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Farming the Great Plains

Farming the Great Plains

Author: Dan Boyle
Description:

At the end of these tutorials, students will be able to:

  • describe the process of dry farming
  • discuss why crops such as wheat and corn are grown on the Great Plains
  • discuss why farmers felt they needed a political voice of their own
  • discuss the issues that the Populist Party stood for and how many of them are part of our political process today
  • describe why the Populist Party failed to become a national party

Farming the Great Plains was a difficult task.  Crops that settlers were used to growing from "Back East" or Europe were unsuited to the climate of the region.  A new technique, called dry farming, was developed that allowed crops to grow with as little as 9 inches of rainfall a year.

It seemed, however, that very few people understood how difficult it was to be a farmer and that needed help to survive in difficult times.  Neither the Democrats nor Republicans seemed to be interested in their problems, so the farmers began their own political party, the Populist Party.  While the originally advocated for the free coinage of silver, their platform eventually expanded to include a number of political practices that we take for granted today.  Even though the Populist Party never became much of a national party, its influence is felt today.

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Tutorial

Growing (Screencast-O-Matic Version)

A look at why it was so difficult for farmers to grow crops on the Great Plains and what they discovered worked best for them.

Growing (YouTube Version)

A look at why it was so difficult for farmers to grow crops on the Great Plains and what they discovered worked best for them.

The Politics of Farming (Screencat-O-Matic Version)

A look at why farmers began to advocate for themselves and why their movement eventually failed

The Politics of Farming (YouTube Version)

A look at why farmers began to advocate for themselves and why their movement eventually failed

Shark Tank: Westward Expansion

Shark Tank: Westward Expansion

As Homesteaders are moving West, they are trying to figure out which crops grow on the new land that they had bought.  The struggle for them is that the crops they are used to growing either back East or in Europe will not grow on the Great Plains.  The soil is different, the climate is different, it rarely rains, the summers are hot and the winters are cold. 

You and your group have a new product that you believe could help them break the soil and grow something that they can use to feed their families or sell to make a little money, but there is no way for them to find out about what you might have to help them.  The job or your group is to research your product and figure out a way to sell it to the Homesteaders. 

When you come to class, you will either be assigned to look at one of these or be on the panel of “entrepreneurs” who will be in a position to invest in these products. 

If you are assigned to a group that is looking at one of the products, you are going to have 40 minutes to create a presentation about your product.  Your presentation should include:

  • What the conditions are like that make your product needed
  • How your product is going to change those conditions and make farming the Great Plains easier
  • What is your target market and how are you going to convince to buy your product
  • How much are you going to sell your product for

 

You are going to have 3 minutes to convince a panel of “entrepreneurs” that they should invest in your product and help you get it to market.  You can use whatever “modern” technique you would like to, but it should not be a poster or a PowerPoint. 

The products that are going to be your options are:

  • the steel plow
  • the reaper
  • the thresher
  • the tractor
  • barbed wire

If you are assigned to the “entrepreneur” group, it is going to be your job to know something about all of the products so that you will have the ability to ask intelligent questions of the producers.  You will have the same 40 minutes to learn as much as you can about the products.