many farmers in Northern Virginia shifted from tobacco to wheat and other crops around the time of the American Revolution
Source: National Park Service, Archeology in the Prince William Forest Park
flat farm field next to Bacon's Castle (Surry County)
For the last 3,000 or so years before the English arrived, Native Americans planted seeds and harvested crops on purpose. The grain, beans, and vegetables grown in Virginia were intended for trade and taxes as well as use by the farmers themselves.
When the Europeans arrived here, the first Virginians were more than simple subsistence farmers. A subsistence" farmer raises just enough food to feed the family, with none left over for commercial sale. When Jamestown was settled in 1607, Native American villages in Virginia did not have the luxury of consuming all the agricultural products produced by that village. Powhatan demanded a stiff contribution from his subordinate tribes, collecting "surplus" corn and storing it for later redistribution.
The European colonists were engaged from the beginning (almost...) in market-oriented farming. Within the first decade, the Virginia colonists were raising tobacco for export rather than food for subsistence. For the first 5 or more years, the colonists depended upon the resupply shipments from England plus trade with the local Indians for a substantial portion of their food supply. The Native Americans knew that control over the food supply was important. When the Patawomeck who lived at Aquia Creek sold corn to the English, Powhatan lost leverage.
The English sailed to Aquia Creek because that was the edge of Powhatan's control. Transporting the corn in their ships was relatively inexpensive.
Modern transport has dramatically altered agricultural operations. During the winter in Virginia, grocery stores sell fresh vegetables that have been grown in Chile (which, after shipping, may not be as tasty as local crops in season). It is possible to pick a green tomato in the Central Valley of California, ship it as a rock-hard item in a crate, artificially ripen it in an ethylene-filled warehouse chamber, and sell it at the local grocery store - but it will never taste as good as a locally-grown tomato in August.
no-till corn field on Duncan Store Road (Cumberland County)
Source: Clean Water Coalition, Conservation Farming in Virginia
Local farm markets offer an alternative to purchasing food that has traveled long distances to grocery store shelves. In Virginia, there's still a market for "truck farming" where crops are trucked from the farm to the city to be sold fresh, eliminating the costs and quality reduction associated with shipping and selling through a middleman such as Giant, Kroger, or Whole Foods.
ripe pumpkins in the field after Halloween (Nelson County)
Truck farming got its name originally from the word for bartering (Middle English "trukken," based on the Old French "troquer"). When you go to a farmers market now and purchase vegetable from the bed of the truck, it is the negotiation over price - not the vehicle that transported the food - that is the basis for the name "truck farming."
Number of Farms
and Land in Farms - 2000
1 1998 Statistical Abstract of the United States. Total surface area includes 107.9 million acres of water areas.
Source: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
silo in the Shenandoah Valley, 1941
Source: Library of Congress, Scenes of the northern Shenandoah Valley, including the Resettlement Administration's Shenandoah Homesteads (by Ben Shahn, 1941)
Virginia farms in the Shenandoah Valley are typically smaller than in Southside
Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Ag Census Web Maps, Average Size of Farms in Acres: 2012
suburbanization has not yet converted this farm at Antioch, in Prince William County, into a housing subdivision
Source: Historic Prince William, Farm at Antioch and I-66 - #283
Agricultural Research & Extension Centers across the state host "farm days" to transfer the latest research to farmers
Source: Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research & Extension Center, Virginia Small Grains Field Day (May 21, 2020)
cropland trends in Virginia, 1982-2017
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service RCA Data Viewer, Land Use Trends
the average annual extreme minimum winter temperature defines the plant hardiness zones for Virginia
Source: US Department of Agriculture (USDA), USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (2023)
Virginia soybeans arrive in Port of Dandong, China
Source: News Release, Governor McDonnell Announces Soybean Export, Business Agreements between Perdue Agribusiness and China's Dandong Port Group (September 15, 2011)
plows pulled by horses/mules to till the soil required sharpening and repair
Source: Library of Congress, Mending a plow which has been bought through funds advanced by the Resettlement Administration. Virginia (by Arthur Rothstein, 1935)
nearby markets are essential for agriculture, so transportation costs are low enough for farmers to make a profit
Source: Library of Congress, Market in the Negro section, Newport News, Virginia (by Paul Carter, 1936)
Farm ponds in Fauquier County (at Paris)
in commercial aquaculture operations, clams are protected by netting to reduce loss to predators
Source: Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Shellfish Aquaculture, Farming and Gardening
Federal and Confederate foraging parties in the Civil War stole livestock, poultry, and crops from local farmers
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated History of the Civil War, The Return of a Federal Foraging Party Into Camp Near Annandale Chapel, VA (p.31)
soldiers on both sides raided Virginia farms during the Civil War, supplementing official rations with "captured" beef, pork, and chicken
Source: Library of Congress, The bivouac feast after a successful forage in the enemies country after the occupation of Munson's hill (October, 1861)
after slavery ended, Virginia farmers sought new technology to reduce the need for farm labor
Source: The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Directory, Containing an Illustrated History and Description of the Road (p.119)