Tag Archives: Agricultural History

Everyone Knows Elsie:
A Short History of the Borden Company


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WelcomeBackElsieWhen you enter the Hamlet of Wallkill, you are greeted by the happy face of the Borden Company’s mascot, Elsie the Cow. The company’s website states that this mascot dates to the 1930s.

Underneath Elsie is a sign stating that the Hamlet of Wallkill was the location the “Home Farm” of John G. Borden. Thus, many commonly believe that Borden Condensed Milk was in fact invented in the Hamlet of Wallkill; however, its origins can be traced to Burrville, Connecticut and Gail Borden, Jr. Actually, the business was not originally called Borden at all – that title would come later. Continue reading

New Book Explores Life On A Putnam County Farm


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Life on a rocky farmLife on a Rocky Farm (SUNY Press, 2013) is a folksy look at farm life in rugged Putnam Valley (Putnam County) just as it was being transformed by industrialization and mechanization. The book couples Lucas C. Barger’s (1866–1939) eye for detail with a folksy, anecdotal style to provide an interesting depiction of both the traditional ways of farm life, and the challenges farmers faced as times changed.

Previously unpublished, Barger’s first-hand account of farm life near New York City begins in the late nineteenth century. Little had changed for well over a century in the hilly and rugged terrain of Putnam Valley, where Lucas grew up as a member of the sixth generation of Barger farmers. But as the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, industrialization and mechanization decreased the demand for farm labor and farmers had to come up with alternate ways to make money. Continue reading

Harvest Fest, Folkways Fair at Hanford Mills Museum


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2011 millers harvest festivalArtisans, water power, local farms, grist milling, lumberjack skills, and horse-drawn wagon rides will all be featured at the Miller’s Harvest Festival and Folkways Fair at Hanford Mills Museum (Delaware County) on Sunday, October 13.

The Museum will be operating machinery in its 1869 Gristmill, which area farmers relied on for generations. The Munson Brothers Millstone, which the Museum connected to its horizontal water turbine in August, will be featured. Guided tours of the gristmill, sawmill and woodworking shop will be offered throughout the day. Continue reading

Mount Lebanon Herb Festival at Historic Shaker Village


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2nd annual mount lebanon herbfest finalThe Mount Lebanon Herb Festival will be held on Saturday, June 8, 2013, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, rain or shine on the campus of the Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY, the historic grounds of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village.

New Lebanon has a remarkable history with herbs. Its famous warm spring feeds the Shaker Swamp in the village of New Lebanon, and that supported an extraordinary collection of wild herbs long used by Native Americans. The Shakers, who based their national headquarters in New Lebanon, expanded on the uses of these herbs and created an industry around their sales. In 1824, Elam Tilden (father of politician Samuel J. Tilden) put this knowledge toward the start of one of the nation’s first pharmaceutical companies, the Tilden Company, using herbal tinctures, extracts and compounds derived in New Lebanon that were eventually marketed around the world. Continue reading

Albany Institute Event Featuring Hudson Valley Hops


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Albany BrewerThe Albany Institute of History & Art will be hosting its second event featuring Hudson Valley Hops on Saturday, April 20, 2013 from 4-7pm.

The event will be a celebration of the history of brewing in Albany and today’s craft beer industry in and around the Hudson Valley. Guests can sample the finest local craft beers, engage with experts in the field, enjoy an assortment of food and tour the museum galleries. Continue reading

Eliakim Briggs: Horse Power Inventor


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Briggs' 1834 horse treadmill BRIn the 1830s, hundreds of inventors around the world focused on attempts at automating farm equipment. Reducing the drudgery, difficulty, and danger of farm jobs were the primary goals, accompanied by the potential of providing great wealth for the successful inventor. Among the North Country men tinkering with technology was Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington in northern Franklin County.

