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Farming in Maine

This Exhibit Contains 30 Items
1
Drying Beans on the Farm, Sanford, ca. 1900

Drying Beans on the Farm, Sanford, ca. 1900

Item 22049 info
Sanford Historical Committee

Farming in Maine preceded the arrival of European settlers in Maine in the early seventeenth century. Some Indians already had been farming, growing beans, squash, and corn.

Early settlers needed to farm for sustenance, growing crops that could feed themselves and their animals.

Farming has changed considerably since the seventeenth century, but remains a factor in Maine's economy and community life.


2
Berry pickers, Pettengill farm, Freeport, ca. 1920

Berry pickers, Pettengill farm, Freeport, ca. 1920

Item 20369 info
Freeport Historical Society

By the mid nineteenth century, the state, especially the southern portion, was dotted with family farms that produced a variety of crops, most of which were for use of the family and its animals.

Some farmers sold surpluses nearby, rarely producing farm products for distant markets.

After the Civil War, when railroads and industry began arriving in the Northeast in larger numbers, farming changed, with a larger focus on commercial operations.

Family farms did not disappear, but began to be outnumbered by larger operations that specialized in crops such as sweet corn, dairy products, potatoes, apples or poultry.


3
Dairy Boy bull offer, Farmingdale, 1862

Dairy Boy bull offer, Farmingdale, 1862

Item 20130 info
Maine Historical Society

Dairying was one of Maine's most visible and important agricultural industries.

Nineteenth-century dairy farms that produced a surplus began by offering butter or cream to neighbors or local stores.

In 1871, the Sandy River Cheese Co. became the state's first factory devoted to cheese production.


4
Maine Dairymen's Association constitution, 1898

Maine Dairymen's Association constitution, 1898

Item 9164 info
Maine Historical Society

As the dairying business grew in the state, farmers organized groups to help them learn better production methods and to help market their products.

The first "Maine Dairymen's Association" began in 1874 as a clearinghouse for information. It did not last long.

A new group with the same name adopted a constitution in 1898. Its purpose was to promote the dairy industry.


5
Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, ca. 1909

Crystal Spring Farm, Brunswick, ca. 1909

Item 12327 info
Pejepscot Historical Society

When Maine Central Railroad began operating refrigerated cars on its lines between Bangor, Portland and Boston in 1881, Maine's dairy farmers were able to ship products to markets farther away.

Creameries began to dominate the dairy industry, focusing on butter and cream, rather than cheese.


6
Cow Barn, Alfred Shakers, ca. 1905

Cow Barn, Alfred Shakers, ca. 1905

Item 6624 info
United Society of Shakers

By 1896, Maine had 49 creameries.

Farmers began using silos and fed silage to their dairy herds year-round.

The change helped boost production.


7
The Dairy, Alfred Shakers, ca. 1915

The Dairy, Alfred Shakers, ca. 1915

Item 6906 info
United Society of Shakers

The Alfred Shakers, a religious community, operated a commercial dairy.

In addition to Brothers and hired hands, Sisters helped operate the farm. Here the Sisters at Alfred are shown tending the dairy.

The cart to the far left was used to transport milk from the Cow Barn, the building with the cupola. The cans visible in the wheelbarrow and wagon were used for shipping milk via rail to Boston. Brother Stephen Gowen is driving the wagon.

The rail line helped make the Shaker milk business successful.


8
Broadvale Farm card, North Gorham

Broadvale Farm card, North Gorham

Item 4222 info
Maine Historical Society

This advertising card lists farm produce and livestock available at the Broadvale Farm, run by W. M. Libby in North Gorham.

He advertised Jersey cattle and Jersey butter as a specialty.


9
Dairy cattle, Woodland, ca. 1922

Dairy cattle, Woodland, ca. 1922

Item 22305 info
Nylander Museum

In the 20th century, dairy farmers relied on artificial breeding of cows, better testing of their products, cooperatives for marketing, and larger herds.

Farmers also began marketing more whole milk than other dairy products.

Milk is one of the few Maine farm products that is sold primarily within the state.


10
 Dutch Belted cattle, Caribou Fair, ca. 1922

Dutch Belted cattle, Caribou Fair, ca. 1922

Item 21597 info
Nylander Museum

Agricultural fairs were as important as trade groups for farmers to learn new ideas and to demonstrate their skill and their prize animals.

These Dutch Belted cattle (Lakenvelder) are on display before the grandstand at the Caribou Fair.

Established in 1913, the Caribou Fair Grounds and Trotting Park provided the area with facilities for an annual agricultural fair.

Aroostook County became an important addition to Maine's farming business in the mid nineteenth century when rail lines were extended to the County.


11
Maine State Agricultural Exhibition, 1860

Maine State Agricultural Exhibition, 1860

Item 8653 info
Maine Historical Society

At state agricultural exhibitions farmers could earn premiums for top animals and crops or diplomas and medals for trades goods, farm equipment, arts and crafts of various kinds.

The 1860 exhibition was held in Portland.

