Strawbery Banke Museum

American Made Since 1958
Curator of Historic Landscapes I maintain 8 historic gardens of heritage plants 1695-1954, teaching the cottage skills/crafts of farm + garden.
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Tell us about your business.

Strawbery Banke, a 10-acre outdoor history museum on the banks of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth NH, explores 300+ years of the life of the waterfront neighborhood called Puddle Dock. Its built and natural landscapes, collections, costumed role-players and interactive exhibits and craft demonstrations help the visitor understand ordinary life in America from 1695 to 1954. John Forti, Curator of Historic Landscapes at Strawbery Banke Museum since 2002 , was recently honored by The Herb Society of America with the Nancy Putnam Howard Award for Excellence in Horticulture. John is incoming chair of the board for The Herb Society of America’s New England Unit and a member of NorthEast Seacoast Unit which partners with Strawbery Banke on an annual lecture series at the Museum. Forti is a nationally recognized lecturer, garden historian, ethnobotanist and garden writer. He also serves on the Biodiversity Board for Slow Food USA.

Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.

Strawbery Banke's gardens range from an original 17th century raised-bed kitchen garden to a formal Victorian garden and restored greenhouse, to a WWII Victory Garden. In addition to the gardens, the horticultural team, costumed garden role-players, Master Gardener volunteers and a crew of museum volunteers who teach visitors to make heirloom garden crafts and make thousands of individual Christmas decorations for Candlelight Stroll work in the Museum office and educational spaces using attics and rafters for drying plant materials and Collections storage areas for heirloom seeds and historical files.

What inspires you?

Strawbery Banke gardens provide me with the opportunity to integrate outdoor living history experiences with the Museum’s historic gardens and horticultural collections to teach hands-on garden crafts that help link visitors back in time to season, place and sustainable practices. I especially enjoy reviving the skills that helped earlier generations of farmers to bring their goods to market to teach young people about foodways that revitalize our local economies.

What makes your business stand out?

Strawbery Banke Museum is the only US outdoor living history museum that tells the story of the same neighborhood through more than 300 years of history. The buildings and gardens stand on their original foundations, as determined through historical and archaeological evidence, and span the earliest era of Native American seasonal settlement, up through the 1954 Urban Development project that set aside these 10 acres for preservation. Garden Design magazine has recognized Strawbery Banke as one of 5 sites in the world teaching about change over time in an original landscape.

What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?

Perhaps the most interesting irony of the heirloom garden and “Slow Food” movement is the speed with which it has spread—locally, nationally, and internationally. Today’s culture moves at a different pace. We plan events, communicate, and even garden differently now, by sharing information instantaneously. Social networking has created new communities of people connected over common interests. Facebook makes information accessible to everyone, instantly reaching thousands of people 24/7. It is a democratic means of communication. Using technology such as smartphone apps – like our “Listen to the Landscape” rich media virtual tour of Strawbery Banke gardens, plants and trees – expands an entrepreneur’s universe exponentially. It is ironic, but we are using the best advances of the past few decades to promote slowing down, taking control, and returning to nature. We are once again called upon to act as garden mentors to a new generation furthering new local market production.

What does American Made mean to you?

Throughout history, farm and garden crafts have been seen as a natural outgrowth of the land, and an enrichment for our lives and local economies. When we revive artisanal practices from the past, we also help preserve and celebrate regional biodiversity, seasonal diet, personal health, festive holidays, and an artful life inspired by nature. American Made is part of this increasingly robust artisanal crafts movement, offering inspiration from the skills of the past to create a more sustainable and meaningful future. In particular, for me, many of the entrepreneurs identified by the American Made program directly benefit all of us who are involved in garden crafts, edible landscapes, sustainable “slow food,” herbalism, and heirloom plant/historical garden preservation, as proof that these practices "work."

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    Oct. 17, 2014

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