|Nebraska's agriculture heritage is celebrated
by the sower atop the state capitol building.
Photo by Ammodramus (Own work) [CC0],
via Wikimedia Commons
When I first moved to Nebraska, I had to ask a farmer at the state fair to identify a stalk of something on display. Said farmer grinned. "You aren't from here, are you?" Nope. Not a farm girl, either, and woefully ignorant of all things agricultural. (I was asking about milo, a crop planted across the state and used as feed for cattle ... and, I later learned, to make sorghum molasses, which I love.)
I hadn't been in Nebraska long before I began to admire the hard work and dedication and plain old stubbornness it takes to succeed as a farmer. But today's farmers have it so much easier than did the pioneers who settled this state. Of course pioneer farmers in 1860s Nebraska had it easy compared to their forefathers. And so it goes all the way back to biblical times when Ruth was gleaning fields.
Growing and harvesting only 5 acres of wheat took about 250-300 man hours in 1830. Farmers used a walking plow and a brush harrow. (I had to look up the word harrow to know what it does. It's used to cover over the seeds after planting.) Seeds were broadcast by hand (memorialized by that 19-foot tall statue atop the Nebraska State Capitol) and harvested with a sickle and flail. By 1850, those man hours had been reduced to 75-90 hours, thanks to inventions like the McCormick reaper, plows faced with steel blades, and threshing machines.
|Nebraska State Historical Society nbhips 14563
In 1881, Nebraska pioneer Giles Thomas wrote to his family in Wisconsin: "I am putting out sixty acres of a crop and have had every foot of it to plow and am doing it all myself with two horses. I put 10 acres to wheat, 10 to oats, 15 to flax, 2 Mamoth grass, and the rest to corn and garden...I have been in the field following plow and drag...I have been fearful tired at times but I feel good all over because I have my crops all in and in splendid shape. Considering the work my team has done, they look well and are in good spirits."
|Nebraska State Historical Society nbhips 10151
This was an era when 70 per cent of Nebraskans lived on farms, and children were expected to help with farm work. School met only from October to May, for children were needed to help with both planting and harvest.
|Nebraska State Historical Society nbhips 13312
And then, in 1892, inventor John Froelich built the first gasoline tractor.
The 1930 farmer who, in 1830, poured 250-300 hours into harvesting 5 acres of wheat needed only 15-20 hours. Gasoline-powered machinery revolutionized farming.
|Photo US Dept. Agriculture Public Domain
Years ago, a woman sitting next to me on a plane asked where I was from. When I said Nebraska, she peered at me over the rim of her glasses. "And what does one DO in Nebraska?" The tone was superior, the manner almost sneering. It was one of those moments when I was put instantly on the defensive. Of course I came up with a great answer ... just not in time to provide it to the snooty easterner.
"What does one do in Nebraska?"
"We feed the world."
Are you a city mouse or a country mouse?
What chores were you expected to do as a child?
Stephanie's novel Karyn's Memory Box tells the love story of Karyn and Mikal Ritter, who are strangers when they meet and marry, and face the challenges of pioneer farming in Custer County, Nebraska. Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Karyns-Memory-Box-Keepsake-Legacies/dp/1523637498/
Statistics provided by www.agclassroom.org.
The black and white photographs in this blog were taken by Solomon Butcher, a pioneer photographer who chronicled the lives of early farmers in Nebraska and provide an invaluable resource to contemporary historians.