Functional, power-driven machinery was the desired result of his work, but while some tried to harness steam, Briggs turned right to the source for providing horsepower: the horse. Continue reading

CFP: Sugar and Beyond Conference Planned


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The John Carter Brown Library seeks proposals for a conference entitled “Sugar and Beyond,” to be held on October 25-26, 2013, and in conjunction with the Library’s Fall 2013 exhibition on sugar in the early modern period, especially its bibliographical and visual legacies. The centrality of sugar to the development of the Atlantic world is now well known.

Sugar was the ‘green gold’ that planters across the Americas staked their fortunes on, and it was the commodity that became linked in bittersweet fashion to the rise of the Atlantic slave trade. Producing unprecedented quantities of sugar through their enforced labor, Africans on plantations helped transform life not only in the colonies but also in Europe, where consumers incorporated the luxury commodity into their everyday rituals and routines.

“Sugar and Beyond” seeks to evaluate the current state of scholarship on sugar, as well as to move beyond it by considering related or alternative consumer cultures and economies. Given its importance, sugar as a topic still pervades scholarship on the Americas and has been treated in many recent works about the Caribbean, Brazil, and other regions. This conference thus aims to serve as an occasion where new directions in the study of sugar can be assessed.

At the same time, the connection of sugar to such broader topics as the plantation system, slavery and abolition, consumption and production, food, commodity exchange, natural history, and ecology has pointed the way to related but distinct areas of inquiry. Although sugar was one of the most profitable crops of the tropical Americas, it was not the only plant being cultivated.

Furthermore, although the plantation system dominated the lives of African and other enslaved peoples, they focused much of their efforts at resistance around the search for ways to mitigate or escape the regime of sugar planting. The organizers thus welcome scholars from all disciplines and national traditions interested in exploring both the power and limits of sugar in the early Atlantic world.

Topics that papers might consider include but are not limited to the following:

–The development of sugar in comparative context
–The rise of sugar and new conceptions of aesthetics, taste, and cultural refinement
–Atlantic cultures of consumption
–Coffee, cacao, and other non-sugar crops and commodities
–Natural history and related genres of colonial description and promotion
–Imperial botany and scientific programs of agricultural expansion and experimentation
–Alternative ecologies to the sugar plantation
–Plant transfer and cultivation by indigenous and African agents
–Provision grounds and informal marketing
–Economies of subsistence, survival, and resistance
–Reimagining the Caribbean archive beyond sugar: new texts and methodological approaches

In order to be considered for the program, send a paper proposal of 500 words and CV to jcbsugarandbeyond@gmail.com. The deadline for submitting proposals is December 15, 2012.

The conference organizers include Christopher P. Iannini (Rutgers), Julie Chun Kim (Fordham), K. Dian Kriz (Brown).

Photo: Havemeyers & Elder’s, later Domino, sugar refinery in New York City in the 1880s. Photo courtesy wgpa.org.

Dangerous Jobs in NY History: Produce Manager?


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While researching stories that deal with history, I enjoy finding offbeat items, things that have happened in the past, which allows me the liberty to stretch the definition a bit and label them as history. Work can’t be all dullness and difficulty, and these items help make it fun. Which brings me to a list of some historically dangerous occupations: farming, logging, mining, and … produce manager?

Sounds ridiculous, right? Thousands have entered those other three occupations knowing full well the potential downside. Produce manager, on the other hand, seems pretty safe. But what would you choose—a job with the risk of injury, or a job that might one day “produce” your worst nightmare?

If you’re squeamish, you’d have to be bananas to choose the latter. But who in the Adirondacks and North Country, on our own home turf, ever expects to be attacked by scorpions or tarantulas? But it has happened, and far more than once.

Here are a few tidbits from the world of those bravest of souls: produce managers.

In 1891, a fruit vendor in Watertown was handling bunches of bananas when a scorpion slammed its stinger into his hand. Few scorpions can actually kill humans, but that hardly makes any scorpion attack more acceptable. In this case, quickly applying a tourniquet and rendering first aid lessened the victim’s suffering. The scorpion was said to be about six inches long.

