This past week I got to see some of my favorite homeschool families. The Fellowship of Homeschool Companions Fourth Graders are studying Florida History and their class leader invited me to come speak about the history of agriculture in Florida. I jumped on this opportunity to talk about old timey farming!
Many folks don't know it but Florida is real cowboy country! The first cattle brought in to the Americas was brought by Ponce De Leon at St Augustine. Florida's unsettled history led to herds of wild cattle across the state originating with these first arrivals. The early American pioneers in to Florida were some of America's first cowboys. They called them cow hunters and later cracker cowboys. Historians and local folklore have different ideas about the origin of the name "Crackers" but everyone knows that a long and loud whip was a necessary tool for herding cattle through the Florida prairies and hammocks (Shakespeare and other Englishmen were already using the slang "crackers" to describe wild braggarts who lived on the frontier).
I told the kids about these crackers. One, my own great granddaddy John Lane, in the photo frame. My grandfather told me that his daddy was really a "Hog Man" but he also made a business of bringing plentiful cow hides out of Florida across the border to sell in Georgia. I told the kids the story of how John Lane, through completely innocent means, wound up with a stolen Model T car that he used to haul these hides in for years until the original New York owners found their car in South Georgia. We also talked about the other tools of the Cracker Cowboy: a horse, dogs and a rope. I was pleased later to hear from a father of one of the students that when he asked his son what he learned about in school today, he replied, "cowboy stuff." Haha!
We talked about other crops important to the state of Florida and some of the history behind them. I showed them the corn husk mop that belonged to my Aunt Katherine's mother and explained how many uses corn had on the old homesteads and how important it was for survival and still is today. Then we got down to work, shucking and shelling corn. The corn was graciously supplied by Jesse Green of Greenway Farm. Jesse is a true native Florida Cracker himself. His family has grown this type of white flint corn for generations, grinding it in to grits and cornmeal. Each student got a sample of grits to take home and cook as well as the corn seed they shelled on the antique sheller along with instructions on how to grow this special heirloom corn in Florida.
If you would like me to come speak to your school or other group. I would love to do it. I'm polishing my presentation and hope to keep it entertaining and educational. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org