'Pioneer Farmers' Share Their Knowledge

'Pioneer Farmers' Share Their Knowledge

Summer Interns Share Stories

Three "pioneer farmers" shared their agrarian insights with the Mount Vernon Rotary Club last week at the Cedar Knoll Inn. Now they are prepared to re-enter the 21st century.

The three are summer interns at Mount Vernon Estate's Pioneer Farm. They represented half of the six interns selected each year by Mount Vernon to discover first hand how a colonial farm operated, according to Jinny Fox, supervisor, Pioneer Farm.

"We get 15 to 20 applications every year from college students who want to participate in the Mount Vernon experience. They come from throughout the United States," she said. "Each applicant is interviewed for an hour before we make the selections."

Three of those selected for this summer's program were Rachel Hudgens from Texas, a junior at Harding University, College Station, Arkansas; Tyler Alexander from Richmond, Vt., a junior at UVA; and Jamie Alutis from Eagle River, Alaska, attending Charleston Southern University, Charleston, S.C.

"I came to this area last summer on a trip and ended up spending one entire day at Mount Vernon. When I saw someone in costume I just questioned them endlessly about how they got their job and what they did," Hudgens said.

"I'm a history major with an emphasis on costume interpreting. Last summer I worked on another farm and had a lot of different experiences, like cleaning out the chicken coops," she said.

"But, Mount Vernon's 'Hands On History' is a terrific program. You are able to actually learn a lot of interesting colonial skills such as basket weaving and how to cut wheat by hand," Hudgens said.

WHEN ASKED about the strangest questions she's gotten while working in costume, she said, "While I was cutting wheat by hand one day a tourist was watching. He then asked if I was actually cutting it," she said. Interns work the wheat fields with reap hooks and scythes.

Alexander said, "My first passion was forestry. Then I changed to a history major. I'm hoping this experience might show me a way to combine the two."

As for his greatest legacy from this experience, "I believe it will be learning the art of communicating with a great variety of people. I have also found Virginians very welcoming. Much more so than when my ancestors were here in the 1860s," Alexander said.

Alutis admitted, "We don't have a lot of farming in Alaska. At least not the area I come from which is right outside Anchorage."

She is also a history major and looked upon her summer at Mount Vernon as an experience in "living history."

WASHINGTON BUILT Mount Vernon Estate into an 8,000 acre plantation over his lifetime by purchasing several adjoining farms. He organized it into five distinct units. In addition to the Mansion House Farm, there were four working farms, River, Muddy Hole, Dogue and Union. According to the Estate's history, "Each working farm had its own overseer and work force ...."

Interns work a full day at the Estate's farm doing and learning all the various chores it took to make the farm operate in the days of George and Martha Washington. They are housed in the guest quarters of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association headquarters on the Estate.

Each will go through an exit interview prior to departure, according to Fox.