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Advisor

"A Revolution Down on the Farm...

...the Transformation of Ameirican Agriculture Since 1929" is the  book I picked off the stack to read today.  Its author, Paul Conklin sought to give his readers a clear imagine of how farming had changed in his 80 years of living. 

I have always had a sort of fascination with how things were done in my grandfather's time, and this book is giving me a good idea of the evolution of agriculture, which is as much a story of rural culture. This may be old news to all of you, but I do highly recommend the book, since you are all snowed in these days. 

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Veteran Contributor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

I hadn't heard of this book, but think about how my own dad grew up with horse power on the farm to todays' GPS driven tractors.  Hand picked corn harvesting 100 bushels per day to harvesting 3000 bushels per hour.  Yields on corn of 30-40 bushels/acre to seeing the yield monitor hit over 300 bushels per acre and averages of over 225 bushels per acre. 

 

Unfortunately he has also seen over half of his neighbors leave the farm and have to get jobs in town, but I guess that is progress.

 

Cropdoc

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Advisor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

i've observed for many years that we've been the generation that has seen agriculture span the technological avances from horse power to the present technologies that you mention.  I have been cognizant of much of what has happened since say, 1960, when I was put to work in tobacco, peanuts and hogs, at age six. 

I noticed families leaving farming as time went on, and of course, have seen that trend escalate in certain bad times.  We also went from ":tenant" farmers to H2a workers, as formerly available pools of people left the country to work in factories, many in cities up North. 

The piece of the puzzle that was missing for me was the timeframe between say 1930 and 1960.  This book is doing a wonderful job of filling in that gap for me.  The author was born right on the cusp of the Great Depression.  I think tehe best observation he makes is that "agriculture in 1930 had more in common with that of 1830 than of 1960. 

He is addressing just this pace of change, and the implications within the rural community and individual households across the countryside as well.  He addresses diet and domestic issues.  I had taken up a trail of books a couple of years ago on earlier eras of homemaking.  This book is making a great parallel...how foods were seasonal, what they could eat and what they needed to save to sell, etc. 

One observation that really struck me was how farmers back then complained about hard work and not enough money, but that their lifestyle offered a lot of downtime, too.  Work was hard, but the pace of it was different. 

I am only two chapters into this one, but I hope to get back to it later on today, sicne it is such an illuminating read for me.  It is up to the advent of electricity in the next chapter ( I cheated an dflipped ahead yesterday.)  That is going to be a watershed event...allowed for longer hours of chores, many devices to replace handwork (washing machines for laundry, for a prime example), and communications like radio and telephones were no longer battery dependent.  Automobiles are making their presence known, too. 

 

My grandfather on my father's side died five years before i was born.  The other was bedridden with strokes, and could not speak coherently, until he died when I was ten.  Conklin is answering a lot of questions I would have liked to ask both of them. 

Now, if I can just find the right book on 1620s domestic life in Virginia...I am sure it's out there, just waiting for me to find it!  There is one of my female ancestors I'd like to meet for a day, just because she lived in that place at that time, had 13 children by two hunbands, and had to have been one of the first white women in America. 

These readings just give me more of a sense of what I came from, which informs me a lot about why I feel the way I do about things.  Have you ever read anything that gives you that sort of sense of yourself and yoru culture?

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Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

The topic of this book caught my eye so I looked it up on amazon.com.  I have a daughter and son-in-law that have come back to farm with us and thought the history review would be good for them.  After reading the synopsis of the book I checked out the comments/recommendations from others on the amazon site.  Wow!!  It was like I opened up a page on the Ag Forum on this ag.com site.  Seems like everything these days has to have a political slant to it.  Quite the venom poured out.  And if I remember right this book was written several years ago.

 

I ordered the book anyway or maybe because of the emotional reviews.  Looking forward to receiving it.

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Advisor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

Remember that each review on amazon is that individual reader's take on a subject, and not necessarily on the book, or what the author intended in writing it.  It is sort of like beauty being in the eye of the beholder. 

So far, I am finding this to be a very straightforward historical rendering.  Remnants of the immediate Depression era lingered into my childhood, much later, but ingrained in the psyche of the people who were alive and old enough to remember the deprivations of it. 

I hope you enjoy th book, too.  I am looking forward to having more time (after taxes go to the CPA in a few days) to sit and absorb it.  I'm sort of suspended in time right now....

Please post back adn let me know what you think.  The author's stated mission of preserving the history of ag in his lifetime is a worthy one. 

