Why and when did agriculture lose its prestige?

Why and when did agriculture lose its prestige?

I do not know whether running a farm has ever been considered the most prestigious kind of work, but it is certainly nowhere near as prestigious as for example being a doctor, at least in my part of the world. The exception is maybe if one runs a winery.

Why is it like this? Does it have historical reasons? If this changed over time, when did it loose its prestige?

I am mostly after a non-localized answer, but in case someone wants to know, my part of the world is Northern-Europe.

It may be different in different locations but it usually comes down to what Tom mentioned as the manual labor, those who work with their hands or outside do tend to lose some level of prestige in many cultures. In Europe in the Middle Ages if you worked outside you were of the lower classes, giving rise to the idea that tanned skin was a mark of those who did manual labor. Lighter skin was considered the norm for many nobility at the time. Some asian cultures have instances of the same values, where light skin in ancient Japan or China was desired, and if not available there was makeup to achieve the right effect.

You could say many manual trades are also not very prestigious, leather tanning, butchers or even bakers who have to work hard and with their hands often don't achieve much status. Unless you become able to own multiple places, and hire others to do the manual work for you, at which point you can become more respected but only so far as you can show you are able to make money - but then you also enter into a different class. Much of this also seems to come from the different social views of tradesmen, workers and any upper/investment/merchant class.

Even for wineries, taking your example, I am sure the vintners are given some prestige, but not the people picking the grapes or working the presses - the ones given some respect tend to be those who have some ability to impart. That knowledge makes them more valuable than just a pair of hands, so even a cheesemaker could receive some amount of respect if he was able to make very fine cheeses, but the person separating the curds is probably not going to get much respect as they are still considered a manual worker.

Actually RUNNING a farm has never been considered "prestigious." But OWNING one often has been.

"Farming" is connected with manual labor, sweat, etc. As such, it is not what social economists like Thorstein Veblen would consider "honorific." On the other hand, to be an owner is to be member of the landed gentry, and a member of the establishment.

Farming has been considered "unprestigious" when the owners were also the actual farmers. In the Middle Ages owners and farmers were not the same people.

Farming lost it's prestige in prehistory with the growth of organized warfare.

Organized farming began many thousand years before Christ in the fertile soils at the estuaries of mountain run offs and in the flood plain of rivers. Most such communities were initially organized into small scale villages with communal farming and later developed into city states. Now here I am talking thousands of years before the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Organized farming led to a population boom at the time and as a result cities grew massively, spawning off sister villages which in turn became cities. Excavated statues and figurines show that up to this time such people worshiped the goddess and were probably organized on a matriarchal basis, with women or communities having title to the land, with women actively engaged in farming and advancing the science of farming.

But with population growth came conflict and warfare which eventual led to the creation of minor kingdoms, with rulers controlling several cities and communities, together with their farms. At this point the ruling class consisted of warriors and priests who would own the land but never work it. The work that was considered important was the work of the warrior and the intellectual work of the priests. Together with this upheaval feminine deities were replaced by male deities and matriarchal societies replaced by patriarchal societies, with almost all positions of power were increasingly dominated by men. This then, the fall of matriarchy and women's status coincided with the fall of the value of farming.

This tradition then intensified and grew until the first empires were formed, and it was fully incorporated into all the major succeeding empires, including the Qin, Sassanian, and Roman empires. By this point, all manual labor, with farming its chief employer was considered beneath the ruling aristocracy. Consider also that much farming was carried out by slaves and serfs who were tied to the land and were considered property. The sons of aristocracy would then either become land-owning warriors or priests.

Later, when Europe began its universities around 1100 AD, most universities would only study arts, medicine, law, and theology, with arts being the lowest in rank, and even then mainly consisting of literature and philosophy. So enshrined in the university system was the thinking that any kind of manual labor was unworthy of a scholar. I believe this kind of thinking still persists to modern times, though much eroded, so for example, law is considered higher than engineering.

So despite the fact that agriculture continued to be the main source of wealth for almost all ruling classes well past the Renaissance, agricultural workers were looked down on, with many aristocrats holding to the view that manual laborers were lower humans, less capable of thought and emotion, and generally of lower inherent value.

In the 19th-20th centuries an industrial worker in a city (not to say a person of intellectual labor) could earn much greater money than an agricultural worker. This was a major driver behind rapid urbanization.

It should be noted also that technological innovations spread to the rural areas much slower than inside cities, thus making the farmers to look somehow "backwards". Also the agricultural work did not require any education except the traditional training. That even more worsened the image of a farmer who often was even illiterate.

Agriculture in Pakistan

Agriculture is considered the backbone of Pakistan's economy, which relies heavily on its major crops. [1] Pakistan's principal natural resources are arable land and water. Agriculture accounts for about 18.9% [2] of Pakistan's GDP and employs about 42.3% of the labour force. In Pakistan, the most agricultural province is Punjab where wheat and cotton are the most grown. Mango orchards are mostly found in Sindh and Punjab provinces that make Pakistan the world's 4th largest producer of mangoes. [3] [4]

Agriculture in ancient Greece

Most Greek language agricultural texts are lost, except two botany texts by Theophrastus and a poem by Hesiod. The main texts are mostly from the Roman Agronomists: Cato the Elder's De agri cultura, Columella's De re rustica, Marcus Terentius Varro and Palladius. Varro mentions at least fifty Greek authors whose works are now lost. Attributed to Mago the Carthaginian, the agricultural treatise Rusticatio, originally written in Punic and later translated into Greek and Latin, is now lost. Scholars speculate whether this text may have been an early source for agricultural traditions in the Near East and Classical world. Ancient Greek agronomy was also influenced by Babylonian agriculture through the work of 4th century writer Vindonius Anatolius who influenced the 7th century writer Cassianus Bassus. Bassus' Eclogae de re rustica was excerpted in the Geoponika, a surviving Byzantine text created during the reign of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and later translated into Arabic, Syriac and Armenian. [2]

