Virginia Agriculture

no-till corn field on Duncan Store Road (Cumberland County)
no-till corn field on Duncan Store Road (Cumberland County)

Long before Northern Virginia had the Pentagon,
Long before Virginia Beach became a tourist resort,
Long before Southwest Virginia began mining coal,
Long before Richmond created cannon at the Tredegar Iron Works,
Long before Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Newport News handled cargoes from ships,
Long before even John Rolfe shipped tobacco from Jamestown...
Virginia's economy was based on agriculture.

flat farm field next to Bacon's Castle (Surry County)
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's 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.

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 a grocery store. However, 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's the negotiation over price - not the vehicle - that is the basis for the name "truck farming."

Number of Farms and Land in Farms - 2000
State # of Farms Avg. Farm
(in acres)
Total Land
in Farm
(in acres)
Acreage in
Entire State1
Virginia 49,000 178   8,700,000   26,091,000  
Maryland 12,400 169   2,100,000   6,695,000  
N. Carolina 57,000 161   9,200,000   33,708,000  
S. Carolina 24,000 196   4,700,000   19,912,000  
W. Virginia 20,500 176   3,600,000   15,508,000  
U.S. 2,172,080 434   942,990,000   1,937,726,000  

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

Virginia soybeans arrive in Port of Dandong, China
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)

Agriculture and Climate in Virginia

Bye Bye, Virginia Farmland - Hello, McDonalds?

Native American Agriculture in Virginia

Colonial Agriculture

Farm Ponds in Fauquier County at Paris
Farm ponds in Fauquier County (at Paris)


Federal and Confederate foraging parties in the Civil War stole livestock, poultry, and crops from local farmers
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)

Virginia Places