Farming began in this area of Upper Canada in the 1780s with the arrival of the Loyalist settlers. They cleared the land of dense forest to build homes and farms that would provide their basic needs. Over the next several decades, more immigrants joined the first Loyalist settlers. More land was cleared, roads and waterways were improved, and communities grew. By the 1830s farming was well established. Wheat was the main crop and source of income. Then, as now, wheat supplied much of the world's food so there was a ready market for any surpluses which farmers could produce.
By the mid-1850s wheat production began to decline due to a combination of factors: crop diseases (wheat midge, rust and smut), soil exhaustion, and climatic change brought on in part by deforestation. The declining income from wheat sales forced experimentation with mixed farming. This form of farming gained popularity by the 1860s and continued in eastern Ontario for almost 100 years when it was gradually replaced by more specialized dairy farming. By the 1860s, a progressive farmer had become more dependent on livestock for his income. This necessitated a change in the types of crops grown. Hay and oats for livestock feed began to displace wheat on some farms.
Loucks Farm at Upper Canada Village represents four generations of a family working the same land. Each succeeding generation has improved the farm to make it more progressive and profitable. By the 1860s, this farmer is practising mixed farming. He is using "state-of-the-art" horse-powered farm machinery and can afford to attain and benefit from "improved" breeds of livestock, as well as household labour-saving devices.
In the 1860s, not everyone followed up-to-date farming practices. Next door, at the Tenant Farm, manual labour is used rather than farm machinery. This farmer does not own the land which he works, and a portion of his produce goes to his landlord as rent. In all likelihood, the tenant farmer is saving to buy a farm of his own, so he does not spend money on new farm machinery as does Mr. Loucks.
The Ross Farm also represents a mixed farm. In this case a farm which derives its income by cutting and selling firewood to the local community, businesses, mills and passing steamers, all of whom require wood for heat, cooking and/or power (to heat boilers which, in turn, produce steam power). In the 1860s, anyone engaged in the production of firewood or potash was listed as a farmer.
Virtually all of the other industries, businesses and tradesmen within the community provide supplies or services to the farmer, or represent a local market for his produce. Bellamy's Steam Flour Mills, for example depends on farmers from the surrounding area for wheat to grind into flour. The blacksmith repairs farm equipment, and the tinsmith makes a variety of pails and other items used on the farm. Crysler's Store sells hardware to the farmer, and receives items such as eggs as a credit on his account.