Farm Edit

During the early time of Greek history, as shown in the Odyssey, Greek agriculture - and diet - was based on cereals (sitos, though usually translated as wheat, could in fact designate any type of cereal grain). In reality, 90% of cereal production was barley. [ citation needed ] Even if the ancients were aware of the better nutritional value of wheat, the growing of barley was less demanding and more productive. Attempts have been made to calculate Attica grain production in the period, but results have not been conclusive. It did not take long for demand to outpace production capabilities, as arable land was limited. The "tightness" of the land ( στενοχωρία / stenokhôría) also explains Greek colonization, and the importance Anatolian cleruchies would have for the Athenian empire in controlling grain provision.

On the other hand, the Greek land was well suited for olive trees, which provided olive oil. The growing of olive trees dates back to early Greek history. Olive plantations are a long-term investment: it takes more than twenty years for the tree to provide fruit, and it only fruits every other year. Grapes also do well in the rocky soil, but demand a lot of care. Grapes have been grown since the Bronze Age.

These core crops were augmented by vegetable gardens (cabbage, onion, garlic, lentils, chick pea, beans) and herb gardens (sage, mint, thyme, savory, oregano). Orchards included those of fig, almond, apple, and pear trees. [3] Oil-seed plants such as linseed, sesame, and poppy were also grown.

Animal husbandry Edit

Animal husbandry, seen as a sign of power and wealth in the works of Homer, was in fact not well developed in ancient Greece. While the Mycenaean civilization was familiar with the rearing of cattle, the practice was restricted as a result of geographic expansion into less suitable terrain. Goats and sheep quickly became the most common livestock less difficult to raise and providers of meat, wool, and milk (usually in the form of cheese). Pork and poultry (chicken and geese) were also raised. Oxen were rare and normally used as a work animal, though they were occasionally used as sacrificial animals (see Hecatomb). Donkeys, mules and their mixes were raised as pack or draught animals.

Horses were raised on the plains of Thessaly and Argolis it was a luxury animal, signifying aristocracy. The Clouds, Ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes, illustrates the equestrian snobbery of Athenian aristocrats: Pheidippides, the son of the hero is addicted to race-horses and so ruins his father Strepsiades.

It is likely that most farms practiced some limited animal husbandry poultry or small animals grazing on waste land or fed kitchen scraps. Combined farm/livestock operations also existed, as well as those specializing in livestock. An inscription [4] also mentions a certain Eubolos of Elateia, in Phocis, the owner of 220 head of cattle and horses and at least 1000 sheep and goats. Flocks of sheep were herded between the valley in winter and the mountains in summer. Taxes existed for the transit or stopover of flocks in cities.

Cows were also sometimes raised, although they were not as common as other farm animals.

Other products Edit

Wood was exploited, primarily for domestic use homes and wagons were made of wood as was the ard (aratron). The Greek forests located in the highlands were denuded by goats and charcoal production it was not long before it had to be imported especially for ship production (see trireme).

Beekeeping provided honey, the only source of sugar known to the Greeks. It also was used in medicines and in the production of mead. The Ancient Greeks did not have access to sugarcane. The Hymettus region of Attica was known for the quality of honey produced there. [5] Wax was also produced, used in the lost wax process to produce bronze statues as well as in medicines.

Bronze was used for farm tools and weaponry.

Hesiod's Works and Days, 8th century BCE and Xenophon's Economy of the 4th century BCE provide information about working off the land.

The olive harvest took place from late autumn to the beginning of winter, either by hand or by pole. They were placed in wicker baskets and left to ferment for a few weeks before being pressed. The screw press, although referred to as the Greek press by Pliny the Elder (XVIII, 37) was a late (2nd century BCE) Roman invention. Oil was preserved in terra cotta vases for use later. This was also the time for pruning of trees and vines and harvesting of legumes.

Spring was the rainy season farmers took advantage of this to bring fallow ground back into production. They practised biennial crop rotation, alternating from year to year between fallow and cultivated. [ citation needed ] Attempts to introduce triennial crop rotation with legumes in the third year, ran into problems due to the poor Greek soil, lack of power, and absence of mechanization. The Greeks did not use animal manure, possibly due to the low number of cattle. [ citation needed ] The only soil additive was weeds ploughed back into the ground after fields came out of fallow.

In summer, irrigation was indispensable. In June, they harvested with sickles the scythe was not used. Wheat was threshed with animal power it was trampled by oxen, donkeys or mules, and the grain stored. Women and slaves ground it and made bread.

In early autumn, they collected deadfall and prepared supplies of firewood while winters were mild on the coast they could be brutal in the highlands. Farmers also had to break the hard crust that had formed over the summer on grain fields. To do this required three passes since the ard was wooden (metal shares were rare) and only scratched the uppermost subsoil without inverting it. A hoe and mallet were also used to break clumps of earth. The fallow land for next year was sown by hand. This was the time of the grape harvest: the grapes were crushed by foot in large vats, then the wine was left to ferment in jugs. After that process, people could drink the ambrosial wine and enjoy it.

In the nearly four centuries that passed between Hesiod and Xenophon, no improvements can be found in agriculture. Tools remained mediocre and there were no inventions to lighten the work of either man or animal. It was not until the rise of Romans that the water mill came into wide use, employing hydraulic power to augment muscle power. It took until the Middle Ages for true plows which turned the earth to be widely adopted. Neither irrigation, nor soil improvements, nor animal husbandry saw notable advances. Only the very richest of land, such as that of Messinia was capable of supporting two crops per year. [ citation needed ]

With the exception of Athens, and a few areas where aerial surveys have permitted analysis of historical land distribution, agricultural property allocation is not well known. Before the 5th century BCE, it is certain that the land belonged to great landowners, such as the Attican Eupatrides. Nevertheless, land use varied regionally in Attica domains were divided among smaller plots, whereas in Thessaly they had single tenants.

