The Need for Preservation

Farming in North Carolina

Agriculture has always been important to North Carolina. Even before the first English settlers arrived at Roanoke Island, American Indians were cultivating corn and tobacco. Later, European settlers created

black and white map of the Great Wagon Road in North Carolina
Map of The Great Wagon Road and its
offshoots in North Carolina, 1750-1780. By
Mark Anderson Moore, courtesy North
Carolina Office of Archives and History,

moderate sized family farms that became the standard across North Carolina.

In the eighteenth century, English, Scots-Irish, and German settlers began arriving in the western Piedmont area of North Carolina. Most traveled the Great Wagon Road from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Others moved from the east. Their lives and the lives of their descendants were interwoven with the rhythms of nature as they relied on the soil to provide essentials for survival.

During the late nineteenth century, market demands outgrew the capabilities of small farmers and mechanization began threatening this way of life. Over time fewer and fewer North Carolinians engaged in farming. Industrialization, improved transportation, two world wars, and the lure of jobs in urban settings all contributed to the decline.

1900     87-88% of the state’s population farmed 224,637 farms in North Carolina 
1910 255,000
1920 273,000
1930 290,000
1940 300,000
1950 291,000

* Since 1951, North Carolina has consistently lost between 1,000 and 10,000 small farms each year.*

1960 205,000
1970 150,000
1980 93,000
1990 62,000                                                                   
2000 57,000
2018 46,400

​​​While many people are no longer involved in farming, every person continues to depend on and have their lives dramatically impacted by agriculture.

Our heritage is all that we know of ourselves, what we preserve of it, our only record. That record is our beacon in the darkness of time: the light that guides our steps. Conservation is the means by which we preserve it. It is a commitment not to the past, but the future.  Philip Ward in The Nature of Conservation: A Race Against Time