Agricultural Sciences

Corn featured at Pasto Ag Museum open house Sept. 23

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The next in a series of fall open houses at Penn State's Pasto Agricultural Museum will focus on old-fashioned corn production and its historical significance in America's past.

The event is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23.

Pennsylvania has played a role in the history of corn, according to Rita Graef, Pasto Museum curator. "Historical accounts say that around AD 700 or 800, native people began to fall in love with maize," she said. "And the plant began spreading rapidly village to village.

"Not long after this, in the area we now call Pennsylvania, American Indian women farmers developed a distinctly northeastern variety that could withstand colder climates. The strain would revolutionize agriculture and is eaten all around the world today."

The first farmers in what is now Pennsylvania were American Indians, Graef noted. The Delaware or Lenape Indians of the Delaware Valley region planted corn. On American Indian sites, archaeologists have found storage pits for preserving dried corn.

Many of the farming methods that the Amish brought to Pennsylvania proved to be more progressive than those of contemporary American farmers. As a result, Amish farmers assumed prominent roles in certain areas of Pennsylvania's early agricultural development.

The Amish promoted an organized system of crop rotation (corn, oats or barley, wheat, and buckwheat or corn again) that greatly enhanced crop productivity and improved the quality and fertility of the ground.

By the late 19th century, the production of feed crops -- such as corn, oats, rye, barley, alfalfa and hay -- became important Pennsylvania agricultural industries along with dairying. Livestock farming also became a dominant industry of this time period, and corn was grown widely to feed the animals.

"We will focus on corn harvest on Sunday, Sept. 23," said Graef. "Activities will include demonstrations of antique corn-harvest tools on a standing corn crop. We will use corn knives, a leg-bound cutting tool, corn horse and shock-cord in the field to cut and bind corn for drying.

"Husking pegs will be available for visitors to try their hand at husking corn. A corn sheller and meal grinder will be demonstrated. Visitors can make corn-husk dolls to take home."

Operated by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, the museum is welcoming visitors from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday during Penn State home football weekends as part of an initiative to increase public awareness of the museum's collection. Other open houses are set for Oct. 7, Oct. 28 and Nov. 25.

Graef said the open houses will help the public appreciate the time when energy for work was supplied by the power of humans and animals.

"By seeing and touching tools and equipment used in early agriculture and rural life, people will better understand how early technological developments led to modern-day technologies," she said.

More information on the museum and its open houses is available online at To receive information and event reminders via email, send a message to Contact curator Rita Graef at 814-863-1383 or by email at

Located on the Ag Progress Days site at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs -- nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45 -- the museum features hundreds of rare farm and home implements from the "muscle-power era," before the advent of electricity and gasoline-powered engines.

A Centre County farmer shovels corn into an outbuilding from the back of a truck in this 1957 historical photo. His wife is sitting and culling bad ears, while their child is standing and looking at the photographer. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 17, 2012