Pennsylvania Farming by Sally McMurry

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Pennsylvania Farming
A History in Landscapes
by Sally McMurry
University of Pittsburgh Press, 472 pp., cloth $49.95

For generations, most Pennsylvanians were farmers. Today, farmers are only a small percentage of the population, yet the enduring pastoral and historic character of the state’s rural landscape is a source of local pride and fosters tourism in many areas. With engaging prose and an abundance of photos and illustrations, Pennsylvania Farming teaches us “how to decipher the stories the countryside tells about Pennsylvania’s farming past.” We learn about farming practices from the Colonial Era through the early 21st century, across the state as a whole, and in the variation among 15 distinctive agricultural regions.

McMurry clearly explains how geography, soils, climate, the transportation network, proximity to cities, cultural and ethnic heritage, availability of labor, technological innovation, and government policy all combined to influence the diversity of crops raised on Pennsylvania farms and thus the types of buildings and landscapes needed to produce them. She also discusses who worked in these landscapes, including women, children, hired hands and migrant workers, and how they lived and labored in fields, orchards, kitchens, barns and mushroom houses.

Because of its breadth of scope, Pennsylvania Farming will be a foundational source for scholars studying rural Pennsylvania, but anyone interested in the history of farming in the state will find this book enlightening, whether they want to better understand the farm landscape of their own community or a place they love to visit.

Angela Shope Stiefbold
University of Cincinnati