Olthoff: What the museum doesn’t show, Part 2

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In Part 1 of this article, Katie shared her love for Living History Farms, but also said she wouldn’t want to be trying to “live off the land” the way those early settlers did. In Part 2, she talks about agriculture in those early years, and how far the industry has come.

In my last blog post, I told you about the highly contagious diseases and the low average life expectancy of pioneer men and women.

Farming wasn’t much better. Much of the work was done by hand, or with the help of horses. Tractors had not yet been invented, although the iron plow was used. This plow, coincidentally, contributed to a loss of 50 percent of Iowa’s topsoil before the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Many farmers today use conservation tilling to reduce erosion of our fertile topsoil.

However, things were improving. Scientists were doing “extensive experimental work to breed disease-resistant varieties of plants, to improve plant yield and quality, and to increase the productivity of farm animal strains.” Hybridized corn was produced in 1881 and a hog cholera serum was developed in 1903. Farmers were becoming business-men, and had begun making the improvements we benefit from today.

It’s romantic to imagine what 1900 was like in Iowa. But we often look at the past through rose colored glasses. The reality was much bleaker. Life was hard without the many modern conveniences we enjoy. And farming was even harder – harder on the farmers, and in some ways, harder on the land and the animals.

Farming and life have changed over the past 100 years, but one thing has remained the same: Farmers are still trying to do things better than before with modern equipment, new discoveries in animal health, new conservation practices and advanced animal care practices. Farmers realize the global impact they have and are doing their best to make that impact a positive one.

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