Remember Charlotte’s Web? Fern and her brother seemed to have an ideal life. They spent their summers outdoors, playing with the farmyard pets and swimming in the pond. These activities are part of life for many children living on farms—but there’s much more to being a farming family.
- Farming dates back at least 5,000 years to Sumeria when people began irrigating and harvesting crops. Ancient Egyptians relied on the Nile River to provide water for their crops.
- Water has always been a major obstacle for farmers. In areas with lots of rainfall, floods can wash away fertile soil, as well as seeds and tiny plants. In dry climates, farmers have to figure out how to get water to their plants. Hand watering was backbreaking, but necessary, work. Pioneers tamed the west by building massive reservoirs and canals that could store and carry water to fields.
- Pipes and sophisticated sprinkler systems have replaced hand watering, but farmers today still have to pay for water, sometimes negotiating with other farmers and people who want it.
- A farmer usually refers to someone who owns the land and farms it; occasionally, farmers might rent land from someone else. In the 1800s, people could homestead—or borrow land from the government for farming. If they stayed on the land and produced crops, the land became theirs.
- Farmers grow a variety of crops, depending on their climate. Corn, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, and sugar beets are some of the major crops grown in the U.S. Most of the fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. grow in California, known for its rich soil and warm climate. Some farmers have orchards, vineyards, or even forests.
- Some farmers raise livestock like cows, sheep, and goats. Ranchers raise beef cattle, while dairymen raise cows for milk and cheese. Shepherds tend sheep and goats. Farmers might raise turkeys, chickens, or pigs. Some farmers even raise fish!
- Today, some farms are owned by corporations and might consist of thousands of acres. Family farms are often just a few hundred acres.
- On a family farm, everyone must lend a hand. During the summer, adults are often out in the fields before the sun comes up. During harvest season, they work until after the sun goes down. Children help as much as they can. Chores include planting, weeding, harvesting, gathering eggs, and feeding animals.
- Field hands are often hired to help with some of these tasks—especially on larger farms.
- Modern farming techniques have made it easier to grow more food. In the 1930s, one farmer could typically grow only enough food to feed three or four people. Today, a farm can grow enough food to feed as many as 100 people.
- Farmers sell their produce and livestock to grocery stores, processing plants, farmers markets, farm stands, or CSAs.
Questions and Answers
Question: Are farmers able to earn a lot of money?
Answer: Yes and No. Farming has always been a risky venture. Drought, hail, diseases, and insects can wipe out a crop before it ever gets to harvest. Market trends often determine how much a farmer can sell a crop for. If the market has a downturn, farmers might earn very little for a summer of backbreaking work. Tell a farmer today that you appreciate him or her!
Watch a video about kids and farming.