Farming Series: An Era Where Everything Changed

January 10, 2014 |

Joel Callison, of Pocahontas County, has farming in his blood. His ancestors have been farming in the county for generations. Just in his lifetime Joel’s witnessed rapid changes to agricultural practices and technology that have revolutionized the lives of farmers and changed rural communities everywhere. In 1935, the total number of farms in West Virginia  peaked at 105,000. As of 2010, West Virginia had only 23,000 farms. Despite this, farming still plays a central role in the culture and economy of West Virginia, which has a long and rich tradition of agriculture.

Traveling 219 has been exploring the subject of local farming and talking to farmers along U.S. Route 219 to discover more about the history and the culture of West Virginia agriculture [For more stories in this farming series click here]. Here is the first story from this series, featuring Joel Callison:


Joel giving us a tour of his farm last winter.

“My granddad Callison down at Beard had one of the nicest sheep flocks ever, and of course, he knew them all personally. I mean, they had faces and names to him, and so they were special to him.

I’m probably the 10th generation to be in this area in agriculture in some respects.

See, I was born in 1945 and tractors were just starting to come into play and the horses were starting to go out. I don’t remember very much about horse farming, but I remember the very earliest tractors, and that was quite a challenge for my grandparents. They just really probably would have seen to continue on with horses, but my dad bought a tractor in 1948 and my granddad Beard bought a tractor in 1950, so I would have been five years old and that’s what I remember starting.

I remember the first hay baler that came to our farm, a neighbor owned it and we used it for a year, and of course when the hay was ready to bale, the baler wasn’t available. So by the next year my dad and my granddad had purchased a hay baler and started making hay that way and that was much more efficient than the horse way of making hay.

I just remember those advancements, not only in machinery, in how quickly you could harvest corn and other crops, but how much better crops were. I mean, they looked better, more disease-resistant, wouldn’t blow down in the wind rain or snow as bad.

There are many people that love to live out here on the land, and it is nice and they make a lot of their money or at least some of their money at another occupation. In fact, I don’t know of any, not very many farms that are truly run by farm income.

When I grew up, there were several dairy farms in Pocahontas County, including my dad, and that’s the kind of farm I actually grew up on. Every time there was a technology change that required building or adding more equipment, a certain number of those farmers just fell out of the market. They didn’t want to make the change or they couldn’t make the change A few years back there was one dairy farmer left and that was my father, and he farmed until he retired and he turned it over to my brother in law, and my brother in law got injured oh, twenty years ago, and so they sold the dairy cows and that was the last Grade A dairy farm in Pocahontas County.

I guess I grew up in an era where everything changed. It was extremely low tech to start with, and I saw all that change.”

View from Joel’s farm, looking at the town of Hillsboro [click to view bigger image].

For more stories in Traveling 219?s Farming Series, click here!

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Category: Blog, Collections, Farming Series, Food & Farming, Marlinton to Lewisburg, Stories

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