Summer is finally here! Along with vacations and picnics, we also are enjoying the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whether from our own gardens or a local farmers market.
Pennsylvania has always been a farming state. Before the arrival of the English, Scotch-Irish, Dutch, Swedish and German immigrants in the 1700s, Pennsylvania's fertile land was farmed by the Native Americans, who grew mostly corn, melons and beans. The Dutch settlers became dairy farmers in Bucks County, while Swedish immigrants living in the eastern part of the state developed a thriving agricultural community growing tobacco, grapes and corn.
A farmer's life then was regimented and busy with seasonal chores. The Colonial English farming year commenced in January on “Plow Monday,” the first Monday after the holidays, when farmers got “back to work” usually by taking on the task of seasonal maintenance of the farm equipment. Peach and apple orchards were carefully tended and fruits canned for future use. Split-rail fencing was another asset to a farm’s value, so there was a great deal of study and planning done to determine that August was the best time to cut the trees, and March, with its cool dry winds, was an excellent time to split the logs into fencing. Just as the start of the farmer’s year began with Plow Day, Lammas Day on Aug. 1 concluded the season. Lammas Day was the first of the harvest festivals, when bread was made from the first grain harvest.
Many of these traditional customs are long forgotten and modern technology has changed the farmer’s routine somewhat, but much remains the same, and farming is still a leading industry in Pennsylvania. Today's 63,163 farms lead in the production of milk, dairy products and mushrooms among other products. Food manufacturing companies such the Heinz, Herr’s and Utz have made Pennsylvania their home and also earned the state the title of Snack Food Capital of the World.