Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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SIDEWALK AND SUITCASE FARMERS

The term "sidewalk farmers" refers to individuals who live in urban areas and drive to the country to care for their crops and livestock. In 1935 the federal census of agriculture recorded 213,325 Oklahoma farms, but by 1980 there were only 72,000. In the 1997 census, due to a change from the Standard Industrial Classification System (SIC) to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), aligning Canada, Mexico, and United States enumeration categories, the number of farms in Oklahoma increased to 74,214. However, 41,154 of these owners claimed their primary income came from something other than farming. There are thousands of these part-time agriculturalists in the state, and they spend much of their weekend taking care of the family farm.

Less numerous are "suitcase farmers," who reside great distances from their land but tend it a few weeks annually at planting and harvesting time. This type of hobby farming lends itself to wheat, one of Oklahoma's most popular crops. Suitcase and sidewalk farms help many of their owners rekindle a sense of rural identity while enjoying the benefits of waged incomes in urban environments. This often allows families to continue their long relationships with the ancestral farm, which may have been in the family for generations. The fact that ties to the land are held today by city dwellers illustrates the strong agricultural roots that were recorded in the census of 1920, when farm population made up half of the state's population.

SEE ALSO: FARMING, FARMING CULTURE, WHEAT.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gilbert C. Fite, American Agriculture and Farm Policy Since 1900 (New York: Macmillan, 1964). Ralph E. Olson, "Agriculture in Oklahoma," in Geography of Oklahoma, ed. John W. Morris (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977). U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1890-1997).

Larry O'Dell

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