a group of chipper little children weaving through the crowd, clutching little cellophane bags with something round and red inside. The kid in me suddenly wanted one, but I had no idea what the tasty treat was. My wife saw childish desire written all over my face and extended her arm and index finger directing me to the candy apples line. She then excused herself and shuffled over to the roasted corn tent. I soon realized why she had disappeared. The candy apple line was as long as Rapunzel’s hair! Not to be discouraged, I waited and enjoyed the laughter of the children and the sounds of Spanish, Hindi, and other foreign languages around me. After what seemed like a life time of waiting I finally made it to the front of the line, where a pint-sized, stocky, unfriendly woman in an apron struggled to hear my order over screaming children and impatient adults. She looked like an exhausted New Yorker, who perhaps would have enjoyed the festival had she not be subjected to a tiresome day at work. I ordered my candy apple and went happily on my way.
The day at the museum turned out to be more adventurous than we had ever imagined. After indulging in a very expensive but tasty grilled cheese sandwich from the Morris Food Truck, we sat under a shed attached to the barn. From our seats, we could see through the open barn doors where I observed three tractors that looked as if they had sat there idly since Creation. I finally saw where the hay was stacked for the bumpy hay ride we had taken earlier. I guess this was the museum portion I had expected when I came. I peeked in to see what other artifacts lay around only to be distracted by the funky smell of stale animal urine that began to spread like incense in the air around the barn. This was indeed a nostalgic experience. I was still surprised that this farm museum was just minutes away from home; so near but yet so far from our daily life experiences. Sometimes as busy as we are, we should to take the time to simply enjoy our neighborhood. Here I was, 1500 miles from the rustic countryside in Jamaica, experiencing the very things I had taken for granted for all these years. On this day, however, my wife and I enjoyed all the farm had to offer, while admitting that a farm located in the middle of a city is certainly something one should pause to notice and enjoy.