It was a warm spring day as the team of horses trudged across the field with a single furrow walk-behind plow guided by a hard-working, sweating farmer. When they reached the end of the field and turned around for another trip, they stopped for a few minutes. Everyone needed a rest, including the team and the farmer.
It was time to get the oats planted, and the plowing needed to be finished in this field today so it could be harrowed tomorrow. Maybe the seed could be broad cast and covered the next day - if it didn't rain.
Except for our friends in the Amish country, this is not a picture we see much today. Even many of our Amish friends have single furrow, riding plows that are easier on the operator but usually take a three-horse team to pull.
Farming as great-grandpa did 100 or more years ago was hard, physical work, very labor intensive and slow. Power used was horse power, and the big, strong horses were important. Farms were small because there wasn't enough time and labor to handle the larger acreages of today.
Looking at the diary of my great-great-grandfather Stoddard Dickinson, in early April of 1862, he was able to get some plowing done. His diary further says that he plowed for oats on April 14 and planted them the next day. After that, it turned cold with some snow flurries.
On April 29, he wrote, "fair, broke up the meadow for corn." He was out with his plow getting ready to plant corn. On the 30th, the diary read, "fair, planted potatoes today." His farm was in the Shalersville area of Portage County where there are some soils good for raising potatoes.
Entries show more plowing and harrowing, which would be getting the lumps broken up in the field ready for the seed to be planted. In June, many days were spent "hoeing corn," hard, tedious work that isn't done on farms today, except perhaps a few Amish farms. Even those folks like to use modern technology in the form of weed-killing sprays.
All of this illustrates that the nostalgic picture some folks have of farming is not very accurate. The idea that we should still be farming like grandpa did would spell disaster in the form of food shortages. If my great-great-grandfather got 40 bushels of corn on each acre, he would be doing well in 1862. Crop yields then were a fraction of today's yields.
To farm like our ancestors did would mean most of us better get ready to move back to a small farm. And with prices that are typical for farm crops today, it would be a subsistence kind of farming. We would not have the quality of life that we want to enjoy.
With less than 2 percent of us growing food for the rest of us today, we have a remarkable change from 100 to 150 years ago. Farmers decided to sell the farm and move to town for several reasons. The main one was they just plain could not make a good living on the small farms they had. So they sold them to a neighbor and moved to town.
With the invention of the tractor and other farming equipment, along with improved seeds and more fertilization, one farmer could handle many more acres, be more efficient and make a better living for his family.
Agricultural research and technology and getting that new information in the hands of farmers has been a major factor in the abundance of safe, quality food we enjoy today.
Giving credit to my great-great-grandfather, he did the best he could in his time of 1862. But that would not feed us today!
Parker grew up in Trumbull County and is an independent writer for the Tribune.