Science, Technology and the Garden of Maine: Industrial Farming in Aroostook County, 1850-1900
In the mid-nineteenth century, northern Maine farmers existed amidst tension between capitalist and non-capitalist forces. This conflict is best described in terms of recent discourse on the question of rural capitalism, a topic debated by such scholars as Allan Kulikoff and Christopher Clark. This is an intricate and nuanced debate that this paper does not intend to treat with. Suffice to say, Maine farmers were caught between traditional social institutions associated with their trade that did not entail market production, and the rise of rural capitalism associated with burgeoning new markets.
However, by the turn of the century, northern Maine farmers, specifically those in Aroostook County, wholeheartedly embraced an industrial mode of agriculture that was consonant with the ideals of market capitalism. Four key historical actors aided in this shift. First, the rhetoric established by early state surveys of the county marginalized natural and local concerns in favor of a resource based perspective of the county. Second, the onset of railroads carried their own rhetoric of technological subjugation of the natural as a resource, and catalyzed an industrial revolution on the farm. Third, the subsequent mechanization carried with it it’s own gendered language about nature and non-industrial farming that undermined a sense of community and any nascent environmentalism associated with non-capitalist farming. Finally, the onset of the grange and of several state institutions supplanted existing egalitarian structures of agricultural science and education. This shift from a bottom up flow of information to a top down flow carried with it the notion of state control of nature and scientific reduction of the environment. All of these forces worked to undermine the non-capitalist, or “self-sufficiency” mode of agriculture present at the middle of the century.