Homestead | how machinery changed the look of the farm | Norway

When the industrial revolution brought machinery to the Norwegian farms, it didn't just change the old working methods, it also changed the layout and look of the farmland.
The summer pasture farm of Fagerliseter, located in Nordmarka, Ringerike, Buskerud, Norway. Photo taken in 1928. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Oslo Museum cc pdm.
The summer pasture farm of Fagerliseter, located in Nordmarka, Ringerike, Buskerud, Norway. Photo taken in 1928. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Oslo Museum cc pdm.

A patchwork of fields

When we travel through Norway’s agricultural landscape today, we often see large, undulating fields, with well-sifted soil. What most of us do not realise, is that before the industrial revolution, the view was very different. In many regions, the typical farm consisted of a jigsaw of smaller patches, often with large boulders scattered around, embedded in the soil.

Debris from the ice-age-glaciers

Most of the Norwegian landscape is covered by tons and tons of boulders, stones, pebbles, and sand. This is debris once dropped by the thawing ice-age-glaciers. In some places, the debris is still visible on the surface, or it is mixed in with the soil. And every winter, the frost pushes what seems to be an endless underground supply of stones to the surface, even in fields that have been cultivated and cleared for centuries.

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They planted around the boulders

The historical farmers did not have the tools nor the power to remove the largest boulders from their fields. So, they simply planted around them. In fact, it is said that the large stones were a significant benefit. They absorbed the heat from the sun during the day, and kept the plants warm at night.

Let us use the above photo as an illustration

The main photo above is from a forest-summer-pasture-farm in 1928. But let us use it as an illustration of what an early Norwegian farm might have looked like. The houses will have changed over the millennia – and instead of grass, pretend that there is Stone-age-wheat or -barley.

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As late as in the early 1900s

On some smaller and self-sufficient farms, you could find fields looking like this as late as in the early 1900s. Fields that had fed generation after generation.

The industrial revolution changed everything

A bit simplified, we can say that the industrial revolution came in two major waves in Norwegian agriculture. The 1800s and the early 1900s brought new and sophisticated horse-drawn farm-machinery. To be effective, the new tools required larger and more levelled-out-soil-surfaces. The farmers worked hard to merge smaller patches – and to get rid of boulders and other debris. With the invention of dynamite in the 1860s, they had yet another tool at their disposal.

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A second wave – with powerful tractors and bulldozers

The second wave of development came after World War II. The tractor rapidly outperformed the workhorse, and powerful bulldozers reshaped the landscape to make it more efficient. Improved field-drainage-methods were also implemented, and made more land suitable for cultivation.

Look for old forgotten fields

In museums, we find old buildings and tools. And in the libraries, we can read books about the old world. But the layout of the old farmland is more difficult to see and get a feel for today. When you are next out walking in a rural landscape, look for clues. Maybe you will see traces of old fields that are long since deserted; evidence of activity that stretches far back in time.

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Main source: «Vår gamle bondekultur» by Kristoffer Visted and Hilmar Stigum – J.W. Cappelens Forlag AS 1975.

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