In 1933, a two-inch scorpion stung Herb Sloan of Heuvelton (St. Lawrence County) three times. Suffering what was described as excruciating pain, he received first aid from a doctor and was then rushed to the hospital as his body temperature rose dramatically. He was accompanied by his attacker, who rode along in a jar.

Sloan later described what happened. “I ran my hand in among the bananas, when I suddenly felt a sharp, burning sting. When I yanked my hand out, I saw this ugly-looking thing attached to my fingers. Its jaws were clamped tight and its tail was whipping around. Three times it whipped its tail and ran the sharp needle at the end of it deep into my finger. I finally shook it off, and managed to get Dr. Mulholland without delay, then lost no time in getting to the hospital.”

In 1937, Medric Gandron, manager of the Whitehall (Washington County) A&P, likewise suffered a scorpion attack on his finger, requiring medical treatment and a recovery period.

Another job hazard for fruit handlers was tarantulas, and St. Lawrence County has had more than its fair share of incidents. Claude VanPelt of Gouverneur was bitten by one in 1901, and when William Kory of Potsdam was hanging bananas in his store, a tarantula with a six-inch leg-span fell to the floor. Kory escaped unscathed.

Like Kory, others had close calls but weren’t actually bitten, though the shock of finding a tarantula likely had lasting psychological effects. In 1910, at Long’s fruit store in Alexandria Bay, employee James Pollock was startled when one latched onto his shirt and tried to bite through the sleeve. And Fort Jackson’s Gladys Nichols, after grabbing fruit from a bag over a period of several days, discovered she had all the time been reaching into a tarantula’s adopted home.

Less lucky was Cliff McIntosh of Morrisburg. Talk about your nightmares―a tarantula got inside his clothes and bit him several times before it was killed. He endured extreme pain and swelling and was treated by a doctor.

Ed Chase, a store clerk in Whitehall, was bitten in 1920 by a tarantula that latched on so tightly, he couldn’t shake it off. A stick was used to remove it, and a doctor later amputated the tip of Chase’s injured finger.

Sol Drutz, owner of the Star Market in Saranac Lake, was unfortunate enough to have two spider stories connected to his store within a two-year span. Employee Margaret Duquette was bitten during the first episode, requiring “extensive medical treatment” before she recovered.

Then, in 1935, according to the Lake Placid News, “A lady tarantula, dreaded spider of the tropics, chose a Saranac Lake meat market as the ideal spot to hatch her young.” It was the store-owner’s mother, Annie Drutz, who had the pleasure of discovering the intruder.

In each and every instance above involving scorpions or tarantulas, there was one consistent factor: bananas. So remember that if a problem arises, you heard it here first―eating bananas can lead to serious health issues.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Fenimore Lunch Lecture Series Spotlights New Exhibits


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Food for Thought, the popular lunch-and-lecture series at the Fenimore Art Museum, offers an in-depth understanding of the museum’s new exhibitions, including Tasha Tudor, G.C. Myers, and New York in the Civil War.

All Food for Thought programs are held on Wednesday from 12:30-2:30 pm at the Fenimore Art Museum. The museum offers two discounts: NYSHA members receive $5 off. Register for three or more Food for Thought programs at once, receive $2 off.
September 12: In Plain Sight: Hidden Gems of Native American Open Storage

Join Eva Fognell, Thaw Collection Curator, as she offers a behind-the-scenes look at the museum’s Study Center, which houses open storage of the Thaw Collection of American Indian Art. Appreciate the extraordinary range of art produced by North America’s first artists, including ritual objects, ceremonial clothing, pottery, and basketry.

September 19: Artist and Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed

Learn about America’s most prominent folk artist as Paul D’Ambrosio, President and CEO, explores the William Matthew Prior exhibition (on display through December 31).

