Wyatt Fleming, a sophomore, has been granted the Magellan Scholar Award for his research project, "Settlement Ecology of 19th-Century Farmsteads in Nelson, Madison County, NY". He's exploring how and why farmers in Nelson, NY shifted from subsistence to commercial farming in the 19th century. He compares this shift with the farming shift in Fenner, NY. Fenner is a research site of Dr. Eric Jones, an associate professor in the Anthropology Department, who serves as Fleming's mentor.
What is your research project about?
In short, we are studying farm ecologies in upstate NY to try and figure out what happened in the farms during the change from smaller family farms to the industrial farms that are there today.
What prompted you to get involved in your project's research topic?
Honestly, Dr. Jones said that he was working on a project this summer and needed applicants, and it sounded cool to me.
Why is there a focus on dairy farming?
The focus on dairy farming is because the area is known for every farmer producing thousands of pounds of milk and milk-based products each year. [It's] one of the most productive areas in all the Northeast if not the entire United States, especially if you consider that most if not all the farms were run by families that had owned them for generations – not large companies focused on maximization of output.
What amount or percentage of surplus food produced shifts farming from being considered subsistence to commercial?
I do not know the exact amount, but with the equation that Dr. Jones created, we can figure out how much a single family may require in the time according to how many people are in the family (also how old they are, and what their gender was). It also requires looking at what is created. If a farm is creating hundreds of pounds of butter, it is hard to make the argument that it was purely subsistence, unless they REALLY enjoyed toast.
Are there any myths or misconceptions about farming or rural domestic life that you'd like to clear up?
In the case of the project, one of the main misconceptions I am trying to parse is that Nelson County (the county I am studying) was inferior in production compared to Fenner County (the county most of the rest of the people of the project are studying). For mild clarification, the purpose of what I am studying, in my portion, is to be a comparison to another farming county that is literally next to the focus of the study.
If you were a farmer, what would your dream farm(s) be?
After playing way too many hours of Stardew Valley, I could say a tiny farm on the edge of a nice little community, with maybe a dog to keep me company. But, really, to survive as a farm in the 21st century, one is required to have large tracts of land where working alone is near impossible. Honestly, if I had to work a farm, it would be my great aunt and uncle's farm, founded the same year as the US. It holds a dear place in my heart since I also lived there for a few years.