Preserving Ag History

New technology and agricultural innovations have transformed farming in America over the last century. To help document the modern age of ag, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has launched the Agricultural Innovation and Heritage Archive.

The purpose of the archive is to collect, preserve and share personal stories and photos from people throughout the country about their agricultural experiences. The stories, which are submitted online, will be used by the Smithsonian for future exhibits and on its social-media channels.

Story topics submitted so far have included sharecropping in Mississippi, Hawaiian cowboys and the development of a fresh-food tracking system. Here’s a story recently submitted to the archive from a woman in Thomson, Georgia:

A New Watermelon

Around 1905, a farmer in Florida developed a new variety of watermelon. This melon had a much thicker rind than most market melons, thereby making it better for shipping across the nation in a time before refrigeration. The melon also grew to astounding sizes — often 40 pounds or better! The farmer, being a devoted Populist, named it the "Tom Watson Watermelon" in honor of his favorite Populist politician — Thomas Edward Watson of Georgia.

He sent some seeds to Watson's Thomson, Georgia home. Tom Watson passed the seeds along to his brother, William "Top" Watson, who founded a watermelon seed production company. The seeds were all grown in Thomson, but were shipped all over the nation. The Top Watson farm staff constructed a machine to extract the seeds from the pulp — it was built out of parts from a Model T, a tractor and cotton gins! The seed company closed in the mid-20th century, but the melon seeds are still available through heirloom suppliers. Many a champion watermelon at festivals around the nation is still a Tom Watson variety. And some of the equipment, seeds bags, dryers and other artifacts are preserved at Tom Watson's home, Hickory Hill, in Thomson, Georgia.

If you’re interested in submitting a story, the Archive’s website suggest that you think like a historian and recommends looking through old family photo albums and talking with relatives about their ag-related experiences. The website also suggests a few themes and questions to explore, including:

  • Technology — How has technology changed farming practices and life on the farm?
  • Environment — How have environmental concerns changed over the decades? 
  • Finance — As farms have grown bigger, what impact has that had on how land is bought and sold? How about the impacts of crop insurance or farm auctions?
  • Labor — High-tech machinery and automation have streamlined labor needs. How has this changed the life of farmers and impacted farming communities? 

Do you have an interesting agricultural tale to tell? Please share it with me.

Photo obtained from:

No comments: