The Need for Preservation

Farming in North Carolina

Agriculture has been a prime force in the economic and cultural development of North Carolina. Even before the first English settlers arrived at Roanoke Island, American Indians had been cultivating corn and tobacco. Later, European settlers created moderate sized family farms that became the norm across North Carolina, rather than large plantations.

In the eighteenth century, English, Scots-Irish, and German settlers began pouring in the western Piedmont area of North Carolina. Most arrived via 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 and they relied on the soil to provide essentials for survival.

During the late nineteenth century, market demands, which outgrew the capabilities of the simple farmer, and mechanization began threatening the simplicity of rural life. With each passing decade, 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

​​​When farming was a universal way of life, nearly every citizen knew the suffering and satisfaction of earning a living from the soil. While no longer the case, 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