Land Use in Amana Lesson

Goal: Students will understand that there are different ways to organize land ownership and use farmland to support a community.

Introduction

Land Use Lesson Land Use Lesson

One of the most remarkable things about the Amana Colonies is that nearly all of the land held communally until 1932 is still held by one owner, the Amana Society. Of the original 26,000 acres about 22,000 is still used to grow crops, livestock, and timber. This stands in stark contrast to most Iowa farms. Even after several decades of consolidation, the average Iowa farm is still 331 acres. Just 8 percent of farms are larger than 1,000 acres.

The size of the Amana Society's farm was remarkable in the 1850s, when it was established. In 1860 the average Iowa farm was 165 acres, half what it is today. The relatively small size of farms was the result of a number of factors. First, eastern Iowa was largely settled before the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave federal land to settlers. Immigrants to Iowa had to purchase their land, which required a significant amount of capital. Additionally, farmers starting out had to purchase their supplies for the first year, until a crop could be harvested, any equipment or work animals they would need, and seed. Before widespread mechanization of farm labor, farms could only be as big as the local labor pool could harvest.

The American tradition of individual farm ownership set into motion a series of effects that would shape land use in the Midwest and the West. When the American government gained control of the Northwest Territory after the Revolutionary War, settlers were ready to move west in search of farmland. The United States government passed the Ordinance of 1787, which, among other things, established the rectangular grid for surveying new federal lands. This system made it easy to sell, and later, give land to American settlers as the country's boundaries moved west. While it did ease settlement, it created an ownership pattern that disregarded natural land divisions, such as water basins. This made it harder to manage the land in terms of the natural processes that occurred on it because the components of those natural systems had been divided between more than one owner. Additionally, the grid system encouraged dispersed settlement, with each landowner living on his or her own tract rather than in centralized towns, like many European farming communities.

In addition to being larger, the Amana Society's settlements differed from the family farms around it in other ways. It was owned communally and operated as seven separate farms, each supporting a village. The agricultural buildings were centralized in the villages with all of the residences. The land assigned to each farm included a mix of crop, pasture, and timber lands to supply the village's needs. The large water works project, the mill race, benefitted the entire community by supplying power to mills that supported the society economically.

Although the Amana Society did not manage its lands as an ecosystem, or with an eye toward its ecology, its religious practices and the sheer size of the holdings allowed the community to maintain the diversity of the landscape in ways that individual family farms could not. The Amana Society maintained connections with outside markets in order to provide for the community's needs, but did not seek to maximize its profits. Communal houses, communal kitchens, and a goal of self-sufficiency allowed the community not to utilize their land as intensively as a family who farmed as much of their land as possible to maximize their economic return.

After the Great Change in 1932 shifted management of the Amana farms from the communal society to a for-profit corporation, farming in the Amana Colonies became more intensive, but still less so than neighboring family farms. The Amana Society was able to meet its financial goals while still allowing thousands of its acres to be placed in forest reserves. Likewise, some wetlands remain undrained and uncultivated. Buffer strips along streams and ditches have been left uncultivated, providing habitat for animals and non-crop plants. Agriculture has further intensified on Amana Society lands, but it is still less so than on family farms, where economic pressures have led many farmers to plant from fencerow to fencerow, with no space for anything but crops.

While both models have been successful, with each supporting generations of families, the Amana Society offers an interesting comparison to the dominate model. By studying the differences the ideas underlying the land use decisions become clearer and the relative merits of each model can be considered.

Materials
Lesson Steps
  1. Show students the aerial photo from ca. 1975 and have them look for the differences between Amana Society land and surrounding land. It has more trees, is not divided into rectangles, and has fewer roads.

  2. Show students the map of Iowa County showing land ownership in 1886. Talk about why the land was divided into rectangles (the Ordinance of 1787) and notice the different settlement patterns: towns and smaller farms and Amana villages and large tracts of farmland. Discuss what led to these differences (communal ownership, religious and ethnic background of the Amana Colonists, continued corporate ownership). The map from 1917 can also be used to show how this trend continued.

  3. Explain that the Amana Society supported about 1,770 people at its peak population during the communal era. That amounts to about 16 acres of land per person. Compare that to the average Iowa farm's 165 acres per family.

  4. Make a list of the different types of land in the Amana Colonies: prairies, wooded slopes, river bottom forests, wetlands, and terraces. Show students the topographic map of the Amana Colonies. Describe how those land types were used by the colonists: Prairies for crops and pasture, forests for timber and livestock grazing, wetlands drained for pasture and croplands, terraces for village sites. The fairly steady ratio of land use has been 1/3 cropland, 1/3 pastureland, and 1/3 forests, not including the land used for villages and for roads.

  5. Give students a blank land use chart to think about how they would like to utilize their land, and why.

  6. Give students a map of the Amana Colonies with just historic vegetation marked and a blank map and have them design a farm or farms by laying out the individual ownership or communally-owned parcel lines and then dividing the land into the different land use types based on the chart they filled out. Students should create a method for differentiating between the different land use (color, hatchmarks, shading, etc.) and create a key with labels for the different uses.

  7. Have students write short essays about how and why they chose to use their land uses and how they expect to interact with the larger economy (subsistence or market-based economy or a combination of interactions) and what influences (religious, political, or ethnic) undelie those choices and why.
Additional Resources

There are no additional resources for this lesson.

Lesson Extensions
  1. Students could work in small groups to create their farm(s).

  2. Students could present their farms to the class and then discuss the relative merits of their choices. After the discussion, students can decide if they would like to make any changes to their farms.

  3. Students could compute and label the percentages of 26,000 acres they are using for each land use. Each square on the map grid represents 55 acres Students could use pie charts or bar graphs to display their data.
Iowa CORE Standards, Essential Concepts, and Essential Skills addressed by this lesson

K-5 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

#7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


6-12 Writing

#2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

#4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

#7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

#8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while.

#10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


K-2 Social Studies Primary

Understand the changing nature of society.

Understand that people and institutions change over time.

Understand past, present and future.

Understand that people in different times and places view the world differently.


3-5 Social Studies Intermediate

Understand the changing nature of society.

Understand various institutions, ideas, values and behavior patterns change over time.


K-2 Geography

Understand how geographic processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand how human factors and the distribution of resources affect the development of communities and the movement of populations.

Understand how geographic processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.


3-5 and 6-8 Geography

Understand how physical processes and human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand how the use of geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places, and environments.

Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions.


9-12 Geography

Understand how human actions modify the environment and how the environment affects humans.

Understand the use of geographic tools to locate and analyze information about people, places, and environments.

Understand social, cultural and economic processes shape the features of places.

Understand the effects of human and physical changes in ecosystems both locally and globally.

Understand how cultural factors influence the design of human communities.

Understand how geographic and human characteristics create culture and define regions.


K-2 History

Understand people construct knowledge of the past from multiple and various types of sources.

Understand culture and how cultural diffusion affects the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand individuals and groups within a society may promote change or the status quo.

Understand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues.

Understand relationship between geography and historical events.


3-5 History

Understand historical patterns, periods of time and the relationships among these elements.

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.

Understand the effect of economic needs and wants on individual and group decisions

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.

Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.


6-8 History

Understand the effects of geographic factors on historical events.

Understand the role of innovation on the development and interaction of societies.


9-12 History

Understand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.