2015 - Nov : Dr. Ron B. Thomson - Agricultural Revolution in the Middle Ages
Ron’s talks to the AAA at first reminded many of his audiences of their school days and the study of the old Saxon basic 2 and 3 field systems with their strips, of Turnip Townsend and the introduction of root crops to improve crop production and later on the Enclosure System. However Ron’s presentation put a new slant on the subject – how the development of more intensive farming during the Middle Ages and an increase in the types of crops grown leading to a better diet, and the ways work was reorganised which allowed for the production of more food. At this time too there was progress in technology, particularly in the early years, with the improvements in the plough – from the simple wooden stick plough to the ‘heavy plough’ with its coulter, iron mould board and horses (which had more strength and worked faster) replaced oxen as the power source on farms.
The use of the ‘heavy plough’ with horse- power enabled the farmer to work for longer periods and on larger fields and this in turn led to a move away from the early days of subsistence farming to a time of food surpluses. These surpluses were taken away from the countryside to the towns. The effect of this was the growth a non-productive sector within an urban population, of manufacturing, trade and even further advances in technology. There was also a change in cultural/religious attitudes towards nature – it was no longer a matter of producing enough to live on but developing into the production of everything the land could produce. Hence a further economic revolution in farming took place – cash crops, and specialisation in crops grown. New mechanized tools were developed during the Industrial Revolution with the use of iron and steel for seeders, boilers, threshers. Power sources changed to steam and the internal combustion engine. These gave more power, did not eat crops produced and so the reduction of working animals led to an increase in food production giving even more surpluses. All this led to developments in food technology – canning, freezing, smoking, drying, bottling so that food could be stored. Ron had begun his subject with a look as far back as 8000BC when in the Middle East the main grain crop was Emmer wheat which produced large, heavy grains not easily dispersed by the wind – this problem was solved by the people collecting the grains and broadcasting them by hand. This was the real beginning and as we saw through Ron’s talk it was first simply subsistence farming which through the passing centuries was revolutionised and developed to provide food for a ‘non-productive’ population which in turn has transformed the world in which we live.