A Metro Parks TV reviewer lives the 19th-century life

Metro Parks’ Human Resources Director, Renee Telfer, has been entertaining Metro Parks’ staff in our internal newsletter with a series of reviews of her favorite TV programs, always with an eye to some theme or incident that might apply, even if in an oblique way, to the daily work routines of our employees. Renee’s latest newsletter article quickly spun away from a TV review as she became a character in her own show — Down on the Farm! We thought it would be fun to share it with you. 

Human Resources Director

Okay… this isn’t so much what I’m watching right now. But it’s about what I USED to watch. When I was growing up, one of my “must watch” shows was “Little House on the Prairie” (aired from 1974–1983), starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls. The TV show was based on the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life growing up in the Midwest during the 19th century.

As a young girl, I always wondered what it was like growing up on a farm and having to live off what you were able to produce. Fast forward to 2023 and I had the opportunity to actually see what it was like! I spent the afternoon at Slate Run Living Historical Farm and participated in the process of threshing oats.

Renee living the dream! Renee (left) in 19th-century costume alongside Dave Trotter and Ann Culek during the Farm’s August threshing program.

I knew what threshing meant, but to actually participate in it and see it in action is a whole different thing. I had simply gone to the Farm to conduct a benefits orientation with a new full-time employee, and I was asked if I wanted to join in the threshing activities. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I eagerly accepted the invitation and I was promptly outfitted in the proper 1800s attire for a woman, with the exception of my tennis shoes which is all I had with me.

The threshing process involves the horses, which are hitched to a lever that is attached to the threshing machine. As the horses walk in a circle, they power the threshing machine. On this particular day, Dave Trotter, Historical Farmer, was the one walking behind the horses, making sure they stayed on task. Dave told me that by the time I started, he had already walked in circles in the amount of 4 miles!

Natelle Ball, Interpretive Aide, fed the sheaves into the threshing machine. This machine separates the seeds from the chaff from the stalks. Clarissa Cooper, Interpretive Aide, monitored the machine as the seeds came out and put the seeds into bags. I was given the chore of tossing the sheaves from the hay wagon to Natelle. I was closely supervised by Historical Farm Manager Ann Culek, who made sure I was comfortable with what I was doing and made sure I was safe. I did have to watch myself to make sure I didn’t accidentally step off the side of the wagon while tossing the sheaves. I was nervous!

Renee collects sheaves from the hay wagon, under the watchful eye of Historical Farm Manager Ann Culek.

Nothing goes to waste and the stalks were put into a separate pile that is used for animal bedding. The chaff can be used for human bedding and pillows. The heirloom seeds from Slate Run Farm we were threshing are used as animal feed and back in the 1880s it was the same.

I learned a lot during my afternoon at Slate Run Living Historical Farm. I learned that it takes A LOT of work to thresh, often times during very hot weather. It also takes multiple people for this process. Each step required attention from someone. It is a very physical process. And, most importantly, I learned that if my survival depended upon my participation in the threshing process, I most likely would not have survived!

Several years ago, Dave Trotter, Historical Farmer, made a video about the threshing process at Slate Run Farm. It’s only about two minutes long and gives a much better video illustration of the process than I described. Check it out!

Slate Run Living Historical Farm Threshing

Thank you to all the staff at Slate Run Farm for giving me the opportunity to relate to one of my favorite childhood shows and reveal to me the reality of that time period.