October 10: On the Home Front: New York in the Civil War

Join John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections, as he shares Civil War artifacts from the On the Home Front exhibition. Objects tell us so much about the past and the history of those who made and used them. Learn about New York State and its place in the American Civil War through lively discussion.

October 17: Tasha Tudor Around the Year

Come for a heart-warming discussion and tour of Tasha Tudor Around the Year, an exhibition from the Norman Rockwell Museum. This exhibition illuminates beloved author and illustrator Tasha Tudor and stirs the imagination through the artist’s iconic art and greeting cards. Co-curator Jeanette Chandler Knazek reflects on the changing seasons and special celebrations as depicted by Tudor.

October 24: Oral Histories of New York’s Farm Women

Professor William Walker of the Cooperstown Graduate Program plays excerpts from oralhistory interviews with women who have lived and worked on farms in central New York State. Using recordings available on the website CGP Community Stories, Dr. Walker leads a discussion of the varied experiences of women in the agricultural heartland of the state.

November 7: Internal Landscapes: The Paintings of G.C. Myers

Guest curator Gary C. Myers joins us in a discussion and tour of his contemporary exhibition, InternalLandscapes. Learn first-hand from the artist in this amazing exhibition of paintings that provide moments of stillness and encourage reflection and a renewed sense of purpose.

November 14: Flags, Uniforms, and Insignia: New York State Material Culture of the Civil War
Ted Shuart, printing supervisor at The Farmers’ Museum and re-enactor with the 125th New York State Volunteer Infantry, discusses flags, uniforms and insignia of New York troops during the Civil War. Learn about New York State’s wartime history while looking at objects from the period and understand what they tell us about one of the most tumultuous times in American history.

Pricing Information: Lunch and lecture fee – $20 members/$25 non-members. Register for three or more Food for Thought programs at once and receive a discounted price of $18 members/$23 non-members per program. Call (607) 547-1461 with questions regarding pricing or the cancellation policy.

Say Cheese: When New York Cheese Was King


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It’s a little known fact that the cheese industry in America owes a lot to New York State. Milton Stewart has set out to set the record straight with Say Cheese! The Story of the Era When New York State Cheese Was King, the story of the era when the premier cheesemaking region of the United States was in Central New York, chiefly in the Mohawk Valley.

In 1851, Jesse William set up what is considered the first cheese factory in America in Oneida County. It was also in New York that Professor Xerxes A. Willard became the nation’s most respected spokesman for the “associated dairies” concept in his drive to create higher standards in cheese making. Continue reading

John Lennon’s Travels in Ulster County, New York


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The Depuy Canal House has sat in High Falls since the 1790s when it was constructed by Simeon Depuy, “one of the most prominent citizens of High Falls, New York.” It opened, according to the Depuy Canal House’s website, as the Stone House Tavern. The tavern entered its heyday when work commenced on the Delaware & Hudson (D&H) canal to link the coal fields of Pennsylvania to the Hudson River in Kingston. This tavern sat on Lock 16, convenient to the canal men until the canal closed in 1899. Continue reading

Pre-European Agriculture in the Champlain Valley


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When I set out to write From Forest to Fields: A History of Agriculture in New York’s Champlain Valley, I became discouraged by the mixed information coming

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While there is archeological evidence of Native settlements in Plattsburgh at Cumberland Bay, across Lake Champlain in Vermont and along the Hudson River and its tributaries, little information exists for the rest of the Adirondack Coast. Continue reading

Historic Farm Tour Focusing on New Paltz Area


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CIRCA, a tour of historic farmhouses this Sunday, June 10th, aims to highlight the rich and varied architecture that remains from the late 18th and 19th centuries, when the New Paltz area was part of the Nation’s breadbasket.  

CIRCA will feature six local homes, all of which have strong ties to this pivotal period in America’s history. Also included on the tour is an 18th century Dutch-style barn, today home to Adair Vineyards, and an artist’s studio created from a unique early 19th century stone barn.


