Rice flies into the air as Middleton Place interpreter Jeff Neale demonstrates separating grains of rice from the husk for Mitchell Elementary students visiting the historic site. (Photo/Andy Owens)
By Andy Owens
Published Sept. 18, 2012
Guided by period-dressed interpreters at Middleton Place, second-graders from Mitchell Elementary tossed rice grown in the plantation’s rice fields and watched as a breeze blew the chaff away from the grains.
“We’re going to do five shakes,” said Jeff Neale, Middleton stable-yards interpreter and potter, talking to one of the students preparing to separate the rice last Thursday. “There’s two, three, four, five. Excellent, Gabby!”
The hands-on experience followed a demonstration under a lean-to with wooden benches. Nearby, free-range sheep grazed in front of Middleton’s house museum as horses walked in a paddock.
Free-range sheep graze in front of the Middleton Place museum house in Dorchester County. All of the animals, structures and historic objects at Middleton has been researched and documented, said the president of the historic site’s foundation. (Photo/Andy Owens)
The sights, smells and doing are all part of the learning experience created by a partnership between Middleton and MeadWestvaco Corp., which helped fund the hands-on education area that was unveiled last week. The first look came during the Carolina Gold Rice Day of Concentration, which begins the harvest of Middleton’s rice crop.
MeadWestvaco donated $15,000 to the Middleton Place Foundation for the new agriculture education area. The company has substantial land holdings in the region and operates a specialty chemicals facility in North Charleston. The president of the company’s land management division said supporting and understanding agriculture comes with cultivating trees.
“We’ve always been very, very interested in agriculture,” said Ken Seeger, president of community development and land management for MeadWestvaco. “The opportunity to back education and to talk about historical agriculture seemed like a natural fit.”
Middleton Place is near Watson Hill, encompassing thousands of acres owned by MeadWestvaco, and near the company’s East Edisto development project.
“We’re looking forward to having adult visitors, families and school groups come to experience the newest addition,” said Tracey Todd, vice president of museums at Middleton Place, in a statement. “Another part of our shared history will be brought to life through the interpretive space.”
Charles Duell, president of the Middleton Place Foundation, said the hands-on educational experience allows students to touch historic objects and see the kinds of animals that lived there centuries ago to get a sense of history. Everything at Middleton Place is documented and researched, Duell said, and the staff strives to add to the museum’s collection by working with the ancestors of the Middleton family.
“It has a lot to do with total environment,” Duell said. “History tourism is really a unique part of the Charleston community. We think it’s so important to do it right.”
Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.