Studying the agricultural heritage in the American southwest is like traveling to a different world – several different worlds, actually. The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum is uniquely well qualified to act as your tour guide.
The Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, located in Las Cruces, is a handsome new facility committed to preserving the state's unique agricultural heritage. But the story at the Heritage Museum goes well beyond mere display of artifacts from the past.
"We put a lot of emphasis on heritage," says Craig Massey, the museum's public relations director. "We take a little more personal look at history; at a way of life. The agricultural history of New Mexico is very unusual. It represents a weave of cultures – Native Americans, Spaniards and Hispanos, European immigrants ... We look at everything from stone tools used in 1100, to things used by homesteaders in 1900."
That comprehensive look back is achieved in a working ranch environment. The museum is housed in a large building reminiscent of a traditional ranch house, surrounded by 47 acres where outdoor exhibits are springing up like flowers in the desert. A working dairy barn and blacksmith shop are already in place, as are a 70-year-old windmill, and corrals housing cattle, sheep, goats and burros. Finishing touches are being put on the most recent additions – demonstration plots and a Children's Discovery Barn (where kids can get nose-to-nose with young animals) – in the "South 20" this year. Pieces of vintage iron are displayed indoors and out ("One of our goals is to use the old horse-drawn equipment in the fields, showing how the work used to be done," says Curator Toni Laumbach), and native plants and crops are showcased in orchards and gardens.
Complementing those features is the museum's permanent "Generations" exhibit. The 3,100-square foot exhibit takes in the big picture of 3,000 years of agricultural history in New Mexico. The biographies of 33 people – some real, some imagined – are used to tell the state's tale of farming and ranching over the centuries. Some elements in that exhibit are interactive: Try your hand at grinding corn the old fashioned way, hop on to a saddle, tie knots in rope.
And then there's the collection: You'll find everything from ancient artifacts like spear points, baskets and pottery, to a full-size reconstruction of a Mogollon pithouse, to a stagecoach, to a full line-up of antique tools, implements, engines and tractors. (And don't miss the bone-yard out back!)
The staff at the Heritage Museum bends over backward to put on special events. Festivals, fiestas, cowboy poets, farmers markets and special exhibits are constantly on tap. Call ahead to find out what's cooking when you're there.
Insiders have predicted that within five years of its opening, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum would be the most comprehensive agricultural museum in the U.S. It's already well on its way. FC
For more information: The New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum: Hours, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: Adults, $5; Seniors (60 and over), $3; Children 5-17, $2; Children 4 and under, and all military veterans are admitted free. Facilities include an onsite restaurant and gift shop. Attractions: dairy barn with daily milking demonstrations, livestock tours, Blacksmith Shop, orchards and gardens, Harvest Festival in September, Cowboy Days in March, Ghosts of the Past in October, Ice Cream Sunday in July, and Blessing of the Fields in May.
The museum is located at 4100 Dripping Springs Road, Las Cruces, N.M. Take the University Exit (Exit 1) off Interstate 25 and go east 1.5 miles. Phone: (575) 522-4100; firstname.lastname@example.org; online at http://www.nmfarmandranchmuseum.org.