Subsistence Farming

Image Courtesy of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives

Subsistence farming is the practice of families producing most of the necessities of life from their own land and labor. Until well into the 20th century, most mountain farmers raised animals for food, grew vegetable gardens and orchards, and gathered from surrounding woodlands to provide what they needed for food, shelter and clothing. The chestnut tree played a surprising important part in this economy before its sudden disappearance by 1940. This agricultural system was the foundation for what we remember today as “the traditional way of life in Appalachia.” Industrialization, urbanization, and the loss of farm and forestland ended subsistence farming in the second half of the 20th century. Today only a small fraction of mountain people make a significant part of their livelihood from the land.

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