It was the bounty of the Hudson Valley and the industrious nature of our 18th and 19th century farmers that helped feed our young country – especially burgeoning cities such as New York.

Farming in this era involved individuals of all social strata, from the wealthiest of gentleman farmers, to the hardworking tenant farmers who made it possible for the prosperous to extract wealth from the huge tracts of land they controlled.

Among the homes included on the tour is early 19th century home of Thaddeus Hait. Hait, from a well-to-do Westchester County family of the time, moved to the then newly-formed town of Plattekill. By 1828, he had accrued 153 acres, some of which is still farmed today. His home is an interesting example of how the refined Neoclassical style was interpreted in a decidedly rural setting. The result is an otherwise modest home that endures as an example of the optimism and aspiration of its builder. Outside, the home features an unusual second floor “Juliet” balcony. Inside, high style mixes with exposed stone walls and brick floors. The current owners have lovingly preserved the home and the surrounding outbuildings.

Two short miles away, as Hait staked his claim, Josiah Hasbrouck and his wife Hylah Bevier lived in a striking Federal-style showpiece they completed in 1814. This home, known today as Locust Lawn, was at the heart of a massive 1,000 acre gentleman’s farm. Josiah and Hylah, who each were descended from the earliest Huguenot settlers of the area, presided over a home truly remarkable for its time. Lived in by three generations of their family, the home was shuttered in the 1880′s – in effect turning it into a time capsule of one family’s unique history. A preserved museum home today, the home has been closed to the public for the past two years and is normally open only by appointment.

On the other end of the spectrum is a humble home owned by DuBois Hasbrouck and dating to the late 18th century. This home, built for tenant farmers, represents the lives of the families who toiled to get a toehold on the American dream. This simple one-and-a-half story home, expanded over time, still sits along a gentle stream with views of the fields all around.

Capping off the tour will be a reception at the Maplestone Inn, a substantial stone house built by John L. Jenkins and Mary Catherine Broadhead in late 18th century. Innkeepers Sean and Patty Roche have generously agreed to open their renovated streamside barn for the reception.

CIRCA will be held on Sunday, June 10th, from 11am to 5:30pm. Advance tickets are $25 and can be purchased at www.casaulster.org or by calling (845) 339-7543. Day of tickets are $30 each. The event is presented by Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), which works to ensure that foster care is temporary and that all children can grow up in safe, loving and permanent homes. CASA was founded in Ulster County in 1987 and is one of over 950 CASA programs across the country. More information about CASA can be found at www.casaulster.org.

Ulster County: The Many Lives of Selah Tuthill’s Gristmill


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In 1788, the same year as France was moving closer towards revolution and the United States Constitution was being ratified, a young man made his way to the area that would one day bear his name. His name was Selah Tuthill. He founded what would become known as the Tuthilltown Gristmill in Gardiner, New York. Once the mill started churning out stone ground flour, it would do so continuously for over two hundred years until its second life as a restaurant and distillery. Continue reading

Holstein History, Milk Bottles and Milking Machines


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The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark will hold its third annual Holstein Heritage event at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 3, the third day of Dairy Month, at the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro.

Milton C. Sernett PhD will present Peterboro: Cradle of the Holstein Breed! Sernett’s interest in the history behind the New York State Holstein Association monument on Oxbow Road just north of Peterboro gave impetus to this annual event recognizing the important role that Peterboro played in the agricultural industry.

