The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run is a living history museum that portrays family life on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War. This privately funded and operated National Park, located in McLean, Virginia, has served more than 2 million visitors since it opened in 1973, and is host to increasing numbers each year.
The popularity of the Farm is due in large part to its continuing focus on authenticity and its ongoing encouragement of both child and adult visitors to participate in the daily activities of an 18th century family farm. Experiential learning is a growing trend with most museums and the Farm has been a leader in this —-for over 40 years.
The Farm has achieved national recognition for its innovative educational programming that uses the 18th-century Farm as an authentic representation of colonial agricultural history to provide perspective and context for present day life. Each year, thousands of students visit this working class farm, which recreates the life and times of a tenant family living in northern Virginia in 1771.
Educational Programs and Events
In addition to the self-guided tours of the working Farm, groups participate in a number of highly focused, structured, heavily utilized programs such as the Farm Skills Program. This hands-on educational program features the use of a collection of reproduction period items and sessions in which students produce their own 18th-century artifacts using the tools, materials, processes and techniques of the colonial period.
The popular Environmental Living Program, an eighteenth-century encampment, involves a more intensified experience. Since 1977, this multi-disciplinary, curriculum-based program has offered students the opportunity to learn history, environmental science, and agricultural practices and processes through the cultural laboratory of the 18th century farm. School, scout and community groups make their own 18th-century clothing, plan their menus and work projects, and then spend three days and two nights living and working at the 18th-century Environmental Living Center at Turkey Run – a true living history experience. Created in response to interest from families and individuals, the Farm started the Colonial Living Experience (CLE), which is tailored specifically to those individuals wishing to be a part of this educational experience but are not part of an organized group. The CLE is offered annually in late June and is a unique camping experience in its focus on the food and culture of the 18th century.
Colonial Events for Visitors
Throughout the season, The Claude Moore Colonial Farm hosts seven eighteenth-century special events, typical of those a farm family would have experienced and enjoyed. On the third full weekend of May, July and October, thousands of visitors join the Farm family and more than 250 volunteer period craftsmen, entertainers and merchants in an 18th-century Market Fair. In June, visitors help gather and bind the wheat and, in August, help cut tobacco and hang it in the barn to dry. By November, the harvests are complete and visitors help the farm family finish the fall chores, including threshing and winnowing wheat, and making yeast cakes. The winter solstice heralds the Christmas Wassail, which highlights the Farm’s apple orchard with dancing and caroling. In addition to the once monthly Saturday Farm Chores which focus on specific farm jobs such as preparing herbal medicines, mending fences or making butter and cheese, the Farm has added social activities such as an 18th Century Wedding and Summer Evening activities.
In addition to the history-based programs the Farm has developed over the years, there is also a Horticulture Education Program. The Farm had always grown the plant material needed for the 18th century Farm but decided years ago to seek grant funding to upgrade the greenhouse space and add a teaching facility. Grants received over a three year period provided funds to build almost 2,000 sq. ft. of year round greenhouse space in addition to a 500 sq. ft. potting shed/classroom. Classes of adults and children as well as students in work-training programs from McLean High School and Langley High School now work together learning about production horticulture while producing plants for sale to the public and for use on the Farm. The Farm now produces plants for sale to the public as well as providing heirloom vegetables and herbs planted on the historic site. There is also an effort to eradicate non-18th century plants from the colonial farm site and replace them with native varieties.
Sales of Donated Goods and Used Books
Fundraising sales of donated goods began many years ago in a Board Member’s basement and have now grown to individual, specialized estate and garage sale type items. These special sales are in addition to ongoing sales, which take place at the visitor’s entrance facility – The GateHouse Shop. Grant funding of over $55,000 created more than 3500 sq. ft. of storage and sales space over a period of four years. The sales are organized and operated entirely by volunteers who also sell items at off-premises locations: the Ft. Myers Thrift Shop, Treasure Trove in McLean, a Vienna, Virginia consignment store, 2 vintage clothing stores, Ebay, and Craig’s List.
