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To Feed a Nation

Jeffrey Syken

For a century before the first European settler cut down a section of forest and cleared away the stumps for a homestead farm, the fur trade was dominant. However, for most of its history, the economy of the United States was based on agriculture. The needs of a growing population, the abundance of fertile land and technological advances such as the cotton gin (which tripled the value of cotton farm land overnight) established farming of both crops and livestock as the nationís primary industry, even to the present day.

When early pioneers reached the Tennessee Valley, they cleared the trees from the hillsides and cut into the sides of the hills rather than along their natural contours. Erosion was the result and what was once prime land became a scar on the earth. Contour farming, damning rivers (to control flooding and provide water in quantity when/where needed) and modern agricultural practice made the valley fertile once more. A similar misuse of the 400 million acres of the Great Plains created the dust bowl of the 1930s. Once again, agricultural science would help greatly in turning the situation around.

So important was agriculture to the well-being of the nation that President Lincoln signed legislation creating the Land Grant Colleges whereby each state and territory of the union would have a College of Agriculture and Mechanics (A&M). Called to action by Upton Sinclairís 1906 novel The Jungle, President Theodore Roosevelt sponsored federal legislation that led to comprehensive meat inspection under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in effect to the present day. By the middle of the 20th Century, over ninety percent of U.S. farms were electrified greatly easing the burden of the farmer and his family. Also, agricultural science was taking on successfully the scourge of weeds and insects which could destroy up to one-quarter of the wheat crop. To feed a nation is not an easy task; just ask a farmer.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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