Take a drive outside the cozy environs of Champaign-Urbana in the next few weeks, and you’ll see corn husks flying in the air, hundreds of starlings descending on the fields and huge combines rolling late into night.
It’s harvest time! And this year, the Museum of the Grand Prairie will be celebrating its annual Harvest Fest in your own home.
COVID-19 guidelines have forced our fall programming to go online — but we’re still open for visitors and have loads of online programming.
Throughout the day Oct. 17, there will be new online content for you to enjoy on our Facebook and YouTube pages.
Our colleague, Kim Sheahan of the Spurlock Museum, will be telling spooky stories from around the world that day. We’ll also have videos of our favorite activities, including corn-shelling and apple-peeling demonstrations.
We’ll have a question-and-answer time with local pumpkin farmers Crowley Pumpkins. There will even be a virtual hayrack ride!
If you can get out to the museum, you can celebrate the harvest in other ways. Come learn about planting and harvesting methods in The Grand Prairie Story, an exhibit about the natural and cultural history of the area from the glaciers to the present day.
We like to honor the county’s agricultural history, so a main feature of the exhibit is a wall-sized movie showing the wheat harvest as performed by an 1850s Champion swing-arm reaper once owned by a local farmer.
One of our favorite artifacts in that exhibit is the corn wagon. Originally owned by the Bergfield Brothers from Broadlands, it’s a Mitchell wagon from around 1900. Most often used as harvest wagons, Mitchells had an extra board, a “bump board,” for throwing the hand-picked corn into the wagon bed without having to look up from the grueling work of cutting the ears off the stalk one by one.
On a lovely autumn day, after visiting the museum, you can stroll outside to the Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden as well. The Discovery Garden features some vegetables and herbs you can harvest yourself (but leave some for the next person).
Throughout the rest of the garden, the maples, sweetgums, locusts and dogwoods have particularly lovely red, yellow and orange leaves turning in the next month or so.
We even have a couple of virtual programs to help you appreciate the natural wonders of fall with your children.
During Take a Child Outside Week, which ends Wednesday, we’ll be featuring a scavenger hunt in the Garden program on our Facebook page. We’ll talk about simple and compound leaves and identify various trees.
Another great harvest-related Facebook/YouTube program premieres at 10 a.m. Oct. 24. We’ll lead a virtual walk called Seed Scatter through the Buffalo Trace Prairie — across Illinois 47 from us — to see how autumn seeds hitchhike, explode or parachute to spread across the landscape.
Harvest-time activities may look a little different this year, but they are no less fun! And some of them can even be brought home.
Barb Oehlschlaeger-Garvey is director of the Museum and Education Department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.