William C. Hammatt of Howland was president and Ezekiel Holmes of Winthrop, sometimes called the "father of Maine agriculture," was secretary of the Maine State Agricultural Society, which sponsored the exhibition.

Holmes published the Maine Farmer.


12
Blueberry lease, Cherryfield, 1888

Blueberry lease, Cherryfield, 1888

Item 9530 info
Maine Historical Society

Blueberries, one of several crops identified with Maine, grow wild in much of the state and are mentioned in some early accounts of European encounters with Maine Indians.

Commercial harvesting began in the 1840s and soon thereafter Maine became the first place to can blueberries, many years ahead of other states.

Abijah Tabbot's development of a metal blueberry rake in 1882 helped make the industry profitable, as did the shift by the last quarter of the century to privately owned blueberry barrens. Until then, the fields were considered public and anyone might harvest the ripe berries.


13
Blueberry burner, Orono, 1979

Blueberry burner, Orono, 1979

Item 10652 info
Maine Historical Society

Washington and Hancock counties are the leading blueberry producers in the state with thousands of acres of field and barrens.

Farmers began freezing berries in 1929. By the end of the 1930s, farmers were selling more fresh berries because of low prices for canned and frozen ones.

Commercial farmers harvest half of their berries each year, cutting back or burning the plants after harvest and harvesting the other half the next year.


14
Jewett Corn Factory, Norridgewock, ca. 1915

Jewett Corn Factory, Norridgewock, ca. 1915

Item 6759 info
Maine Historical Society

Blueberries were not the only canned crop for which Maine was noted.

In the 1850s, Portland natives Isaac and Nathan Winslow patented a canning process for corn.

Soon, canned Maine sweet corn was highly sought after.


15
Cutting corn, Fairfield, 1916

Cutting corn, Fairfield, 1916

Item 14233 info
L.C. Bates Museum / Good Will-Hinckley Homes

Besides growing corn for silage to feed animals, Maine farmers by the hundreds grew sweet corn for the growing canning industry in the state.

Until hybrid varieties of sweet corn were developed, Maine's cool climate made it an ideal location for growing corn for canning.

Maine had 111 canneries in the early twentieth century, most specializing in corn.


16
Jewett Vegetable Cans, Norridgewock, ca. 1900

Jewett Vegetable Cans, Norridgewock, ca. 1900

Item 7506 info
Norridgewock Historical Society

J. Winslow Jones, nephew of the canning innovators, began the first canning factory in Maine in Portland.

George S. Jewett, who worked at the Jones factory, later moved to Norridgewock, where he worked for Burnham and Morrill's corn factory, and eventually went into business for himself.

He purchased a number of corn factories and employed hundreds of people -- many women and children -- in various Somerset County communities.


17
Canning factory, Fryeburg, 1938

Canning factory, Fryeburg, 1938

Item 6542 info
Fryeburg Historical Society

Here, corn is being delivered to the Burnham & Morrill factory in Fryeburg.

Burham & Morrill was one of the leading canners in Maine, and one that made a successful transition to other products when the canned corn industry faded in Maine.


18
Inspecting whole kernel corn, Fryeburg, ca. 1940

Inspecting whole kernel corn, Fryeburg, ca. 1940

Item 6544 info
Fryeburg Historical Society

Corn canning in Maine slowed substantially during the Great Depression, and increased competition from other parts of the country ensured that the industry would never fully recover.

After playing a major economic role in the state for nearly a century, Maine's corn canning industry had all but vanished by the late 1960s. The last corn was canned in the state in 1968.

Corn continued to be grown, however, both for animal feed and human consumption.


19
Hanford Larsen farm, Easton, ca. 1910

Hanford Larsen farm, Easton, ca. 1910

Item 22617 info
Easton Historical Society

Potatoes are one of the state's best-known agricultural products and Aroostook County with its long, cold winters and a short, cool growing season is perfect for potatoes.

Many farmers in the state grew potatoes in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Before the Civil War, Kennebec, Lincoln, Cumberland, York, Somerset and Waldo counties all contributed to Maine's potato crop, which was second only to New York.

These potatoes fed animals, the farmer and his family, or were sold, mostly to nearby stores or markets.


20
Farm laborers, Presque Isle, 1917

Farm laborers, Presque Isle, 1917

Item 22419 info
Presque Isle Historical Society

When railroads reached Aroostook County in the years after the Civil War, agriculture blossomed.

Factories that turned potatoes into starch began in Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties as early as the 1840s. By the 1880s, there were 20 starch factories in the state.

The earliest starch factory in Aroostook County was started in 1871.

Thanks largely to the availability of rail transportation, potato production increased drastically between the 1860 and 1890 as did the number of horses, cattle, sheep, hay and oats in Aroostook County.


21
Frank Longstaff farm, Crystal, ca.  1922

Frank Longstaff farm, Crystal, ca. 1922

Item 11811 info
Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum

Bangor & Aroostook Railway had opened a line to Houlton in January 1894 and branch lines soon followed.

