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McDaniel Farm Park preserves Gwinnett's rural farmland past

McDaniel Farm Park is a 128-acre park in Gwinnett County that is designed to preserve part of a disappearing piece of our county's rural heritage, the farm. The Heritage Park, 9.2 acres of the farm, is an interpretive farm park highlighting the years from 1918-1942 through agriculture.

The farm, once a tenant farm, produced cotton, corn, soybeans and other agronomic crops throughout the 1900s. Tenant farmers lived in simple wooden structures usually consisting of only one or two rooms. Houses were built on stone pillars so the air could blow beneath the house to cool it in the summer. The cooking area was a wood-burning stove, a food safe and a small table. The front porch had rocking chairs and a clothesline for drying laundry, with a hand-pumped well near the house.

The main cash crop grown on tenant farms prior to the 1920s was cotton. The farmers turned to other crops after the invasion of the boll weevil. Soon afterward, the farmers began to diversify their crops. They started growing row crops, such as corn and soybeans, vegetables such as cabbage and melons and even fruit and nut crops like pecans, peaches and apples. Packing sheds were numerous, and farmers prospered.

Tenants on these farms also planted personal vegetable gardens near the tenant houses where they cultivated tomatoes, peppers, beans and a variety of others. While the father worked the fields, the rest of the family worked in the family vegetable garden. The family canned and preserved vegetables for use during the winter. Corn was shucked and dried, beans were stored dry, root crops put in the root cellar to keep them cool and fruit dried in the sun.

Tenant farmers also raised animals. The milking cow provided milk for the various dairy products they family needed. Pigs were slaughtered in the winter to provide sausage and cured hams that could be kept throughout the year. Chickens provided eggs and meat year round. Other animals kept on the farms were goats, ducks, turkeys and guineas.

With the rural heritage of Gwinnett County rapidly disappearing, the county has created McDaniel Farm Park. Purchased in the 1990s from the McDaniel family, the 128-acre farm park is a snapshot of 1930s rural Georgia. The vision for McDaniel Farm Park was to create an interpretive park that could educate Gwinnett residents about the county's rural heritage. The park has some row crops and a large vegetable garden being maintained by park staff and the Gwinnett County master gardeners.

The Gwinnett County Extension Service, along with Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation, is offering some classes on gardening over the next few months:

- Feb. 7: Pruning Ornamental and Fruit Trees

- March 6: Soil Preparation for the Southern Garden

- April 2: Spring Vegetable Gardening

Classes are from noon to 1 p.m. and cost $5 each. The park will offer bird walks Feb. 23 and March 22, and the cost is $3.

Also, there is the Young Farmers Club for ages 6 to 11, which will be hosting activities on the following dates:

- Feb. 9: Birds on the Farm

- March 8: Vegetable Gardens

- April 12: Candle Making

The cost is $10 per class. To register, call McDaniel Farm Park at 770-814-4920 or visit www.gwinnettparks .com to register online.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.