New England - Agriculture
Agriculture was a major occupation of the early settlers, but farms tended to be small and production limited. Early farming was primarily a subsistence activity. The peak of agricultural development in northern New England probably came just after the start of the 19th century. But two developments elsewhere in America soon began to pull people off their farms, first in a trickle, then in droves.
One was the opening of the West. Settlement moved beyond the Appalachians onto the rich farmlands south of the Great Lakes early in the century. Then, in the 1820s, the construction of the Erie Canal, and later other canals farther west, made the markets of the East Coast more accessible to western farmers. The poor farms of upper New England rapidly lost what little market they had to crops imported from places like Ohio and Indiana. New Englanders left their farms and joined the migration westward, exchanging bad land for good.
A second blow to the region's agricultural fortunes occurred during the late 1700s and early 1800s with the development of manufacturing in southern New England, where the Industrial Revolution began in the United States. Industrial growth created a great demand for labor. That demand was first met with New England farmers seeking the higher wages and steady income offered by manufacturing employment. An increase in child and female labor, particularly in the textile mills, further enhanced the value of manufacturing work over farming.
Agricultural decline continued across most of the New England for the last 150 years. Today, less than 10 percent of the land in the three states of northern New England is in farms; 100 years ago, the amount was closer to 50 percent. Until the last decade or two, many northern New England towns had patterns of population decline that lasted for a century or more. Farming retreated off the slopes, allowing them to return gradually to forest. Even in the valleys, soils were often too infertile, the climate too cold, and the farms too small for successful agricultural production.
Where farming in the New England remains important, it tends to specialize in single-crop production and to be concentrated in a few favorable locations. For example, the acid soils of Washington County, in northeastern Maine, support one of America's major centers of wild blueberry production.
While agriculture is found in a number of other locations, two significant areas of agricultural production in the region deserve special notice. One of these is the St. John-Aroostook Valley, an area of northeastern Maine and western New Brunswick (in Canada). The area's silty loam soils are ideal for potato growth, and the short growing season encourages a superior crop that is used widely elsewhere as seed potatoes. Large-scale, mechanized farming predominates.
The valley's potato growers have gone through a difficult period during the past several decades as a result of a declining market demand for potatoes and a preference on the part of consumers for the potato products of Western growers. As a result, poultry and eggs, mostly from large producers in south-central Maine, now account for half of the state's agricultural income--double the potato's share.
The second area is the Lake Champlain Lowland, whose proximity to Megalopolis gives it a substantial market advantage over more distant areas for the sale of milk, a relatively high-bulk, low-cost product that spoils easily and cannot be stored for any extended period. The Champlain Lowland supplies milk to both New York City and Boston. The area's summers are mild and moist, a climatic condition that encourages the growth of fodder crops. These cool summers are also well suited to dairy cows.
Vermont has long led the United States in the per capita production of dairy products. Dairy farming accounts for 90 percent of the state's agriculture, and much of it is found in the Champlain Lowland.In much of the New England, the land is in trees, so lack of a large-scale wood-products industry may be somewhat surprising. However, earlier uncontrolled logging and limited organized reforestation meant that much of the forest that replaced the original trees is of poor quality for both lumber and pulp production.
An exception to this pattern of limited output is the pulpwood production of northern Maine. Here, on some of the most inaccessible large tracts of land in the eastern United States--where a small number of private owners control most of the land--forest industries remain important. Fishing also remains an important, if troubled, part of the economy of the New England. Maine lobstermen account for about 80 to 90 percent of the total US lobster catch, and the state also leads in sardine production.
There are two kinds of ocean fishing in the region. Inshore fishing, the most important, uses small boats and requires a relatively small capital investment, with lobsters and cod the most valuable catch.
Deep-sea fishing on the banks off the coast requires far larger boats and more capital investment. Most fish caught on the banks are bottom feeders such as cod, flounder, and halibut.
New England - Cities
By a slight majority, most of the residents of the New England are urbanites. However, the region contains few substantial urban areas. The two largest cities of northern New England are Burlington, Vermont, and Lewiston, Maine, both of which have about 40,000 residents.
The small size of the major regional centers is a good indication of what may be the greatest single reason for the relatively low per capita income levels found in the region. Most higher-income occupations in the United States are urban based, and this area lacks urban occupations. Although they are less than half of the total, a high percentage of the work force is engaged in primary occupations, which are traditionally among the lowest paying in America. The absence of a large local market and poor access to major urban areas means that primary industries have not served as the foundation for the development of a more broadly based manufacturing economy as they have elsewhere in the United States.
Nevertheless, there seems to be reason to anticipate that the economy will grow in northern New England. The 1980 US census indicated that Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont were the only states outside the South and West to grow at a rate above the national average. In the 1980s, New Hampshire continued to grow at a rate well above the national average, and Vermont and Maine were only somewhat below the average.
There seem to be several reasons for this shift in regional population fortunes. One is the gradual northward growth of Megalopolis. As the cities of the urban region expand, as new peripheral areas urbanize and become a part of urban America, and as people search farther outward to find residences away from the large cities, the Megalopolitan periphery has been pushed steadily northward in New England.
Northern New England is also attracting a number of new manufacturing facilities, which tend to be light industry with medium-sized work forces. In part, they are locating in the region because the employers and their workers find the small-town and rural environments to be good places to live. Also, the construction of several interstate highways into the region during the 1960s has provided greater accessibility.
Tourism has been northern New England's boom industry since the mid-20th century. Fishing, skiing, canoeing, and just driving around looking at the beauty of the place--all of these are a part of this tourist growth.
The economy of the Adirondacks area is also heavily dependent on tourism. Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, is but one of many ski areas. The state of New York oversees much of the area through its Adirondack State Park, America's largest state park.
Strung along the seashores and around the lakes, and strewn across the mountains, is a growing collection of vacation homes--second homes for the well-to-do. They are occupied by the owners for a few months or a few weeks each year and then rented for as much of the rest of the time as possible to help pay the purchase and upkeep costs. In a number of the counties of northern New England, there are more of these part-time dwellings than there are permanently occupied houses.
Finally, many of the coastal communities of Maine, the small college towns of Vermont and New Hampshire, and old villages throughout the region have become popular retirement centers.
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