In a 10-year period -- 1890-1900 -- 1,000 new farms were started in Aroostook County. Potatoes dominated the county.

In 1910, a Colorado potato farmer said, "Houlton . . . is the only place where I have been talked to a standstill on the subject of potatoes. I never met people who were so eager for knowledge in connection with potatoes." (Clarence A. Day, Farming in Maine, 1860-1940, University of Maine Studies, Second Series, No. 78)


22
Smith Farm, New Limerick, ca. 1925

Smith Farm, New Limerick, ca. 1925

Item 11813 info
Southern Aroostook Agricultural Museum

Besides using potatoes for starch, Aroostook County farmers discovered they also grew great seed potatoes and that soon became an important part of their business.

Starch factories prospered as well, with 62 in Aroostook County in 1904.

In 1930, Aroostook County was the leading producer of certified seed potatoes in the U.S. and the leading producer of starch in the U.S. and Canada.


23
Kemp McLaughlin farm, Dyer Brook, ca. 1930

Kemp McLaughlin farm, Dyer Brook, ca. 1930

Item 12500 info
Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum

Focusing nearly exclusively on one crop, however, had problems. Pests, hard economic times, over production, or competition from other growers could leave a whole region devastated.

The early 1920s were a difficult time on Aroostook County potato farms.


24
Myron Gartley Farm, Presque Isle, 1976

Myron Gartley Farm, Presque Isle, 1976

Item 17854 info
Presque Isle Historical Society

As was the case with farmers of other crops, potato farmers tried organizing growers' associations or coops to aid their knowledge and improve their marketing efforts.

The Northern Aroostook Potato Growers' Association began in 1888, organized through the Aroostook Pomona Grange.

A Maine Potato Growers Exchange, organized in the early 1920s, failed because prices were too low.

But, in 1940, the Maine Potato Growers, a marketing coop, began, and remained stable.


25
Sugar beets, Aroostook County, ca. 1975

Sugar beets, Aroostook County, ca. 1975

Item 15241 info
Oakfield Historical Society

In the 1970s, some potato farmers in Aroostook County grew sugar beets as a rotation crop with potatoes.

While a promising concept, scheduling problems arose when both potatoes and sugar beets needed to be harvested at the same time. Sugar beets consequently fell out of favor.

Some farmers grew peas or other vegetables for the same reason.


26
Welder, sugar beet refinery, Easton, 1980

Welder, sugar beet refinery, Easton, 1980

Item 20775 info
Maine Historical Society

Sugar beet processing plants closed in Aroostook County when the effort to diversify the crop failed.

But the 1970s were not the first time farmers in the County tried sugar beets.

In the late 1880s, some farmers grew sugar beets and some tried growing hops.

Sugar processing plants were in Portland and not convenient to Aroostook farmers. The market for hops was uncertain and that crop, too, was put aside.

Potatoes continued to dominate Aroostook County farms.


27
Haying, Nonesuch Farm, Scarborough, ca. 1900

Haying, Nonesuch Farm, Scarborough, ca. 1900

Item 5532 info
Maine Historical Society

Hay also has been an important product for Maine farms.

The state's climate and soil make it a good place for growing hay grasses.


28
Tarr farm, Castle Hill, ca. 1910

Tarr farm, Castle Hill, ca. 1910

Item 22745 info
Haystack Historical Society

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Maine supplied hay to farmers up and down the East coast.

In addition, farmers sold hay to logging operations in northern Maine.


29
Haymaking, Denmark, ca. 1910

Haymaking, Denmark, ca. 1910

Item 7615 info
Maine Historical Society

Some farmers were so eager to grow and sell hay that they did not rotate crops or adequately fertilize their fields.

As a result, some fields became unproductive.

In 1940 Maine produced about the same amount of hay it had in 1880.


30
Bringing in the hay, Trone Farm, New Sweden, ca. 1930

Bringing in the hay, Trone Farm, New Sweden, ca. 1930

Item 20633 info
New Sweden Historical Society

Maine usually is not thought of as a farm state, but farming has characterized many communities and much of the state's history.

Changes in markets, the economy, transportation, and opportunities available to Maine youth all have affected the numbers of farms in the state.

Commercial farming became dominant by 1940, marked by specialized crops and larger -- but fewer -- farms in the state. Since then, the number of acres devoted to farming in Maine has been cut in half.

By the late twentieth century, potatoes, dairy products, broilers and eggs, apples and blueberries represented the great majority of Maine's farm output.

Sources: Day, Clarence. Farming in Maine 1860-1940, University of Maine Studies, Second Series, No. 78, 1963

Frederic, Paul B. Canning Gold: Northern New England's Sweet Corn Industry: a Historical Geography. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2002.

Maine Historical Society Quarterly, v. 21 (4), Spring 1982, 179-226.

Wescott, Richard and David Vail. "The Transformation of Farming in Maine, 1940-1985, in Maine Historical Society Quarterly, v. 28 (2), Fall 1988, 66-84.

WildBlueberries.Maine.edu


This Exhibit Contains 30 Items
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