Farming was at the heart of all Shaker communities and agricultural experimentation and technology made their farms models of efficiency and innovation.
In the Spring, the herb and vegetable gardens come to life with strawberry and asparagus plants, calendula, thyme, sage and other distinct varieties grown by the Shakers. A bounty of color and scent floods your senses. In the Fall, the gardeners collect seeds from heirloom varieties as part of the Village’s ongoing conservation efforts.
Herb gardens provide insight into Shaker use of herbs for culinary and medicinal purposes. Sage, for example, was used as a flavoring in sausages and for other culinary dishes, as well as medicinally for “night sweats, colds and coughs.” Foxglove was used for heart ailments (as digitalis). The Village’s herb garden contains over 100 of the plants listed in the Shakers 1873 “Druggist’s Handbook of Pure Botanical Preparations.
Heirloom vegetable gardens are planted and tended using techniques from the 1843 Shaker “Gardener’s Manual.” Varieties are based on Shaker seed lists from the 1800s, many of which rare and difficult to find today. Mangel Wurtzel Beets, Early White Turnip Radish, and Large White Marrowfat Peas illustrate they types grown by the Shakers in the 19th century for culinary use, for sale of seeds and for animal fodder. Gardeners are available to answer questions as they tend the gardens. The Village also offers specialty garden tours for groups with advance reservations.
Heritage livestock populate the Village’s fields and barnyard, with breeds of sheep, pigs, cattle, and poultry representative of those kept by the Shakers. Farm demonstrations and talks allow visitors an up-close look at the livestock.
Hancock Shaker Village is a member of the Gardens of the Berkshires, a group of eight sites with various garden styles from designed landscapes to preserved historic gardens.