Our occasional Book Sales finally grew into a Used Book Store which is open from noon to 7 pm Wednesday through Saturday. Over 15,000 donated books are well organized and displayed with bi-weekly changing themes. Sales of books and other donated item sales contribute in other ways than income by bringing a different audience to the Farm. More than half of our email database of 3,800 plus addresses came through our sales.
For children ages 10 to 17 there is the Junior Interpreter Program. Children work along side staff and adult interpreters on the 18th century Farm as members of the “Farm Family”. Youth volunteers will be expected to plant, weed, tend and harvest field crops and a kitchen garden. They may also learn skills such as animal care and pen cleaning, woodworking, preparation of wool and linen for spinning, open-hearth cooking, sewing and food preservation. From their unique perspective they are then able to talk with the children and adults who visit the Farm, about their experiences living on an 18th century farm. Prospective Youth Volunteers and their parents must complete 12 hours before applying to the program. This gives the interested applicants a chance to see if this program is really right for them. Applications are taken on a rolling basis and orientation sessions are scheduled on an as needed basis.
The Farm could never provide such an array of programs without the help of a corps of dedicated volunteers supporting a small professional staff. Behind the scenes, volunteers help with office work, publicity, maintaining the buildings, livestock and crops, repairing clothing, working in the greenhouse, splitting firewood & fence rails and caring for the Farm’s reference library. Fundraising events held by volunteers include the staffing and stocking the BookShop, Estate and Plant Sales as well as staffing The Gatehouse Shop at the entrance to the Farm. Adults and children who portray 18th century farmers, artisans, musicians, dancers and merchants belong to the Colonial Company of Turkey Run. Specialized branches of the Colonial Company include the Junior Interpreter Program (the Farm Children), the Musick of Turkey Run, the Colonial Company Puppet Theatre, the Turkey Run Company of Carpenters and Sawyers, the Company of Cooks and Bakers and the Company of Tradesmen.
Unpaid internships are also offered in research, horticulture, retail and special event planning. More than 375 of these dedicated individuals and over 48 organizations annually donate more than 20,000 hours in support of the Farm and its programs.
In addition to the volunteers that are attracted to the Farm because of its programs, atmosphere or work environment we also recruit through every local volunteer agency in Virginia, Maryland and the District. One of our best sources of volunteer help has been the court system as we have participated for almost thirty years in accepting court referred clients needing to perform community service. Especially in the early days of being privately operated these volunteers were sometimes the only help we had in operating the Farm.
A Public/Private Partnership
The Claude Moore Colonial Farm was established as Turkey Run Farm by the National Park Service in 1972 under President Nixon’s Legacy-in-the-Parks program. When federal budget cutbacks threatened the closure of the Farm in 1980, the community rallied behind Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Senator John Warner (R-VA) to save this popular educational resource. The citizens’ group, incorporated in 1981 as The Friends of Turkey Run Farm, Inc., raised the funds immediately necessary to keep the park open as plans were made for the Farm’s long-term financial and operational stability.
During the next two years, the Friends successfully negotiated a thirty-year, no-fee lease for the park, matched a generous $250,000 endowment gift from Dr. Claude Moore of Loudoun County to ensure a more stable financial base for the park’s operation, and changed the name to The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run. In 1990, after ten years of successful private operation of the Farm, the Congress, through the National Park Service, provided much-needed help with a $225,000 construction grant to replace the maintenance/administrative facilities and the badly deteriorated 18th-century farm house.
