You may have heard of heirloom vegetables, the term we use for uncommon, historical strains of produce. The term makes us think of bizarre tomatoes and peculiarly shaped squash. But have you heard of heritage animals?
In the same way that farmers work to preserve unique heirloom vegetables, breeders and ranchers have made great strides recently in bringing some ancient animal breeds back from the brink of extinction. Like heirloom vegetables that are particularly beautiful or tasty, heritage animals connect us to the past and raising them preserves unique genetic strains for various traits.
At Greenbank Mills & Philips Farm in Wilmington, Delaware, you can see two examples of this sort of preservation at work. Sheep graze in the farm’s pastures, next to the stone house and mill dating to the 1790s. It’s a bucolic scene, but it is also the result of Greenbank’s dedication to keeping the past alive. The two sheep breeds there are rare types of Leicester Longwools and Delaine Merinos. Two centuries ago, these were among the favorite sheep of wool producers, but they fell out of favor as new breeds appeared and nearly disappeared in the twentieth century. Now, thanks especially to historic sites like Greenbank Mills that keep animals as part of “living collections,” their numbers are growing.
Greenbank Mills hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, including programs focused on sheep-shearing, dying, spinning, and weaving cloth. All of this is made possible by a few hardy heritage animals that beat the odds.
Visit Greenbank Mills & Philips Farm
Location: 500 Greenbank Road, Wilmington, DE 19808
Phone: (302) 999-9001
Hours: Second Saturday of the month, 10AM-2PM.