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Life on the Farm

Eastern families who longed for the opportunity to own and farm a plot of land of their own were able to realize their dreams when Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. The legislation provided 160 acres of land free to any family who lived on the land for five years and made improvements.

Combined with the completed transcontinental railroad, easterners yearning for open space in the West could make it happen. Unfortunately, the lives they found were fraught with hardship.

Money Problems: Overproduction was a problem because the amount of land under cultivation increased and new farming techniques produced greater yields; the food market was flooded with goods and prices fell sharply. While great for the consumer, the farmer had to grow a tremendous amount of food to recoup enough profits to survive the winter.

Often farmers borrowed money to purchase new machinery and fertilizer, becoming hopelessly in debt when the harvest came. High tariffs forced them to pay higher prices for household goods for their families, while the goods they themselves sold were unprotected.

Farmers were often charged higher rates to ship their goods a short distance than a manufacturer would pay to transport wares a great distance.

A Harsh and Isolating Environment: Nature was unkind in many parts of the Great Plains. Hot summers and cruel winters were common. Drought made farming even more difficult. Insect blights raged through some regions, eating further into the farmers' profits.

Farmers lacked political power. Politicians seemed to turn deaf ears to the farmers' cries. Social problems were also prevalent. With each neighbor on 160-acre plot, communication was difficult and loneliness was widespread.

Although rural families were now able to purchase products from catalogs there was simply no comparison with what the Eastern market could provide.

Farmers began to organize and make demands that would rock the Eastern establishment

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Source: Life on the Farm
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