The Changing Landscape
In the fall of 1839, James and John Thompson began surveying what would become St. Charles Township. When they ran the section line along the west edge of Primrose Farm, they saw open prairie all around them with a few trees to the east of modern-day Crane Road. The first settlers saw the prairie as future farm fields. They began reshaping the land to meet the needs of agriculture. They plowed under native plants, installed tiles to drain wet soil, built fences to keep livestock in and introduced new plant and tree species. Primrose Farm has changed hands many times over the years but agriculture has remained a constant. Other farms that formed the neighborhood have been developed for different purposes. Non-farm residential construction began in the 1960s and took off in the late 1980s.
Glycine max, is an annual legume grown for a variety of purposes. Its high protein content makes the soybean an excellent source of food for humans and animals. Its rich oil content provides a chemical store house for countless products ranging from biodiesel and cosmetics to pharmaceuticals and whipped toppings. Soybeans are the most important agricultural export of the United States. In 2008, American farmers grew an estimated 2.92 billion bushels. Illinois farmers contributed a little over 416 million bushels to that total. The value of Illinois crops alone exceeded $4 billion dollars. The soybean is native to East Asia and has been in cultivation throughout China for more than 5000 years. It is a relatively recent addition to crop rotations in the west. Henry Ford is credited with popularizing the soybean. His Edison Institute researchers helped create the modern industrial processes needed to make soy-based paints, plastics and many of the food products in your pantry.
Corn or maize was domesticated 7000 years ago in Central America. Its cultivation spread rapidly and changed the way of life for countless Native Americans. By the time of European exploration, corn and her “sister” plants – beans & squash – were being grown from the tip of South America to the shores Eastern Canada and New England. From its humble origins as a wild grass called Teosinte, corn has become the most important agricultural commodity in the world. In 2004, the corn crop in the United States was valued at $23 billion. Illinois farmers grew just over 2 billion bushels of corn or nearly 8% of the world’s total. That’s more than the entire European Union produced. Only one country produced more corn than the State of Illinois – China grew nearly 5 billion bushels.
Soil Erosion & Conservation
Erosion is defined as the wearing away of the lands surface by running water, waves or moving ice and wind. Erosion causes one of the biggest drains on agricultural productivity. Soil disturbance from farming and construction results in the loss of nearly two billion tons of earth in the United States annually. That’s enough soil to cover the entire state of Illinois with more than an inch and a half of new top soil each year.
Primrose Farm makes use of three distinct soil conservation methods.
- The filter strip along the edge of the pathway is made up of grasses and other herbaceous plants. It acts to slow runoff thereby causing eroded soil to settle out.
- The grass water way that runs across the field is a shallow ditch planted with native grasses forbs and sedges. It directs surface water along its path. The slow moving water is exposed to sunlight which helps to decompose any fertilizers or other chemicals. The native grasses also provide an excellent bird habitat.
- The tenant farmer uses No Till cultivation in the crop rotation. This practice minimizes the amount of soil disturbance by planting a new crop over the remains of the previous crop. Corn and bean stubble can be seen standing in the field between harvests. The old vegetation helps keep soil in place through winter storms and spring snow melt.
The Jorstad Exhibit
Stan Jorstad, a nationally renowned landscape photographer and St. Charles resident, generously donated 17 photographs of Primrose Farm, a 1930s living history farm, from his private collection to the St Charles Park District in April 2006. The collection of 17 black and white images are on display at the south end of the Pottawatomie Community Center. More details: click here