From the 8th century BCE, tensions grew between the great landowners and the peasants, who were finding it more and more difficult to survive. This can probably be explained by population growth brought on by reduced infant mortality, and aggravated by the practice of equally subdividing land amongst several inheritors each generation (attested to by both Homer and Hesiod). In Athens, the crisis was resolved with the arrival of Solon in 594 BCE. He forbade slavery for debt and introduced other measures intended to help the peasants. In the 5th century BCE, the practice of liturgy ( λειτουργία / leitourgia - literally, "public work") placed the responsibility for provision of public services heavily on the shoulders of the rich, and led to a reduction in large scale land ownership. It is estimated that most citizens of hoplite rank owned around 5 hectares of land. In Sparta, the reforms of Lycurgus led to a drastic redistribution of land, with 10 to 18 hectare lots (kleroi) distributed to each citizen. Elsewhere, tyrants undertook redistributions of land seized from wealthy political enemies.

From the 4th century BCE onwards property starts to become concentrated among few land owners, including in Sparta where according to Aristotle, the land has passed into the hands of a few (Politics, II, 1270a). [6] Nevertheless, the aristocratic estates in Greece never achieved the scope of the great Roman latifundia during the classical period, the wealthy Alcibiades possessed only 28 hectares (Plato, 1 Alcibiades, 123c). [7] In all cases, land remains intimately associated with the concept of wealth. The father of Demosthenes possessed 14 talents and for land owned only a home, but he was the exception. When the banker Pasion made his fortune, he hurried to buy land.

Some Greek land was public and/or sacred. Each city possessed such land and it is estimated that in Athens during the classical period these lands represented a tenth of cultivable land. This was an administrative division and the property of the city itself (for example in Attica, it was a deme) or a temple. These lands were leased to individuals.

U.S. Meat Production

Half of U.S. agriculture revenue is from meat production.   Most of this is cattle, dairy, poultry, hogs, and eggs. A smaller proportion is bison, rabbits, sheep, goats, and ostriches.

The United States is the world's largest beef producer.   Large farms with 100 or more head of cattle produce 56% of all beef cows.   The cattle forage on grasslands before they are shipped to grain feedlots for the last 90 to 300 days. Enormous feedlots with 32,000 head of capacity finish 40% of U.S. cattle.

The United States is also the world's second-largest beef importer. Most of it comes from Canada, Australia, Mexico, and New Zealand. They supply low-quality lean trim used to make ground beef.

The United States is also the world's largest poultry producer.   Almost 18% is exported. The U.S. is the world's second-largest pork producer, and the second-largest pork exporter and importer.  

There were nearly a million black farmers in 1920. Why have they disappeared?

John Boyd Jr’s grandfather Thomas, the son of a slave, slept with the deed to his farm under his mattress. He worried constantly that his land would be taken from him.

Twenty miles away and three generations later, Boyd lives on his own 210-acre farm, in a big white colonial house with rows of soybeans that go almost up to the front door, like other people have grass. One hundred cattle, a cluster of guinea hogs, three goats and a small herding dog named Fatso, whom Boyd calls his best friend, live there.

He feels more secure on his plot of land than Thomas did. But Boyd is an aberration.

The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to new figures from the US Department of Agriculture released this month. They own a mere 0.52% of America’s farmland. By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white.

The black farmers who have managed to hold on to their farms eke out a living today. They make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, which is probably because their average acreage is about one-quarter that of white farmers.

As a fourth-generation farmer, Boyd has witnessed other black farmers do the same thing he’s done: claw at the dirt in an attempt to hold on to it. And Boyd has devoted himself to helping other black farmers, always remembering the words he heard his grandfather Thomas mumble over and over: “The land don’t know color. The land never mistreated me, people do.”

Cattle graze near the pond on John Boyd Jr’s farm just after sunrise in Baskerville, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Today he’s come to understand two things: how the long fight he put up is just a drop in a rusted-out bucket, and exactly why there are so few black farmers left.

In Baskerville, Virginia, huge sunrises turn ponds into fiery gulfs. Strangers in cars wave as they pass. Food is fried and smothered. Things move slowly. This is also Trump country, with support displayed on bumper stickers and hand-painted roadside signs. “Dixieland”, as Boyd calls it, has palpable racial tension.

He is a big man with deep-set eyes usually in the shadow of a cowboy hat brim. His voice could rumble floorboards. Boyd, 53, seems most content bouncing in the seat of his tractor, smoke tufts marking his trail. He’ll harvest the soybeans he’s busy planting today in the fall, once they’re about knee-high.

He needs 45 bushels from each acre to make a profit. To avoid being docked – getting priced down for moisture or debris in the bushels – he will ask his wife, Kara Brewer Boyd, to enlist her white stepfather to sell the beans for him. When the other man takes Boyd’s beans, he’s not docked but complimented.

“I lose money if I sell them myself,” he says. “In 2019, that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be losing money because I’m black.”

John Boyd Jr takes his new Kubota cab tractor for a spin to see how well it prepares his land for planting soybeans. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Boyd’s had time to get used to this mistreatment. His struggle for equal footing started as soon as he bought his first farm for $51,000 at age 18 in 1984. He went to the Farmers Home Administration, a lending branch of the USDA, about 90 miles from Baskerville to apply for operating loans. Year after year, his applications were denied or delayed.

“Looked at your application and we ain’t gonna be able to help you this year,” he says the loan officer would tell him. Once, Boyd says, a white farmer interrupted their meeting, exchanged quick pleasantries with the loan officer, and walked out, having not even applied, with a check for $157,000. “And I’m begging for $5,000,” Boyd recalls, shaking his head.

In subsequent visits, the loan officer told Boyd he better learn to talk to him like other black folks did, took naps during meetings, threw Boyd’s applications straight into the trash and spat his chewing tobacco on Boyd’s shirt, claiming to have missed his spittoon.

The officer only took meetings with the nine black farmers in the county on Wednesdays. “He would leave the door open and speak loudly and boastfully so that we could hear just how bad he was talking to each one of us,” Boyd says.

Boyd filed six complaints against the officer for discriminatory treatment and eventually the USDA Civil Rights Office of Virginia investigated the officer, who admitted to the treatment Boyd noted in his complaints. Boyd then filed and won the first-ever discrimination lawsuit against the USDA.

The successful investigation on Boyd’s behalf prompted other black farmers to come forward with their stories, and in 1995 Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association after meeting with many black farmers and hearing similar USDA experiences.

John Boyd Jr, at his 210-acre farm in Baskerville, Virginia. Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer, still fighting for black farmers’ rights and equal treatment. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

“All these farmers were coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘You think what happened to you is bad? You should hear my story!’” he says. “I was just trying to save my farm. But then I saw this was a huge national issue.”

In 1997, Boyd and 400 other black farmers sued the USDA in the landmark lawsuit Pigford v Glickman, which alleged that from 1981 to 1997, USDA officials ignored complaints brought to them by black farmers and that they were denied loans and other support because of rampant discrimination. In 1999, the government settled the case for $1bn, and more than 16,000 black farmers received $50,000 each.

But Boyd didn’t know his work was just beginning.

After that settlement made news, more black farmers came forward saying they didn’t know about the lawsuit in time to apply for the money. This time, Boyd wasn’t a plaintiff but an advocate on behalf of more than 80,000 late claimants. In 2000, he began making trips to Washington to wait in hallways for politicians whose faces he’d studied in congressional dictionaries, hoping to find a sponsor to push to reopen the case. “That was a lonely battle out there on Capitol Hill. That was a bunch of lonely meetings,” he says.

John Boyd Jr greets one of his four horses on his farm in Baskerville, Virginia, on 22 April 2019. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

He drove his old Mercedes the 200 miles to Washington, sometimes two or three times a week. When that approach seemed too subtle, the trip by mule and wagon took 17 days. By sputtering tractor, it took five. Sometimes he slept outside Capitol Hill in the wagon. Sometimes his cousin Ernest kept him company on the trip. Other times, farmers and their wives came with signs bearing slogans like, “Black farmers have waited long enough.”

Meanwhile, he went to funerals of older black farmers who died hoping for compensation. His own crops and relationships suffered, most notably with his children.

“There were a lot of down times where I would go home and [Congress] would have recess and I would see family members. ‘Are you still working on that? Man, you need to give that up. You ain’t never going to win that,’” Boyd recalls them telling him. “There were many times where I said, I don’t know if I want to do this any more.”

Finally, after eight years, Boyd got then-Senator Barack Obama to be the lead sponsor of the measure to reopen the case, and Congress set aside $100m to assess the late claims. In December 2010, as president, Obama signed a bill authorizing $1.25bn in compensation to the late claimants, settling the lawsuit known as Pigford II.

The bill and a photo of Boyd shaking hands with Obama hang framed near the fireplace in his brick-floored living room. The pen Nancy Pelosi used to sign it is around the house somewhere, too. For Boyd, that moment, the ink absorbing into the paper, was the peak, the reward.

Kara Brewer Boyd works in the living room of their home in Baskerville, Virginia. ‘Some days I don’t leave this chair,’ said Boyd, the event and program coordinator for the National Black Farmer’s Association founded by John. Photograph: Greg Kahn/GRAIN

Last November, Kara Boyd fell asleep in the recliner in the living room with her laptop open the night before the NBFA conference. She was in the throes of a near-all-nighter, getting last-minute details set.

Into the evening, she’d been on the phone with the printer making sure the welcome letter from Shreveport’s mayor, boasting that the conference would draw more than 700 members from 42 states, was in the conference booklet. The Boyds see this free annual gathering as a chance to forge a support network for black farmers, and outline the USDA resources available to them. Their intentions and those of attendees haven’t always aligned.

Inside the lobby of a hotel in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, Boyd wore his favorite hat – the rigid black size 7.5 Stetson – and a pressed black suit. He was holding a cup of coffee, as usual, and shaking hands. But he was distracted and looking around, seemingly to gauge who’d shown up. The audience of mostly men sat at half-full or empty linen-covered banquet tables. Some had put on suits with their cowboy boots, some of the wives were dressed for church.

Throughout the two-day conference, Kara and USDA and bank representatives, who by design were mostly black, led discussions on how to apply for various loans, how to obtain a farm serial number and get wills in order.

John Boyd Jr’s home is decorated with stories and photos of his trips to Washington DC to meet with lawmakers and presidents in his fight for black farmers’ rights. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Two older women came in an hour late, after driving from Alabama 10 hours overnight through a storm. They slowly sat down, whispering to other attendees, “Has he gone over the lawsuits yet?”

People have shown up to every conference believing they can still fill out an application for the $50,000 from the Pigford II case, but the deadline was six years ago. Some farmers mistake the postcards announcing the conference for calls for applications, “because they’re older and there’s a lot of illiteracy”, Kara says, matter-of-factly.

The NBFA grant recipient Michael Coleman, 25, runs 14 head of cattle in Mississippi and majors in animal science at Alcorn State University, a historically black school. He presented a PowerPoint on cattle husbandry.

