Preserving Agricultural History and Legacy at the Island Farm

by | Nov 16, 2023

#EscapeWithNCAg is a year-long series that will focus on agritourism across North Carolina. Many farms, wineries and other agricultural businesses in our state offer events such as tours, yoga, educational classes, pick-your-own events and festivals, to entertain the public and teach them about our state’s number one industry. Each Thursday, we will feature a new site for you to visit with friends or family. Stay tuned and learn how to escape the stresses of life by diving into agriculture! 

When picturing North Carolina beaches, many families don’t immediately envision a farm. However, the coastal areas of our state are steeped in agricultural history, some of which are still thriving today. The Island Farm in Manteo dates back to 1757, and is not only a working farm today, but also a place of education and entertainment for visitors.

In 1757, Adam Etheridge rented the farmland that the Island Farm now sits on for fourteen years before his son Jesse purchased it to carry on the farming tradition. “Jesse purchased the land that is now known as the Etheridge Homeplace, and built the farm house around 1847. The homeplace stayed in the family until it was donated to the non-profit, Outer Banks Conservationists in 1997,” said Michelle Clower, Site Manager of the Island Farm. “Since then, the site has become a living farm for people to visit and learn about the rich agricultural history found in this part of the state.” The Island Farm continues to grow a variety of produce in their four garden plots, like Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, root veggies and peppers, as well as raise livestock animals, including a cow, mule, horses, chickens and sheep. “We try to keep everything as it was in the 1850’s,” Michelle said. “So, we grow crops and raise animals here that were grown on this farm by the Etheridge family, and we cultivate and harvest them using their methods. Therefore, everything on the farm is hand harvested.” Every Tuesday through Friday from March to December, friends and families alike can visit the farm to see their processes, meet the animals and so much more.

The Island Farm is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Admission costs $10 for ages 4 and up but includes everything the farm has on-site that day. “Our farm tours are self-guided, but there are typically three or four interpreters walking around for anyone who has questions about the farm or the on-site demonstrations that are happening on that day,” Michelle said. Demonstrations take place daily at the Island Farm but change from month to month. Check their website for a detailed schedule of events on the date that you plan to attend. Demonstrations can include blacksmithing, hearth cooking, toys and games from the 1850’s, sheep to yarn and more! Families can choose to stay the entire day, enjoying lunch at the farm picnic tables, or go and come back. Stickers will be given to families who go off-site to gain admission back into the farm.

In addition to daily farm tours, the Island Farm also hosts specialized events throughout the year, including Tater Day, Sweet Potato Giveaway Kit events and their upcoming Garden to Hearth event.

The Garden to Hearth event is taking place this year on November 21st and 22nd, which is next week for those watching the calendar. “This event allows us to demonstrate how the farm prepared for winter in the 1850’s,” Michelle said. “We cover a variety of topics including, food preservation, pickling, curing, smoking, salting, candle making and cooking. Recipes are available for families to take home and try, plus all of our fresh produce is for sale on-site.” The Garden to Hearth event was one of the very first agritourism events created by the owners in 2010 and has been a huge hit in the community ever since. “It’s important for people to learn how to use what is in their garden,” Michelle said. “My favorite part of this event is watching people understand how something works, like pickling, and seeing them gain an interest in food preservation.” All event activities are included with the $10 admission fee. Kids three and under will get into the event for free.

Although Michelle loves every part of her job, including the role that she plays in preserving a rich heritage and history of a farm in our state, her favorite part of agritourism at the Island Farm is seeing people light up as they learn something new about farming or life on a farm in the 1850’s. “We serve as a bridge between agriculture from the past and agriculture of the present,” she said. “I love to see the fascination and joy on the faces of visitors when they see something that they’ve never seen before or even try it for themselves. It demonstrates and builds an appreciation for farm work as well as the folk heritage and agricultural history in this part of the state.”

The Island Farm provides a unique experience for visitors that will leave a lasting impression. The next time you take a trip down to the coast, make time to stop at the farm and learn about life in the 1850’s as well as how it impacts our lives and communities today. We are so proud of the hard work that continues to take place at the Island Farm, and we can’t wait to watch their impact grow through the years!