Thursday, October 18, 2012

Farming as Fashion (Part One)

Taylor Speer-Sims
September 30, 2012

Farming as Fashion

Photo taken by author (1)


            Human beings have been farming for over 7,000 years, but only the Georgians used it as a part of their character. Growing vegetables for food has been a basic industry that required high intensive labor throughout the centuries.[1] Food production changed due to farming techniques and revolutionary technology.[2] Besides horses for racing, the eighteenth century Georgians had been the first people to develop animal breeding as a business. Fens and forests were reclaimed as farmland throughout the century and on through into the nineteenth century.[3] Enclosure laws allowed for the land to be more productive by the utilization of the four-field system, which controlled the produce planted and also created a better pasture environment for animals. More importantly, enclosure showed the areas owned by the gentleman farmer.[4] The income of the farmer had been very low, and in some cases was completely negligible.[5] There certainly had been gains in agriculture during the 18th and early 19th centuries, but it was because the gentry had wanted higher income, bragging rights, and to be within the highest fashion, not because they had been interested in actually creating an agricultural revolution. Farming during the Georgian period was pursued more for fashion than for substance.

Background on Farming

            Farming began as hunter-gatherers started collecting seeds of plants that they enjoyed. These early enterprises began around 7,500 years ago. Sweeping through Europe, this became the prime source of food, replacing the earlier sources of gathering the chosen vegetation, and hunting whatever animal that just happened to come along. Interestingly, this was also the time and reason for the first separation of social classes. The separation began because of the quality of the fields, production characteristics, and vegetation output.  This may have been just a small divide between the landed wealthy and those less successful. [6] However, “origins of inequality in something small that over the centuries was going to build up into hereditary inequality” began almost eight centuries ago with ancient men.[7]

             Those ancient men that had better plots most probably had the better crops. There was no way that these early agrarians, known as the Linearbandkeramik, knew about fertilizer or how to leave the land fallow. They were probably just lucky in their choices of land. There has been no evidence that has suggested that they knew what great planting land looked, smelled, or for that matter, tasted like. They perhaps chose acreage that was close to water, and also most probably wanted the most area that they could personally manage. Obviously, farming had been highly labor intensive, so the best laborers were, in all likelihood, the best planters.[8]

            High labor was also used in the creation of the implements that the Linearbandkeramik people used to turn their soil. Because there had been so much time in creating such a tool, only those that lived on the higher output plots had been able to afford these expensive adzes. These prized farming tools were the only items buried with any of the Linearbandkeramik bodies, which indicated the distinction of the classes. So, only those with the highest output were the most advanced.[9] This was the only symbol of wealth that this society held dear, and it was so important that they carried it with them into the afterlife.

            This way of agricultural life continued for quite some time with very little variation. The middle ages saw changes from the old way of just planting any given area, to a two-field rotation setting. Planting for a specific time, they then left the land fallow as other plots were cultivated.[10] The wealth of the person throughout England was based upon the quantity, rather than quality of land that the individual had a responsibility to, especially if that responsibility included ownership. The social status of a man started with the noble that held the largest acreage then went from the yeoman and tenant farmer to the peasant. Again, the worth of each man was based upon his land.[11]

            While land had indicated the status of a man throughout England, it was not usually used as payment, although it had been previously, and was still so for military service in the Georgian period.[12] Payment to landowners, workers, and for services rendered via contract had been corn. Corn as a term used many other forms of grain besides maize, had been the main form of specie throughout the isle.[13] In Ireland, payments and value was based upon milk cows. Just as in the earlier Linearbandkeramik people, the value was definitely placed on output. So therefore, the more expensive the milk cow, the higher the output of milk the cow produced. To further the idea of the value of currency along, the higher quantity of the better milkers, the wealthier the individual.[14]

            With the price of the cattle being the status symbol in Ireland, the ring fort had been created as a way to protect the wealth of an individual and his clan from raiders of other factions trying to steel cattle.[15] In England, the main way of keeping livestock was allowing them to roam free. Were there no raiders on the big island? Most probably there were, but it seems like communal herding had been more conducive to each area here, as money was grain, and not cattle. Common land had been preferred until the Black Death came around.[16]

            With the horrible pandemic, towns and countrysides emptied either somewhat, and in a few cases completely. Giving the opportunity for those that could afford it, land was gobbled up. The wealthy used this as a way to gain more land than they already had. Property was cheap but labor prices rose because there were less people to work the fields. Nobles began enclosing fields that used to be free range as many families ceased to exist. Depopulation of territory had been a great inducement to accrue additional property at a discounted price.[17]

            These early enclosures used hedges as their barriers. Many of these hedges were of elm, ash, crab, hazel, sallow and holly. All of these produced either fruit or forage for animals that had been kept within. Fruit trees were able to not only keep the animals within a certain area, but they also marked off territory for others to keep out. Land plots within a close distance from the area’s estate manor had been ornamental as well as utilitarian.[18] Termed Enclosure by unity, “possession occurred when a single individual acquired all the land in a township; the common rights were terminated and the landscape could be hedged, walled or otherwise rearranged at will.”[19]