“These white cattle farmers are so much ahead of us it’s like we’re playing catch-up. They already know how to get the grant money, they already have old money,” Coleman says. “I mean, my dad was a sharecropper who worked 40 years in a factory 12 hours a day. Growing up, my father didn’t know about these programs.”

Nearly half of all black-owned farms are cattle operations, but with so few black farmers overall, the crowds at livestock markets are mostly white. “I haven’t been called out my name,” he says, using slang for a racial slur, “but I’m not too sure how they treat or price the animals once they figure out you’re a black farmer,” Coleman says.

His family’s three-acre plot of land is split among relatives – a common state of affairs across black farmers, who often lacked access to legal resources and passed along their property without a will or clear title. Unclear ownership can lead to major problems, including not being able to receive a farm serial number from the USDA, which is needed to apply for any federal loan and other financial assistance programs. According to the Census Bureau, 80% of land owned by black people has been lost since 1910 due to this issue.

John Boyd Jr loads feed into his cart at a local store in South Hill, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

A breakthrough came when the 2018 farm bill was signed into law a few days before Christmas, making it possible for farmers to show other forms of documentation besides a will to get a farm serial number.

On the last day of the Shreveport conference, Coleman, in a nice gray suit, received a loud applause for his presentation. Then Kara announced it was time for lawsuit updates, and passed the microphone to Boyd.

Speaking more slowly than he had the whole conference, he intoned, “I wanna do this because I’m frustrated. Every meeting I walk into, people are asking me, ‘When can I get my check?’ And it’s not truthful.”

There is a website set up on the order of Judge Friedman, who presided over the first Pigford case, which states, in bolded text, that the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association has been telling farmers they can still apply for the $50,000 if they mail in $100. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s also a heartbreaking scam, according to the judge.

As Boyd spoke, Kara pulled up the site on screen and asked everyone to show it to someone else, so they would know definitively that the case is closed.

“We have people out here taking advantage of elderly black people,” Boyd raises his voice. “Why would you send someone $100? Do not do that!”

John Boyd Jr, and his wife, Kara, at their 210-acre farm in Baskerville, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Kara rattled the number for Judge Friedman’s clerk off the top of her head in case anyone had lingering questions. It is just a recorded message stating the case is settled and done.

“I’m merely giving you the facts. Am I being clear today?” Boyd asked. “Mmmhmm,” the farmers answer collectively. He repeated twice: “Nothing is pending in court. The case is closed and settled.”

Back home in Baskerville, Kara reflected on the conference. “It went well. There was no drama. There was no confrontation. No one left upset,” she says. “They came this year with the understanding that the case has been settled.”

She will continue to answer the calls she gets every day about the money. That evening, it is a man from Alabama. Through a tangle of words he finally gets across to her that he’s heard about the $50,000. “For black people working on farms … I thought they’d reopened it and everything? … Ah, it’s already closed out? … Oh, OK.”

“And don’t pay anyone $100 for an application because the settlement is over,” Kara replies. “I can give you the number to the claims administrator so you can hear it from them as well.”

“Oh, I believe you, ma’am,” he assures her, and hangs up.

John Boyd Jr pets his dog, Fatso, who he’s had since he was a pudgy puppy. He calls Fatso his best friend. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Boyd has been asking since 2017 for a meeting with Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, to no avail.

“I’d like to ask him why does it take so long to receive benefits as a black farmer? I know white farmers in my community who went through the same program [for a soybean subsidy] and had their money a long time ago. I’m still waiting.”

The new USDA census data shows a small spike in the number of black farmers, from 44,609 in 2012 to 45,508 in the 2019 report, but Boyd is unimpressed.

“They’re not getting any money. that doesn’t fix anything,” he says. “Farmers need operating money every year. You need credit every year. We need access to credit. We’re clearly not getting it,” he recites like a mantra.

The population boom

World population, 10,000 BCE to 2000 CE.

In 1798, economist Thomas Malthus warned that unchecked population growth would outpace food production, setting the stage for widespread starvation. 21 What has kept Malthus’ scenario at bay? Synthetic fertilizers, first introduced in the early 1900s, have been credited with feeding the lion’s share of the global population as it grew from 1.6 billion to 6 billion over the 20th century. 27

Application of anhydrous ammonia (synthetic nitrogen) fertilizer at planting time on an Iowa farm.

Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured using a technique that transforms nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can be applied to crops (ammonia). These chemicals have dramatically increased short-term crop yields, though not without consequences. The heavy use of synthetic fertilizers has become a hallmark of industrial agriculture. 

Photo credit: Lynn Betts, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Freight train carrying grain across Washington state.

Beyond synthetic fertilizers, other innovations in food production and distribution helped food supplies keep pace with population growth. Expanded railways, shipping canals, and new machinery for storing and moving grain made it easier to transport food to where it was most needed. 25 Improvements in refrigerated transport, meanwhile, allowed farmers to ship perishable food over greater distances. 26

Photo credit: David Gubler. Creative Commons  CC BY-SA 3.0.

Click images for captions

From 1900 to 2011, the global population grew from 1.6 billion to 7 billion. 23 Despite such explosive growth, the world’s farmers produced enough calories in 2012 to feed the entire population, plus an additional 1.6 billion people. 24 Hunger remains a global crisis, largely because those calories are not evenly distributed across the population, and much of the world’s food supply is never eaten. Still, the sheer volume of production dwarfs that of earlier generations. What has made such unprecedented abundance possible?

Innovations in food production and distribution have thus far helped food supplies keep pace with population growth. Crops indigenous to the Americas, such as corn, sweet potatoes, and cassava, spread across the globe. The nutrients provided by these prolific crops helped prevent malnutrition, supporting a widespread increase in population over the 18 th century. 20 Expanded railways, shipping canals, and new machinery for storing and moving grain helped the U.S. become a major exporter of surplus wheat and corn, supplying much of Europe during times of scarcity overseas. 25 Improvements in refrigerated transport allowed farmers to ship perishable food over greater distances. 26

Of all the innovations in agriculture, arguably none has been more influential than synthetic fertilizers—chemicals manufactured using a technique that transforms nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can be applied to crops (ammonia). First introduced in the early 1900s, synthetic fertilizers dramatically increased crop yields (though not without consequences), and have been credited with providing the lion’s share of the world’s food over the 20 th century. 27 The use of these and other chemicals has become a hallmark of industrial agriculture.

Effects of Agriculture on the Industrial Revolution

How did changes in agriculture help bring about the industrial revolution?

Before the Industrial Revolution, agriculture workers labored six days a week, from sun up to sun down, just to keep their crops growing. 1 Certain seasons were more demanding than others, specifically the plowing and harvest seasons. 2 Because of the intensity and necessity of agricultural labor, it was the largest employment source in Europe. 3 Men, women and children worked side by side to feed the country. Often if the father was a farm owner and worker, his entire family labored alongside him. Working in agriculture was not just a job it but often a lifestyle for families. 4

Though the labor was difficult, agricultural work became the largest source of employment because of the ‘self-supply’ benefit, which is the ability to stock their own food stores through their own work. Another attractive aspect was the constant high demand of their products. 5 The ever rising demand for food provided farming families with a fairly steady income, although there were exceptions because of the uncertainty of crop success.

Because of the difficulty of agricultural work, it became necessary to innovate the agricultural industry, thus beginning the Agricultural Revolution which arguably started in the mid-18 th century. 6 The Agricultural Revolution helped bring about the Industrial Revolution through innovations and inventions that altered how the farming process worked. 7 These new processes in turn created a decline in both the intensity of the work and the number of agricultural laborers needed. Because of the decline in need for agricultural workers, many worked industrial jobs, further fueling the Industrial Revolution. 8 At the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution farm hands chose to migrate to the city to work industrial jobs however, as the decline in need for agricultural workers grew, many were forced to look for work in the industries.

Though there were many contributing aspects to the Agricultural Revolution,the innovations and inventions were one of the largest factors that helped bring about the Industrial Revolutions. This page will focus specifically on five major inventors whose inventions allowed for more people to move to the city for industrial work. Thus allowing the Industrial revolution to begin.

Major Contributors to the Agricultural Revolution

Use the arrows, at the top right-and-left corners to navigate through major contributors to the Agricultural Revolution.

How Did African-American Farmers Lose 90 percent of Their Land?

A combination of obscure legal mechanisms and racist institutions enabled—and continues to enable—developers to weasel it away.

Emancipated slaves never received their promised 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War. For this, and a mountain of other reasons, calls for reparations have grown to the point that presidential candidates have made it a talking point.

It has taken 150 years for the reparations conversation to be given the seriousness it has always been due. Yet often overlooked in the discussion is that African-Americans, realizing the 40 acres was not forthcoming, worked to buy their own land after the war—land that served not only as a source of income, but as a bedrock of physical safety and familial stability over generations. That land has since been, in many cases, weaseled away from their heirs through dubious legal manoeuvres. And the weaseling continues today.

By the turn of the 20 th century, former slaves and their descendants had amassed 14 million acres of land. Black agriculture was a powerhouse per capita there were more black farmers than white farmers. But by the turn of the 21 st century, 90 percent of that land was lost. Some of that can be chalked up to the Great Migration, when southern blacks fled to northern cities to escape the racist violence and systemic oppression of the South. Less known is the story of those who stayed in rural areas and their efforts to hold on to their land within a legal system that seemed designed to shift it — and the generational wealth it represented — to white ownership.

The legal avenues for finagling land from black farmers vary by state and the circumstances surrounding the property and its ownership. Here’s a sampling of how it works.

Heirs Property
Whether due to distrust of the legal system or lack of access to legal resources, freed slaves and their descendants often lacked a will transferring ownership of their property when they died. This means the property became “heirs property”—ownership is split equally among all known descendants over time, the property is further split among the descendants of the descendants, creating over the course of generations a quagmire of ownership among hundreds, even thousands, of heirs. To use heirs property as collateral on a mortgage, to subdivide it, to develop it—and any number of other things of a legally binding nature—is difficult without first identifying and tracking down every heir, and gaining consent from each one.

Partition Sales
The descendants of slaves are by no means the only people dealing with the intractable issues associated with heirs property, but they deal with it in disproportionate numbers, at least in southern states (an estimated 40 percent of black-owned land is heirs property). For many Americans, property ownership is an unequivocal key to building and maintaining wealth across generations. But compared to property owners in possession of a clear title, heir’s property owners face tremendous practical and financial barriers to deriving wealth from their land. Oddly, one of the few things heir’s owners can do without the consent of all the other owners is to sell their portion of the property. The problem is that if just one owner sells, real estate laws in many places provide the new non-hereditary owner with a variety of means to obtain the entire property, often at below market rates—a process commonly referred to as a partition sale.

Torrens Acts
Historically, many states had what’s called a Torrens Act, which were originally intended to simplify title registry. But in a strange legal idiosyncrasy, these laws also serve as loopholes that allow third parties to force families off their land through partition sales. This is because when one owner/family member sells, Torrens rules help to shield them from recourse by other owners/family members, who in some instances may not even be notified of the sale until they are served an eviction notice.

Tax Sales
In high-demand areas where land value has skyrocketed (much black-owned heirs property lies in tourist areas along the coasts of North and South Carolina), property taxes go up accordingly. But if your goal is to stay on your land, rather than flip it, and you’re on a fixed income, chances are you at some point you’ll be unable to afford your annual property taxes. The county then has the right to put the property on the auction block—a common way for developers to access land from families who don’t want to sell.

Some states have repealed Torrens legislation, but it is still a common means of dispossession within southern US. There is also a movement afoot to reform regulations governing partition sales, with a law called the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, which according to ProPublica has now been adopted in 14 states. Another small sign of progress is a measure in last years Farm Bill that allows owners of heirs property to apply for various USDA programs, such as loans and crop insurance, for the first time.

CORRECTION, May 14, 2020: An earlier version of this story stated that the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act had not been adopted in many southern states. At the time, five southern states had adopted it. We apologize for the error.

Maya Food & Agriculture

For the Maya, reliable food production was so important to their well-being that they closely linked the agricultural cycle to astronomy and religion. Important rituals and ceremonies were held in honour of specialised workers from beekeepers to fishermen, and maize, the all-important Mesoamerican staple, even had its own god. An agricultural society, 90% of the Maya population were involved in farming. Management of land and natural resources brought a more dependable harvest and varied diet, enabling economic growth. This allowed for the flourishing of Maya culture but eventual over-exploitation, an ever-increasing population, and protracted periods of drought may have been factors in the ultimate collapse of the Maya civilization.

The Maize God

One of the most important Maya deities, perhaps even the most important, was the 'Young Maize God'. Typically portrayed with a head in the form of an ear of maize, he could appear in Maya mythology as the creator god. Descending to the underworld, he reappeared with the world tree which holds the centre of the earth and fixes the four cardinal directions. The world tree was, indeed, sometimes visualised as a maize plant. One of the names of the Maya maize god was Yum Caax ('Master of the Fields in Harvest') but another, as at Palenque, was Hun-Nale-Ye ('One Revealed Sprouting'). If any further proof were needed of the Maya reverence for maize, one need only consult the Popol Vuh religious text, where the ancestors of humanity are described as being made of maize. Other important foodstuffs besides maize had their own gods, for example, Ek Chuah (aka God M) was considered the god of cacao and so vital was water to crops that the Maya rain god Chac gained special prominence, especially in times of drought.


Maya Agricultural Methods

The quality and quantity of agricultural land around Maya cities varied depending on their location. In the lowlands of the Peten and Puuk regions, for example, the soil was relatively fertile but restricted to small patches. A technique to increase soil fertility was the use of raised fields, especially near water courses and flood plains. At these locations stone-wall terraces were sometimes built to collect fertile silt deposits. Forests were cleared to make way for agriculture but such land quickly declined in fertility and necessitated slash-and-burn techniques to rejuvenate the land after two years of crops, which then requires on average a further 5-7 years to be ready for re-planting. A similar necessity to leave fields to rejuvenate was common in the highland sites, where plots had to be left empty for up to 15 years. To maximise productivity, crops were planted together such as beans and squash in fields of maize so that the beans could climb the maize stalks and the squash could help reduce soil erosion.

Those cities without access to large areas of land suitable for agriculture could trade with more productive cities. For example, slaves, salt, honey and precious goods such as metals, feathers, and shells were often traded for plant products. Just how larger plots of land were distributed, in what manner farmland passed on between generations, and the level of state management in agricultural production remain unclear. It is known, however, that many Maya private homes would have cultivated food in small gardens, especially vegetables and fruit. Once harvested, foodstuffs were stored in wooden cradles above ground and in subterranean sites.


Water management was another necessity, especially in certain Maya cities during the dry winters and hot summers. Water was collected in sinkholes created by collapsed caves and known as a tz'onot (corrupted to cenote in Spanish) and sometimes brought to fields using canals. Cisterns (chultunob) were also excavated, typically bottle-shaped and built using wide plastered aprons around their entrances to maximise the collection of rainwater.

Maya Crops & Food

Maize (milpa) was one of the most important crops but so too were root crops such as sweet manioc, beans, squash, amaranth, and chile peppers. Maize was typically boiled in water and lime, and eaten as a gruel mixed with chile pepper (saka') for breakfast or made into a dough for baking on a flat-stone (metate) as tortillas or flat cakes (pekwah) and as tamales - stuffed and baked in leaves.

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Animals which were hunted include deer, peccary, turkeys, quails, ducks, curassow, guan, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, the tapir, and armadillo. Dogs were also fattened up on maize and eaten. Fish were caught using nets, traps, and lines, and, as in certain Asian cultures, trained cormorants were used to help catch fish: The cormorants' necks were tied so that they could not swallow the bigger fish, which they would then bring back to the fisherman. Meat and fish were typically cooked in stews along with various vegetables and peppers. Fish was either salted and dried or roasted over an open fire.

Fruits eaten included guava, papaya, avocado, custard apple, and sweetsop. A frothy chocolate drink and honey were also popular desserts. Another very popular drink was pulque beer, known to the Maya as chih and made from fermented agave juice.


Important trees used by the Maya for their wood were the sapodilla and breadnut. The bottle gourd was cultivated to make containers from its hard but light-weight fruit shell. The copal was valued for its resin which was burned as incense and used for rubber. Finally, cotton was also cultivated, especially in the Yucatan province, famous for its fine textiles.

Inca Food & Agriculture

The Inca empire controlled four climate zones and, consequently, their agricultural produce was diverse. Ancient Andean people were largely vegetarian, supplementing their diet with camelid meat and seafood if they could. The Incas developed a huge farming apparatus where crops and herds were commandeered from conquered peoples and the people themselves were periodically required to work on state-owned farms.

A more positive benefit to local people of Inca rule was the vast network of storage facilities they developed to insure against times of drought and disaster. In addition, foodstuffs were often handed out by Inca officials as gifts which rulers hoped would increase their popularity.


