Kansas Kaleidoscope, October/November 2002
(Volume 6, Number 2)
Real People. Real Stories.
A fun magazine for kids!
Outstanding in Their Field!
Kansas' Agricultural History
People have been farming in Kansas for thousands of years. Farming has changed quited a bit over time, but one thing remains constant. The identity of Kansas, who we are, continues to be tied to agriculture. Kansas is known by the nicknames "Wheat State" and Breadbasket of the World." Today the products of Kansas farmers and ranchers feed people around the world. This issue will examine how this came to be.
For Parents and Teachers:
To write the history of agriculture in Kansas is to write much of our state's history. Farming has shaped, and in many ways driven, our state's economy, politics, laws, innovations, culture, social customs, and traditions. Farmers have always been, and still are, important to Kansas. This issue offers a quick glimpse of what it was like to be a farmer when our state was young, and how farming in Kansas has changed over the centuries.
Centuries of Farmers in Kansas
The first people to live in "Kansas" were Native Americans. They gathered wild plants for food. Eventually they began to save the very best seeds and experiment. They planted the seed in the soil near their homes. This began the tradition of farming. these first farmers were women.
Native American farmers invented the first farming tools. They used buffalo bones to plant and harvest crops. Technology has changed over the years. Today motorized farm machinery allows farmers to work more land and reap bigger harvests. This timeline shows just how much the tools of farming have changed over the centuries!
Parts of Kansas get more rainfall than others. Kansas farmers have always had to make decisions about what and where to plant based upon how much water was available. Water for farming can come from three places:
- rainfall and other precipitation (rain, snow, sleet)
- surface water (collected in ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers)
- groundwater (underground pools or aquifers)
In the 1880s when a farmer's crops ripened, the hard work began. A wheat farmer needed more workers and special equipment for only a short period of time. So neighbors worked together, sharing their labor and harvesting machinery. Thiry men or more worked as a group, going from one farm to the next. They moved the large steam engines and threshing machines as they went, until all the ripe crops were harvested.
On farms root cellars were used to hold vegetables and fruits such as potatoes and fresh apples and pears. These foods would keep many months in cool, dark cellars. Bigger harvests of grain and hay were stored in barns, silos, corncribs, or hay sheds on the farm.
Learning to Be a Farmer
Much of a farmer's education happens on the job. Most learned as children how to farm. They started doing chores and then took greater responsbility for farm work as they grew older.
Important Helpers On the Farm
Children's work was important to farm families. Children as young as age three or four could perform simple chores, such as feeding chickens or weeding gardens. As they grew older, farm kids took on more responsibility. Teenagers did field work, driving either teams of animals or engine-powered equipment.
Growing Up Growing
Like most Kansas farmers, Teresa Oliver grew up on a farm, growing food for the table. Teresa lived on dairy and row crop farms until she was 14. "The first real jobs that I remember were gathering eggs for my grandparents. The sold them for 17 cents a dozen. My little brother and I were milking in our dairy operation, sometimes by ourselves, at the ages of 12 and 10." They milked 40 dairy cows, selling the milk to be made into cheese and ice cream. "We also all gardened together in the evenings," Teresa said, "and raised most of our own food--meat, eggs, milk, vegetables, and fruit--and fished and hunted."
Family Farming. . .Then and Now
Compare farming in 1880 with today. What things have stayed the same? What has changed? Would you rather have been an 1880s farmer, or a farmer today?
In This Issue:
- Kaleidoscope Challenge
- For Parents and Teachers
- History Lab
- Visit History
- More Than a "Wheat State"!
- Bee a Winner!