Cody P. Miller

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Following the Civil War, American agriculture changed dramatically, and New England was no exception. With new railroad systems, specialized crop markets, and chemical fertilizers, Maine and other New England farmers found themselves as part of an increasingly commercialized agricultural system. Farmers, urban pundits, and agricultural reformers all stressed the need to abandon small, mixed husbandry farming and instead they urged farmers to start treating agriculture like a business. In order to “progress,” one needed to increase acreage and adopt specialized cropping. While many farmers accepted this mantra, others resisted it and argued that there was a moral quality to agriculture that could not be found in increased profits; these farmers were content on making a living, working outside every day, and providing for their family. The two sides took to the Grange halls and the farm press, engaging in an intense debate about what it meant to be farmer. While it is certainly important to study the economic aspects of commercial agriculture, we also need to better understand its cultural aspects as well. The commercialization of agriculture played an important role in shaping farmers’ agricultural identity in the late nineteenth century. The heated debate over agricultural identity suggests that the transition to commercial agriculture in Maine and New England was not an easy one, and by the early twentieth century, what it meant to be a farmer was still up for debate. Cody P. Miller is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Maine where he studies agricultural history and environmental history. He received his B.A. from Virginia Tech in 2010 and his M.A. from the University of Maine in 2012.