Organization & Methods

At a micro-level each family unit produced its own food. Family units were part of a wider kin group or ayllu which collectively owned farmland. Ideally, an ayllu would posses at least some land in both the highlands and more temperate lowlands so that a diversity of foodstuffs could be cultivated. For example, the highlands could offer good pasture and permit potato and maize production, while coca could only be grown at lower altitudes. An area of land for maize cultivation (perhaps around 1.5 acres) called a tupu was given to newlyweds by their ayllu so that they might be self-sustainable. In addition, their first child entitled the couple to another half tupu. If the owner of land died without an heir, then the land was returned to the ayllu for future redistribution.

Land was worked using simple tools such as a hoe, clod breaker, and foot plough - the chakitaqlla, which consisted of a wooden or bronze pointed pole that was pushed into the ground by placing one's foot on a horizontal bar. Hoe blades were typically made using sharpened cobble stones. Agriculture was a community practice, and farmers worked in small teams of seven or eight, often singing as they worked with the men hoeing and women following behind, breaking up clods and sowing seeds. Meanwhile children and young adults were responsible for tending to the family herd of camelids.


Crops cultivated across the Inca Empire included maize, coca, beans, grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, ulluco, oca, mashwa, pepper, tomatoes, peanuts, cashews, squash, cucumber, quinoa, gourd, cotton, talwi, carob, chirimoya, lúcuma, guayabo, and avocado. Livestock was primarily llama and alpaca herds. These animals were vital to many aspects of Andean life as they provided wool, meat, leather, moveable wealth, transportation - especially for the army, and they were often sacrificed in religious ceremonies. Some of the larger state-owned herds could have tens of thousands of animals, and all herds were meticulously accounted for in a state census conducted each November.

The Incas were ambitious farmers, and to maximise agricultural production, they transformed the landscape with terracing, canals, and irrigation networks, whilst wetlands were often drained to make them suitable for farming. In addition, the Incas were fully aware of the values of regular crop rotation, and they also fertilized the land with dried llama dung, guano, or fish heads if these materials were available. Even so, the often harsh Andean climate could bring floods, droughts, and storms which, along with disease, meant that annual crop failures were not infrequent. In such cases the Inca talent for food storage came into its own.

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Food Storage

Foodstuffs (and other goods) were stored in storehouses (qollqa) which were built in the tens of thousands across the empire, typically arranged in neat rows and near population centres, large estates, and roadside stations. State officials kept careful accounts of their stocks using the quipu, a recording device of strings and knots. Qollqa were single-roomed stone buildings, either circular or rectangular, which were built in a remarkably uniform manner. Placed on hillsides to take advantage of cool breezes, qollqa were designed to maximise the storage time of the perishable goods with which they were filled. They had drainage canals, gravel flooring, and ventilation in both the floor and roof in order to keep the interior as cool and dry as possible so that ordinary goods could be stored for up to two years and freeze-dried foodstuffs for up to four years. Archaeologists have ascertained that maize, potatoes, and quinoa were the most common foodstuffs stored in qollqa. Maize and coca from these stores were frequently given to the masses by popularity-seeking rulers and in times of crop failures.

Agriculture & Religion

Rituals, songs, and sacrifices were a vital part of farming for the Incas. In such ceremonies llamas and guinea pigs were sacrificed and chicha beer poured into the ground and near rivers and springs in order to win favour from the gods and the elements. In addition, the sometimes harsh Andean environment meant that agriculture was viewed as a form of warfare so that, as the historian T. N. D'Altroy eloquently put it, "The Incas approached farming with weapons in their hands and prayers on their lips" (276).


There were also many sacred fields in the Inca capital Cuzco. The harvest from these was used as offerings in shrines, and one particular field was reserved for the ceremonial planting of the year's first maize. It was here, in the month of August, that the Inca king ceremoniously tilled the first soil of the year with a golden plough. The sacred Coricancha, which had a temple to the Inca sun god Inti, even had a life-size field of corn made purely from gold and silver complete with precious metal animals and insects. When the Incas conquered a territory, they divided the land and livestock into three unequal parts - one for the state religion, one for the king, and one for the local inhabitants. Alternatively, as tax was often extracted in the form of labour (mit'a), farmers were relocated to work the Inca ruler's lands or help in other state projects, such as road building and large buildings. The agricultural produce of the farmers' own land was largely left untouched, and they were also allowed to cultivate small plots alongside the state farms while performing their mit'a.

Inca Food & Drink

The Incas had two main meals a day, one early morning and another in the late evening, both taken while seated on the floor without a table. The Inca diet, for ordinary people, was largely vegetarian as meat - camelid, duck, guinea-pig, and wild game such as deer and the vizcacha rodent - was so valuable as to be reserved only for special occasions. More common was freeze-dried meat (ch'arki), which was a popular food when travelling. A porridge made from quinoa was a staple food, and near the coasts fish was eaten, typically in stews. Using small reed boats, Inca fishermen hoped to catch anchovies, sardines, tuna, salmon, sea bass, and shellfish. Wild fruits available included sour cherries, custard apples, elderberries, cactus fruits, pineapples, and a type of banana.

Food was prepared on fires of wood or llama dung using a stone or clay stove so that most food was either boiled or roasted. Maize was either cooked in the form of small cakes or toasted, while popcorn was considered a special treat. Potatoes were another important staple, and these could be stored by drying or freeze-drying in the form of chuno. The grains quinoa and canihua were also important, along with the tubers oca, mashua, and maca. Grains were prepared by pounding them between stone mortars or with a pestle. Additional flavours were achieved by adding herbs and spices, especially chili peppers. The most popular drink was the mildly alcoholic chicha, a fermented beer-like drink which women prepared by chewing maize or other plants and then allowing the pulp to ferment for several days.

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