The rate of change in human lifestyle and technology from 1910 to 2010 may represent the greatest 100-year change in the history of the human species. During this period, American farming was transformed fundamentally. According to the USDA, 41 percent of Americans worked on a farm in the year 1900. Today, fewer than 2 percent of Americans work on a farm.
It’s always interesting to imagine that scenario where a farmer of the early 1700s is magically whisked to a present day farm – perhaps a farm in Iowa with endless rows of corn – and asked for his reaction. We all predict he’d be quite amazed. Perhaps distressed. During research for a recent project, I came across a passage in which the author asserted that a wheat farmer from the time of the pharaohs, transported to an American wheat field in the early 1700s, wouldn’t have seen a single thing that shocked him.
I was musing with Farmer Jeremy recently that it would be unfortunate if archaeologists of the distant future stumbled upon Howell Farm while attempting to study 21st century agriculture. They’d find horseshoes from draft horses and maybe some oxen bones. Their research would be all screwed up.
Climate Central – based in nearby Princeton – put out a report today that documents another interesting change. The reports examines temperature changes over the decades and provides state-by-state data back to 1912, almost precisely the point at which Howell Farm’s period of historical interpretation ends. Over the past 100 years, the average annual temperature in New Jersey has risen by about 3 degrees Fahrenheit. Of all states, New Jersey ranks third for the greatest temperature increase, behind only Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
When visitors come to Howell Farm to experience what farming would have looked liked, sounded like, smelled like, and felt like in the year 1910, part of their education is to learn about some of the historical aspects Howell Farm is unable to reproduce. One of those is certainly the climate. As I've been trying to tell the story of Howell Farm's agricultural work over the course of the year, it's really hit home that any story of farming is ultimately a story about weather and climate. And it's become clear that farmers today grow food in a climate that is dramatically and increasingly different than that of 100 years ago.