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Frequent Contributor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

I have not read that much regarding the times on the farm from the 30's to the 60's but I did have the privilege to hear my father,  grandfather and older friends talk about these times when I was younger.  My grandfather purchased his farm in the 30's for $10 per acre.  The person he purchased it from carried the note on it as credit was not readily available to him. Credit was something that was used sparingly by people in those times and, even if they wanted it, banks were very conservative. My grandfather cut timber on the farm and used it to build a house and other buildings.  He used horses to farm with and ran a very diversified operation.  Had hogs, beef cattle, a few milk cows and chickens.  These provided food for the table as well as income.  He also grew tobacco.  All labor was provided by the family and swapping out with neighbors.  One thing in particular I remember him talking about was shredding corn.  That was a big event in the community with several farmers swapping work.  

 

One thing I took from all of this was the tremendous sense of working together that the community farmers shared.  Their work ethic and honesty in their dealings were something that was never compromised.  

 

My grandparents got my father out of a children's home when he was 12 years old to help work on the farm.   My fathers natural father died when he was young.  His mother did not have the money or resources to provide for him and his brother and sister during the depression.  I remember my dad talking about eating all kinds of wild game when he was little as that was all they had.  When my father came to my grandparents farm he had his first opportunity to go to school.  He started the first grade when he was 12 years old.  He wound up going through the 8th grade but I never had anything but the utmost respect for him and what he stood for.  I learned then that the amount of education a person has is never a good measure of their worth as a human being.  

 

There is much more I could tell but will not do so for times sake.  I will say that what I learned from my parents and grandparents was worth much more than what a formal education provided me.  I was blessed to have had them in my life and never a day goes by that I do not think of them.  All are gone now except my mother.  I am truly thankful for them and hope that I can pass along a little of what they gave to me.                               

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Advisor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

The shared labor is probably the thing that I think went away first.  My parents were about 15 years younger than my in-laws, so i saw some of this difference firsthand. 

The younger farmers tended to buy more equipment and hire hands, whereas the older ones still swapped their labor for the help of neighbors at busy seasons.  The was a more competitive spirit between my family and surrounding ones, a more cooperative one in my husband's neighborhood.  I think that is what is strking me as most glaring in the change over the most recent few generations. 

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Veteran Advisor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...


@Kay/NC wrote:

The shared labor is probably the thing that I think went away first.  My parents were about 15 years younger than my in-laws, so i saw some of this difference firsthand. 

The younger farmers tended to buy more equipment and hire hands, whereas the older ones still swapped their labor for the help of neighbors at busy seasons.  The was a more competitive spirit between my family and surrounding ones, a more cooperative one in my husband's neighborhood.  I think that is what is strking me as most glaring in the change over the most recent few generations. 


Kay I have read down through this thread and I will throw out another thought.

I think some of what is being talked of is the difference in people.

Some communities just seemed to co-operate more than others.

Is it just a few individuals that make it that way or everyone?

I think it is often those few individuals who kind of set the tone for others.

I was raised in a very co-operative community, 75% were related although several generations removed many of the 25% were related to someone from the family was the 75%, but most worked with a brother or brother in law and one was 2 cousins that worked together.

As a child I think over 50% of the wives (they were the ones that moved it seemed) were from 1 or 2 roads away. A few were school teachers from further away who taught for a few years then married in the community.

Point is people did not get far from home.

 

One other thing that has changed is farming has become a business instead of a way of life and yes it was still a way of life for some right into the 80ies.

No doubt co-operation was more necessary when the outside world was so far away. Everyone needed help at one time or another because everything was done with manual labour.

I am old enough to remember an old fashioned barn raising as a child. Do not think there have been many of those in the last 60-70 years unless in Amish country and I do not live in Amish country.

Those required many men to accomplish the feat.

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Advisor

Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

My father and his brother married women from outside the immediate community.  There was one set of four sisters from over the VA/WV line, and each married men from our eastern VA community.  Most of the rest were local, as far as I can remember.  Lots of marrying very close kin...not first cousins, but many second-cousins.  I guess that being an outsider clan was a lot of our independence. 

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Re: "A Revolution Down on the Farm...

Thinking about the past and perhaps some of the co-operation was forced on them.

Until after WWII the roads were not ploughed here in the winter.

People used horses and sleighs when there was snow, cars went 'up on blocks' for the winter.

After a good snowfall or particularly a snow storm they had to make a track so the horses could get through. This was done by hand with shovels to level the highest snow down so the horses could get through.

All the neighbours would work together to make a trail down the road, well most of the neighbours.

Remember the story being told in the neighbourhood of the man near the east end of the road, the end close to town, not helping but heading off to town as soon as the road was clear while those who opened the road went home to clean up before going to town.

One time they opened the road to the neighbour just west of lazy then across a sideroad to another concession road and went to town that way.

Left lazy, who did not help, to fend for himself.

Lazy used to listen on the party phone line too and did not realize that others knew it because of his clock that was close to the phone and tick tocked all the time. I can remember that.

There is something else that changed rural living. No party phone lines.

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