Uncovering McLean County's Farming Roots | WGLT

Uncovering McLean County's Farming Roots

Apr 13, 2017

The McLean County Museum of History explores local agriculture history in their newest exhibition.

The roots of McLean County farming go as deep as those of the prairie plants that grew here and challenged the efforts of the first European settlers who came to central Illinois.  Farming in the Great Corn Belt digs into the rich agricultural history of McLean County and reveals the changes and challenges of over 200 years of farming on the prairie.

Susan Hartzold is co-curator of the show, and she noted that that the glaciers that passed over Illinois thousands of years ago left behind a lovely parting gift: rich soil, which the prairie plants just loved.  But the newly-arrived farmers did not. "The prairie plants had long roots, five, six feet long.  And those roots made it very hard to plow.  When farmers first came here, they didn't think the prairie was farmable."

Soil stuck to the original iron plows, but once the steel plow came along, farmers made inroads.  The exhibit showcases the range of tools used by farmers over two centuries, ranging from plows that were hand steered behind a team of horses, to modern day tractors and other equipment.  Hartzold said charting the changes over 200 years was made easier by the inclusion of digital interactives and hands-on installations.  Visitors can use touch screens to understand the difficult choices facing farmers and how they worked to be productive and profitable.

"I hope that visitors  see how much has changed in farming," said Harzold. "And understand that farmers have never had it easy.  It's hard work!"

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