If you ask the kids you know where bread comes from, do they say “the store”? Or maybe, “the farmers’ market” or “co-op?" If so, consider this a teachable moment. It’s time for a field trip to the Patrick Ranch on the Midway, just south of Chico, halfway to Durham. Together this historic home and surrounding farmstead are becoming a fine regional agricultural history center and museum, thanks to the efforts of the Far West Heritage Association.
Winter wheat was a good Northern California crop in the 19th century, given rain cycles here, and there was great demand for all kinds of food crops once the 1849 gold rush was on. The Threshing Bee each year demonstrates the valley’s early wheat-growing and farm technologies—all kinds of teachable moments—and otherwise offers all kinds of family fun.
If you have farming anywhere in your background —and most of us do—there’s something quietly awe-inspiring about seeing those massive draft animals turning their horsepower to the task at hand. Climb aboard the restored Morehead family covered wagon at the ranch to find out first-hand just how slow and steady real “horsepower” rolls.
Once the wheat has been harvested, the kernels need to be separated from the straw stalks and chaff. That’s where the gas-powered 1936 thresher comes in, rattling and belching as it does the job. And that’s where bread comes from, kids, when those hard little wheat seeds are finally ground down into flour and baked into fragrant loaves of bread.
But the wonder of wheat is only one part of the old-time farm show at Patrick Ranch, which during the Threshing Bee—and sometimes, other special public events—includes parades of draft horses as well as antique tractors, beekeeping demonstrations, and hard-working blacksmiths showing how much strength and skill it takes to bend iron to human will. The fabric artisans never fail to fascinate, spinning fluffs of wool and other fiber into yarn for knitting or weaving. There’s also an impressive old car and truck show and, new this year, a collection of vintage carriages.
It’s almost impossible to tear yourself away from the working stock-dog demonstration, especially if Al Vieira and his crew brought along some pups to show just how inborn that herding talent is. They know what to do and how to do it, once they see those sheep. They just need their human partners to teach them when to make their moves.
When you get tired, there’s food, drink, and live entertainment—and, if you’re up to a tour of the Glenwood Farmhouse museum, a more domestic look at local ag history.
Tickets to the threshing bee are $5 adults, $2 for children 12 and under. Museum admission is extra. For more information about the event, call 530-342-4359. See the website for more on the Patrick Ranch.
Kim Weir is founder and editor of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. Weir is also a long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers, and a former NSPR reporter.