The Pavilions of Turkey Run
Realizing that the $500,000 endowment would provide only a portion of the operating budget, the Friends planned and raised funds in 1984 to construct a rental picnic facility to earn additional revenue. The Pavilions of Turkey Run, as the new facility was named, offered expanded facilities to the community, and enhanced awareness of the Farm and its programs through increased visitation by a larger audience. The Pavilions of Turkey Run were conceived as a way for the Farm to develop earned income and as a way to introduce new people to the Farm’s educational programs. Built completely with donated funds in 1984, the Pavilions project was chaired by Dwight Schar, then a member of the Farm’s board of directors. There were 4 open-air shelters with earthen floors, 3 were used for rentals to groups and the fourth was used for food preparation if one group rented the entire facility. An indoor restroom building, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits and parking completed the Pavilions when they opened on July 15, 1984.
The Farm staff operated the Pavilions as a rental space, which guests used to stage their own events. Groups were required to carry event insurance, obtain an alcohol license, arrange for rental equipment and entertainment and provide their own food and clean up when their event was over. A Farm staff member had to be on site during the entire event to monitor alcohol consumption, care of the facility, deal with emergencies, first aid, clean up, etc. This put the Farm in the position of having the responsibility for the experience of the guests but none of the control necessary to insure a pleasant event. If there were problems with alcohol consumption, a caterer didn’t show up, an injury occurred, the facility wasn’t cleaned, etc., the Farm staff had to deal with those issues as well as the unhappy guests.
In the boom times of the mid to late 80’s the facility earned more than $50,000 a year but as time went on and the economy declined so did the Pavilion’s revenues. By 1993, the Farm staff had determined that it would be better to have a professional management company take over the operation. However, that did not happen until 1997 when Jim Wordsworth, owner of JR’s Stockyards Inn and Festival Lakes, signed the first 5-year management contract with The Friends of The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run, Inc. to manage the Pavilions of Turkey Run.
Our management agreement has been renewed many times and we have an exemplary business model between a not-for-profit business and a for-profit business. JR’s Colonial Caterers, Inc., the business unit created to manage The Pavilions of Turkey Run, handles the marketing, booking, sales, catering, utilities and maintenance for the facility. The Farm provides permanent improvements, building repairs and grounds maintenance. JR’s receives all income from operations and the Farm receives the rental income. The difference is that with professional management, the Farm’s income has increased considerably. In addition, the Farm receives complimentary catering for its fundraising events, bulk food purchasing and access and use of the Pavilions for Farm events. Most important to the Farm is having a partner that is honest, trustworthy and represents the Farm well.
In addition, working together with JR’s, the Pavilions have received many improvements over the years including additional parking, concrete floors in the shelters, cooking facilities and food storage, path and field lighting, a permanent climbing wall and zip-line, additional water lines and electrical service, an outdoor “rain room”, nature trail, landscaping, children’s play area and softball field. A major addition was made in 2008 with the expansion of the second largest pavilion. Funded by a generous grant from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation, the Farm now has an extended season pavilion, which brings in more income and visitors to the Farm.
Over Forty Years of Service and Growth
2014 marked the 41st anniversary of the Farm’s founding, and over 33 years that the non-profit organization, The Friends of The Claude Moore Colonial Farm at Turkey Run, Inc., has successfully managed the Farm as the only privately funded and operated park site in the National Park system. The Friends’ Board of Directors is composed of both elected officials serving in an honorary capacity, and area citizens and representatives of local businesses active in the community. The Executive Committee, which oversees the operation of the Farm and all fundraising activities, includes a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and chairs for the following standing committees: Development, Facilities Management, Finance and Nominating.
The annual operating budget of the Farm increased each year from $87,000 in 1982 to more than $400,000 currently, due to the increased support of the community and the popularity of the Farm’s programs. In the past 33 years, more than $8 million in private funds have been raised and expended for the operations of the Farm, and over $2 million in additional private contributions have gone into capital improvements. Financial support for the Farm’s operation during 2013 was generated from the following sources: Admissions, Programs, Sales and Special Events – 32%; Fundraising – 20%, Grants – 29% and Pavilions Rental – 19%. The Farm also received over $150,000 of in-kind contributions, including livestock feed, construction materials, landscape services, vehicle and equipment repair, and legal and accounting services.