            Just because there had been some enclosure during the middle ages does not mean that it became an burgeoning fad. Open fields were still very much in large supply. Common grazing and planting were still not only necessary, but had also been generally preferred. Twenty percent of the entire Isle had been open and common fields used for grazing animals and planting gardens.[20] Most husbandmen kept cows and pigs, very little kept sheep or goats. The highest grown staple had been rye and wheat for eating, and barley for beer.[21]

            Many of these locations used the same two-tiered system until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[22] The yeoman’s revolution was the first upheaval in the changing formation of farming. Cereal yields increased due to careful selection of seeds.[23] Much of England had been enclosed by this time, which resulted in “the practice of alternating long pasture leys and periods of cropping on the same piece of land - something which served both to improve the quality of the pasture and to improve arable yields.”[24] Another invention of this time was floating. An artificial irrigation kept the land warmer by keeping it under water, which was an insulation from the winter’s cold weather. This allowed the animals to have been brought into the fields earlier as the grasses grew continually larger.[25]

            Could this have been the true agricultural revolution? After all, output grew quickly starting from the middle of the seventeenth century. [26] This century certainly began the revolution, but it did not culminate as that of the later centuries. Innovations did occur. Seed drills were introduced, but they had not been readily used, and wheat became the primary crop as the seeding of rye diminished.[27] The three-field system invented during the seventeenth century allowed “the other fields [to] lay under a spring-sown crop and an autumn-sown crop, such as beans and wheat respectively” along with another that lay fallow as the community’s herds of livestock had been allowed to roam free.[28]

            The Yeoman’s Revolution began as the husbandmen were looking for ways to generate higher income with their produce. [29] Yeomen were not necessarily poor, and in point of fact, were not usually so. However, they were also not nobility. This was a key point as they had continually looked for ways to become country gentry. The more money one made, the easier it was to purchase more property, which then promoted the idea of higher wealth. The appearance of wealth was even more important than actually being wealthy. This was true for the yeoman as well as for the aristocracy.

            The act of 1832 abolished the rule of having a minimum of income of at least 40 shillings a year to be able to vote. [30] Until that time, the power of the vote had been given to only those persons that literally owned income-producing property. So, not only had it been important to own the land, but also there had to be some sort of production that showed profit. This could have been from rental as well as for agricultural purposes. So, owning property and renting out to yeomen and husbandmen, generated income to allow for the minimum allowance.

            Husbandmen of the seventeenth century began to improve their animal crop by breeding. The first animals were the obvious, horses. Horse breeds were more important because of the aristocracy. The nobles paid more for better horseflesh. Those that had higher ingenuity bred the best horses for a better paycheck. The nobles bred better horses for bragging rights and for comparison with their peers. The better horses usually belonged to those with the highest incomes. [31]

            Higher incomes had not been the idea behind the breeding of the first meat animal. Pigs and hogs had been the staple of many of the non-gentry for centuries. They were easily kept, and lived off of scraps and rooting wild plants. Pork was not as fat before enclosure because they were not confined within a pen. These animals roamed free throughout the towns, villages, and forests.

            Deforestation began during the seventeenth century, which also assisted with the growing demand for land for cultivation and animal husbandry. Wasteland forests, especially royal forests, found themselves freed from forest laws of the Crown. These areas were afforested, divided, and sold off before they were enclosed. Riots ensued from the peasantry that had beforehand used the forests as either their homes, and/or a source of food and income.[32] Wildlife that had abounded in the woodland either moved out or disappeared completely.[33]

Originally written for class at American Military University
1. Arthur Devis. "Thomas Lister and his Family" 1740. Oil on Canvas. Art Institute of Chicago.

[1] Zach Zorich. “The Seeds of Inequality.” Archaeology Magazine. September/October 2012, 21.
[2] Robert Lee. Personal interview with author. September 11, 2012.
[3] Tom Williamson. The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape 1700-1870. (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002.), 106.
[4] Roy Porter. English Society in the 18th Century. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991.), 212.
[5] Paul Leland Haworth, George Washington: Farmer. (1915.), Location 2616. Kindle Edition.
[6] Zorich.
[7] Alexander Bentley. Quoted in Zach Zorich. “The Seeds of Inequality.” Archaeology Magazine. September/October 2012, 21.
[8] Zorich.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Lee.
[11] Williamson, 1-28; M.E. Turner, J.V. Beckett and B. Afton. The Transformation of Rural England: Farming and the Landscape, 1700-1870. (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.), 410,  Kindle Edition.
[12] Haworth.
[13] T.R. Malthus. Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws, and of a Rise or Fall in the Price of Corn on the Agriculture and General Wealth of the Country. (London: J. Johnson and Co., 1814.), location 116. Kindle
[14] Finbar McCormick. “The Decline of the Cow: Agriculture and Settlement Change in Early Medieval Ireland. N.d.,287072,en.pdf. (accessed September 13, 2012.)
[15] Ibid.
[16] Williamson,
[17] Ibid, 8
[18] Williamson, 12.
[19] Ibid, 8.
[20] Ibid, 13.
[21] Turner, 887.
[22] Williamson, 11.
[23] Ibid, 12.
[24] Ibid, 2-3.
[25] Ibid, 3.
[26] Turner, 225.
[27] Ibid, 302.
[28] Williamson, 31.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Haworth, 2616.
[31] Williamson, 229.
[32] R.A. Butlin. The Transformation of Rural England c.1580-1800: A Study in Historical Geography. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.), 38.
[33] Williamson,

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