Living History Farms: 1850 Farming

Hiking through the woods and uphill to the 1850 farm, I passed the signs for the Declaration of Independence, the first opening of Iowa Territory for settlement (1836), and Iowa statehood (1847). In 1850, immigrants were flooding into the United States, most with the idea of moving west and buying land. The price of land in Iowa in 1850 was $1.25 an acre, so ownership was within reach for people who could never have even dreamed of owning land back in the old country.

The 1850 farm is designed to reflect what a farm would look like after four years of settlement, so a fairly well-established farm. By this point in settlement, there is a barn—important for storing equipment, hay, and grain. The hay would feed the animals, but the grain would feed both the animals and the family, with some reserved to plant the coming spring.

IA-LivHistFarm-1850-barn-B

Here, again, wonderfully informed interpreters carried out common tasks of the day, while always taking time to talk to interested visitors about what life was like for pioneers on the prairie frontier. The first thing one did when one arrived on the prairie was get crops planted. The family could sleep in or under their wagon until at least a few acres of land were planted. It was possible to survive without a house, but not without food, so that was the priority.

And what was the most common thing to plant? Corn. Many planted wheat, as well—because in the old country, wheat (or, more specifically, white bread made with wheat) meant wealth. However, corn was a more reliable crop that offered a lot more food for each seed planted and, often more importantly, could easily be harvested by women and children (vital, when that was the entire available workforce). Here, outside the barn, corn is hung to dry, to later be ground into meal or saved for seed.

IA-LivHistFarm-1850-drycorn

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Food, History, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Travel

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