In his illustrated talk Sernett will use his research to relate the history of Gerrit Smith Miller’s importation to Peterboro of the first registered Holstein-Fresian herd in America. Sernett published the book Cradle of the Breed: Gerrit Smith Miller and the Kriemhild Herd, for the first Holstein Heritage event, and followed that publication with another in 2011 Say Cheese! The Story of the Era When New York State Cheese was King. Both books will be available at the program, at the Peterboro Mercantile, and are online at mercantile.gerritsmith.org

Returning directly from the National Association of Milk Bottle Collectors (NAMBC), Peter Bleiberg will share information on milk bottles and their collection. Bleiberg, a resident of New Hartford and the next editor of The Milk Route, the official newsletter of the NAMBC, has been collecting milk bottles for twenty-four years. He focuses his collection on the variety of pictures and slogans that began to appear on painted milk bottles in the mid-1930’s.

To promote the use of their milk and other dairy products, dairies used images of cows, barns, babies, families, ice cream, butter, nursery rhymes, war-related scenes, and many other subjects on the backs of the colorful bottles. Peter’s presentation, entitled Marketing of Milk in the 1940s, includes pictures of hundreds of bottles and traces the advertising themes on the bottles that sat in our refrigerators and on our kitchen tables every morning.

Mike Gleason will return to the annual event with his antique milking machines and, hopefully, with copies of his book on milking machines that is in publication at this time.

The public is encouraged to attend this heritage session which broadens understanding of the rich history of Gerrit Smith and his family. The Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark at 5304 Oxbow Road in Peterboro has been designated by both the state and national park services as a site on the Underground Railroad.

 Exhibits on freedom seekers and abolitionists are in the three buildings on the estate that are open to the public. The site is open in 2012 on weekends from 1 -5 pm through September 23, for special events, and by appointment. Admission is $3 and free for students. For more information: 315-280-8828, info@gerritsmith.org or www.gerritsmith.org.

Illustration: A Holstein from an 1898 print.

Scything Demonstration at Saratoga National Park


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On Saturday, June 2, 2012, from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM, Saratoga National Historical Park will offer a demonstration of 18th-century style scything. Imagine trying to maintain your lawn or a field using only a long, sharp blade.  Skilled living history teams will use 18th-century style scythes to clear large areas of field as they gather hay for farm animals. As they work, a park ranger will tell stories about farming and food harvesting in the late 1700s.


In the event of rain, the event will be held on Sunday, June 3, from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. For more information about this or other events, call the Visitor Center at 518-664-9821 ext. 1777 or check their website at www.nps.gov/sara.

Illustration: Image from Benjamin Butterworth’s The Growth of Industrial Art depicting reaping grain by hand sickle during the colonial period.

Saunderskill: One of the Oldest Farms in America


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Those readers who follow my writing realize quickly that I have a special affinity for the Hasbrouck House in Newburgh more commonly known as Washington’s Headquarters, State Historic Site. Many of those visiting the site do not realize that a part of that site’s history can be traced back to Western Ulster County, New York where Jonathan Hasbrouck’s mother Elsie Schoonmaker was born and raised. Continue reading

Forest to Fields: Champlain Valley Agriculture History


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A short booklet, From Forest to Fields: A History of Agriculture in new York’s Champlain Valley published by Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) of Essex County and the Lake to Locks Passage Scenic Byway highlights the rich history of the Champlain Valley with a focus on the region’s farms and fields.

From Forests to Fields is authored by Anita Deming, who has more than 30 years experience as an agricultural extension agent with CCE, and Andrew Alberti, Program Manager for Lakes to Locks Passage since 2008 (where he focuses on 21st century technology applications and local and regional interpretation and planning) and a contributor here at New York History. Alberti is also editor for the Lakes to Locks Passage and National Geographic Geotourism website.

Chapters cover Native American agriculture, early explorers and settlements, the agricultural revolution, farming in the modern era and a short review of the architecture and use of farm buildings and a list of resources. The authors explain the impact of the 1807 Embargo Act, the influence of the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823 on local farm trade, the grange movement, and changes in the local sheep and dairy industries, and more.

The booklet is 48 pages and profusely illustrated. You can request a copy by contacting Lakes to Locks Passage. There is a suggested $10 + S&H donation.