Keeping Dairy Farm Heritage Alive

Collector shares her dairy farm heritage with a new generation

Kitty Gialanella with her cream separators and a can that once contained Dandelion Brand butter color

Kitty Gialanella with her cream separators and a can that once contained Dandelion Brand butter color, at the Frederick County Farm Museum. Kitty coordinates exhibits there, often loaning her own collectibles for display.

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Kitty Gialanella is so proud of her farming heritage that she has come up with some interesting ways to hang on to it. 

She grew up on dairy farms in Frederick County, Md., as did her parents and grandparents. She wants to preserve her memories of those days, but her modest suburban home doesn't have room for collections of large equipment. So, she goes for the small stuff.

"I have over 400 milk bottles," she says. "It's probably been 40 years since they used milk bottles in this area. Someone told me there have been 721 dairies in Maryland, so I just collect Maryland bottles."

Along with the bottles and an array of bottle tops, there are buckets, a milking stool, hand-cranked butter churn, and early, hand-crank ice cream freezers.

Two cream separators – one a hand-cranked from the 1920s, and the other a 1940s electric model – round out her collection.

Kitty uses these items to share her heritage with younger generations. A retired school bus driver, she has had plenty of contact with children, and feels strongly that they should know of how things were in times gone by. A five-year member of the board of directors of the Frederick County Farm Museum, she helps set up shows and demonstrations at the museum to give the public an opportunity to learn about Maryland's farming heritage. She's also involved with the acquisition of farm items for display in the museum.

"Kids need to know that milk doesn't just come off the shelf at the store," she says. "I am so thankful for the heritage I inherited from my parents and grandparents that it motivates me to do my part to preserve it. Collecting is worthless if no one understands why you did it."

At the museum's recent spring show, Kitty coordinated a dairy exhibit that included her own life-size replica of a horse-drawn milk wagon built by the grandson of the dairy's original owner. She also took along her camera to record the reactions of the show's visitors.

"The kids are just fascinated to see things made right in front of them," she says. "We do rope making, and I love to catch the look in their eyes when they see a jump rope made that they can use."

Another eye-catcher for children and adults alike is the corn grinding equipment, a hands-on demonstration.

"They can run the ear of corn through the sheller and then through the first grinder for chicken feed," she says. "Then it can go into the grinder that is powered by a hit-and-miss engine to make cornmeal. The kids are just so amazed to see it."

As a photographer, Kitty has come up with another way to encourage farm heritage preservation. She has initiated a search for old family farm photos to be displayed in the museum, and has already contributed copies from her own family's collection.

"It's so important to pass on our heritage to the next generation," she says. "Farming is a hard but rewarding way of life, and we want kids to know what happened. Today, the small business type of farming is almost obsolete, and the farmland around us is being gobbled up by development. The young people need to know that there weren't  always malls here."

One of the more unusual items in Kitty's collection is an old gallon can that once contained Dandelion Brand butter color, manufactured by Wells & Richardson of Burlington, Vt. She has no idea what the can's history is, but the instructions – printed on the can in English and two other languages – are worth a second look.

"Use one or two teaspoonfuls of the color for each 10 gallons of cream. This quantity will usually give the right June shade, but can be increased or decreased as experience suggests."

Further instructions indicate that the mixture, which is described only as being "purely vegetable," should be shaken well before use and kept well-corked in a cool place. So far, Kitty has not found anyone who can tell her what constitutes a "June shade" of butter. FC 

Jill Teunis is a freelance writer who has lived in Damascus, Md., for 35 years. She enjoys writing about communities, their people and their history.