Pictures preserve memories but also provide inspiration, particularly for the younger generation. A picture, it is said, speaks a thousand words. The glamorous pictures of the agricultural prowess of Arkansas displayed in different museums in the state are inspiring a new generation of farmers. If for anything, they want to live up to the legacy of the founding fathers of the state.
Some of the museums in the state dedicated to the display of the crops that are vital to the economy of the state and the evolving agricultural practices are over a century old while others were created only recently. Irrespective of the diverse contents of these museums, the effect on the young generation is similar.
Plantation Agriculture Museum
Plantation Agriculture Museum which is located in Scott was created to preserve Arkansas’ farming history. The main museum is converted general built in 1912. The other series of building closely linked to the main museum are Seed Warehouse #5 which has also appeared on the National Register of Historic Places, the Dortch Gin Exhibit which contains a 1916 cotton gin, and a Historic Tractor Exhibit which only got completed in 2018.
The museum is open to both kids and adults. Visitors can explore the evolution of agriculture from planting to harvesting right from Arkansas’ statehood in 1836 through WWII. The museum has a number of live demonstrations including cotton ginning and water pumping.
The park is highly interactive. Besides the display of how crops were grown and harvested, visitors also get to explore the ways agricultural products are processed into edible foods and other products. The two main special events held here are Engine Show and Annual Antique Tractor. The location of Scott a few minutes from downtown Little Rock makes a visit to this museum a memorable experience. Plantation Agriculture Museum is open 8 am to 5 pm Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 pm to 5 pm on Sundays. The museum is only open on Mondays that are also special days like New Year’s Day, Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving Day.
Southern Tenant Farmers Museum
South Tenant Farmers Museum can be found in Tyronza, Arkansas, in the historic Mitchell-East Building. In the 1930s, this building was used for dry-cleaning business by H. L. Mitchell and also housed Clay East’ service station. The aim of the museum is to preserve the history and promote the legacy of sharecropping, the farm labor movement, and tenant farming. This museum in a subtle way restates why agriculture is a big deal in Arkansas.
When the building was deteriorating from disuse, Tyronza community approached the Arkansas State University (ASU) to save the building by utilizing it for a purpose that will tell the story of the tenant farming movement.
ASU received the building as a gift from the city and bought additional properties to create the exhibit. The agricultural museum opened on October 6, 2006, but the building housing the museum was restored with the help of grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council. The Jonesboro (Craighead County) situated Arkansas State University operates the museum as an educational program.
While the building façade has been restored to its 1930 appearance, the interior has a reception area, exhibition space, a classroom, and a gift shop. One thing that the museum does well is to preserve the legacies of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU) which was a unique kind of organization in the 1920s comprising of both whites and African-Americans and men and women holding leadership roles. The most unique exhibitions that can be found in this museum include;
- Copies of paintings by Carroll Cloar which gives visitors a peep into the mind of the Delta artist
- Photographic sequences that highlight Delta cotton production—from planting to its shipment through the Mississippi River. Although rice has overtaken cotton as the most important economic crop here, a position once held by cotton, such exhibitions help the younger generation of farmers to give cotton its due respect.
- STFU protest music which was written and recorded by the members.
- Videotaped oral histories where the tenants and Delta planters who lived through the era tell their stories
- Objects like the cotton-picking sack, and farming tools of the tenant.