Riches Underground, Fertile Ground Above: Agriculture’s History in Crawford County

Midwestern United States has long been known as the breadbasket of the country. Fertile land and mild weather produces healthy crops for people and animals alike. Locally, Crawford County’s history of agriculture is uniquely tied to its other primary industry, mining. In the early 1900s, local coal miners found the open lands to be useful in supporting their families through farming. Today, agriculture remains a viable industry across Crawford County.

Retired PSU Professor William Powell documented the life story of one early farming family for the Morning Sun in 2006. Pasquale and Rosina Barone and their six children ran a 200-acre farm nearby 50 Camp mine west of Arma. An Italian immigrant who worked the coal mines, Pasquale and his wife integrated their italian heritage into their American livelihood when they bought the farm in 1917.

The farm was home to all varieties of livestock – beef and dairy cattle, draft horses, hogs, goats, sheep, and fowl. From the animals came fresh cuts of meat, ham and bacon, cheese, eggs, and milk. The animals also provided hides for carpeting and wool for clothing.

Crops were also a staple product of the farm, and included oats, wheat, corn, vegetables, grapes, figs, fruits trees (pears, apples, persimmons), and Italian herbs.

Pasquale, like many italian immigrants to Crawford County in the early 1900s, made his own wine. A 1912 census of property showed 55 acres of vineyards across the county, from which 220 gallons of wine were made. Pasquale’s own grapes didn’t have the necessary sugar content to make quality wine, so they were used instead in unfermented juice or made into jams and jellies by Rosina. In place, Pasquale ordered a large quantity of grapes from California every year. Powell documented Pasquale’s wine-making process: “He made wine as it was in the “old country”. A pair of clean, rubber boots were worn in the mashing of grapes in wooden barrels. A lengthy and carefully monitored process of fermentation resulted in buon vino (good wine).” Pasquale’s wine was never sold, but consumed at home or given away. The wine was even used as an overnight soak for Pasquale’s false teeth.

After Pasquale’s retirement from mining, he and Rosina continued to maintain the farm until his death in 1974 at the age of 90. Together, they had cared for the farm for 57 years and raised six healthy children, losing none to the Spanish Influenza sweeping the coal mines around the first World War. Rosina died in 1984 at the age of 102.

The Barone family’s story embodies what many Crawford County residents discovered about the Midwest land; not only is it prime land for mining, but also agriculture. Many early immigrants, like Pasquale, found work in the mine and farmed for their home’s livelihood. As the mining industry slowed in the later 1900s, agriculture continued to thrive throughout the area. Today, Crawford County sits in the top 31 of 105 counties in Kansas in the production of soybeans, corn, and forage-land used for hay.

Presently, Crawford County’s total market value of crop and livestock sales sits north of $75,500,000, as reported in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census. This value included 846 farms and a total of 323,222 acres of farmland.