As humans, we learn best when we don’t realize that learning is taking place. We’re naturally drawn to hands-on displays and curious about reenactments. We can recall tiny details from those experiences more enthusiastically than the rote memorization of our school days.
Heather Reed is convinced that more people love history than let on precisely because they don’t realize they love history. She’s spent her career breathing life into dusty dates, artifacts, and historical personalities, then sharing that information under the guise of fun. As executive director of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, NM, she continues that legacy, bringing her passion for teaching to this unique institution, inviting everyone to discover something new about the land beneath their feet.
“There’s endless stories that we can tell, and we’re always looking to expand that,” says Heather of the program planning at Farm & Ranch, the “little secret” museum that even some longtime Las Cruces residents have never visited. “It’s been around for about 25-30 years, and people are still finding us, which is wonderful.”
Guests find a mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits spread across 40 acres, showcasing 4,000 years of the region’s farming and ranching history, from Indigenous traditions to the agricultural contributions of women. And, of course, there’s livestock, sheep and cattle breeds, some of which are native to New Mexico, as well as the ranch hands that care for them.
Farm & Ranch has a community center feel about it. On any given day, visitors explore the exhibits and interact with staff while area residents wander in to provide entries for the museum’s oral history project. If Heather had her way, every museum would feel like this: welcoming.
She notes that even the word “museum” has a vibe that keeps some people at arm’s length. “I’m one of those people that think we need to preserve artifacts and history, but I also think we need to live with it. If you can’t be immersed and experience them, then they don’t have the meaning––and then why are we saving the items?”
It’s primarily up to the public historians like her to design spaces that foster learning without lecturing and appeal to folks who think they don’t like museums or exhibitions. “If I can share something new that will draw somebody in, if that’s all you walk away with, that’s what matters to me.” Plan a visit to New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum. Las Cruces, NM, the next time you find yourself tooling around the southern end of I-25.
Encounter Culture, a production of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, is produced and edited by Andrea Klunder at The Creative Impostor Studios.
Hosted by Charlotte Jusinski, Editor at El Palacio Magazine
Technical Director: Edwin R. Ruiz
Recording Engineer: Kabby at Kabby Sound Studios in Santa Fe
Executive Producer: Daniel Zillmann
Show Notes: Lisa Widder
Associate Editor: Helen King
Theme Music: D’Santi Nava
For more, visit podcast.nmculture.org.