When did people start farming?
Everybody got more to eat with less work than earlier hunters and gatherers and fishers. A few of these people decided to settle down in one spot and farm their food, instead of traveling around picking wild food. Or, as Ian Gilligan suggests, they may have started farming mainly to grow hemp, flax and cotton for clothing.
Where did agriculture first get started?
From there farming spread (often because farmers conquered their neighbors). Farming reached Europe about 7000 BC, reaching northern Europe about 4500 BC. It reached Sudan about 4000 BC, and Native Americans about 1 AD.
What plants did early farmers grow?
In South America, it was potatoes, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, yuca root and peanuts. And in China, farmers planted millet and rice and soybeans. But people didn’t just plant food and cotton, flax, and hemp for clothing. They also grew medicines like coca, tobacco, opium, and coffee.
How did early farmers plant and harvest?
Early farmers didn’t use many tools to help them. They poked holes in the ground with sticks to plant seeds in.
Farmers pulled weeds by hand, and they harvested using their bare hands. Women probably did most of this work.
By around 3000 BC, though, people started to build dams and dig irrigation canals. These canals brought water to places where it didn’t rain enough to grow crops. West Asian farmers started to use plows pulled by oxen. In Africa people used donkeys to pull their plows,to dig up the ground for planting.
Everywhere, people used flint sickles. bone with little flint triangles set into them to make them into a kind of wedge, to cut the grain for harvesting. Men, with their strong arms, now did most of the plowing and harvesting.
Women did the weeding in between. Because farming had a tendency to get people into debt, there were a lot of arguments about this debt.
Roman harvesting machines and iron tools
By the time of the Roman Empire, farmers had more efficient tools. They had iron tips on their plows. Rich estates had sharp-toothed harvesters that could cut the grain as they drove through the fields.
The invention of water mills in China, Central Asia, Europe, and North Africa saved women the hard work of grinding grain into flour. (Instead, they spent more time spinning.) Sharp iron hoes made weeding easier.
Medieval harrows and three-crop rotation
The Middle Ages brought more new technologies to farming, especially the moldboard and the harrow. Harrows turned over the dirt as you plowed. In Europe, people started to use three-crop rotation, which was a more efficient use of land.
The Columbian Exchange in the 1500s AD
When European traders reached North and South America in the late 1400s AD, they also brought many crops back and forth. Traders brought rice, sugar, and coffee from Eurasia and Africa to the Americas.
They brought coca, chocolate, sweet potatoes, peanuts, yuca root, tomatoes, chili peppers, and potatoes from the Americas to Asia and Africa. But still most people had to work on farms in order to grow enough food for everybody to eat. Plus, people started to change their clothes more. More people had to work growing cotton for clothing. Most of these people were very poor. In the 1800s AD, many of them were enslaved.
History of farming: the internal combustion engine
Finally, in the 1800s AD, the invention of the internal combustion engine made it possible to give up farm animals for gas-powered tractors and harvesters. These big, powerful machines replaced many plowmen and harvesters as well as animals.
By the mid-1900s, only a tiny number of people worked on farms in the United States. And today, across the whole world, less than half the people work on farms growing food or cotton for clothing.
Climate crisis and farming
But that use of oil and coal also created a climate crisis. Today, rising temperatures and changing weather patterns mean that many people can’t farm food or clothing where they live anymore. Many millions of people will soon have to leave their homes and move somewhere else.
Did you find out what you needed to know about the history of farming? Let us know in the comments.