At its roots – literally – both agriculture and horticulture in the Commonwealth followed much the same pattern as in our own timeline. There were, however, two major differences that, over time, caused increasing divergence from our timeline: the model of land-ownership, and the advent of vinery.

On land-ownership, the Agreement of the People ended the near-feudal dominance of existing large landowners. Despite all of his efforts to protect the previous ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’ of the wealthy – and in some ways precisely because of those efforts, and in retaliation for them – Cromwell was forced to stand over a system that, in his name, demolished all of those ‘entitlements’ forever.

By the time of the Restoration, in 1660, land-ownership had become responsibility-based, not ‘rights’-based. The land was longer described as some person’s property – not even the property of the state or the Crown. Land was not, and could never be someone’s purported personal ‘possession’. Instead, it belonged solely to itself; people then lived on it, or by it, or through it, by the grace of the land itself – and also, for the religious, by the grace of God as well. In return, the people would care for and accept responsibility for the land, in perpetuity, as itself.

(When the Commonwealth later reached Australia, they would find a very similar land-ownership model already in place in that land.)

The role of the Commonwealth, in the context of farming and land, was to advise on and administer that relationship – yet importantly, it assigned itself no actual or absolute ‘rights’ to control that relationship between people and place. Ownership (or, more accurately, the stewardship) of a parcel of land could be assigned and managed in any form that the respective community might choose for itself: in terms from our timeline, it might be outwardly similar to a cluster of private farmlets, a commons, a co-operative, a kibbutz or whatever – there were no pre-assigned rules. In theory, someone’s stewardship could be lost if they failed to demonstrate appropriate responsibility for the land: but in practice such ‘exilings’ became quite rare once the Commonwealth had become fully established.

The big difference was that the parasitic landlords, so typical of subsequent centuries in our own timeline – who took and took and took, but gave nothing back – were soon displaced from the picture. If an existing landlord wanted to be able to keep their place in their grand house, they needed to demonstrate their continuing value to the community – usually in the form of practical leadership and governance. (Many did indeed do so, and in those places there might seem on the surface to be little change from before: but the crucial shift was that the relationship was now one between peers, or equals, rather than the old one of master and serf.)

With money now out of the picture (see ‘Economics of the Commonwealth’) there was no gain to be made by trying to force others out from ‘the best land’: the real ‘best land’ was the place where one felt one belonged. And with no money-based pressures to drive people off the land, the drift towards the cities in later centuries was far less pronounced. Far more so than in our timeline, the country’s population remained largely rural until well into the 19th-century.

The other key factor was the advent and impact of vinery. With the arrival of the pump-tree, and its more-certain supplies of water that was safe to drink, mortality-rates dropped precipitously: that fact alone transformed rural life, and helped maintain the farming workforce even against the onslaught of lethal pandemics such as the Plague years of 1665-6.

The warmer climate of the middle decades in the 18th-century pulled the farming-economy out of subsistence alone, and into genuine surplus – just as it did in our timeline. At the same time, more-active viner-based farm-equipment began to become available – self-mobile harrows, spreaders, ploughs, scythes and more, along with a simple but effective self-propelled sled capable of carrying crops to market at the same speed as an ox-hauled wagon – reducing the level of need both for expensive heavy-horses and for large amounts of manual labour. For the peasant / yeoman-economy, freed at last from the dual yoke of the labour and the landlord, life for once became quite easy.

(This was a fact noted with increasing concern by the aristocracies and other elites of those countries beyond the Commnwealth, who had no intention of allowing the same freedoms for their own serfs and subjects. Vinery was forbidden, any possible mention of it actively censored, or derided as the delusions of a country addicted to devil-worship. Faked-up reports about starvation and worse in the Commonwealth became commonplace, and were commonly – though some people did have the wit to wonder how a country that supposedly underwent such frequent famines could have such a surplus of foodstuffs available for export overseas…)

Common-lands remained in common-use: there was no privatisation of the common-lands – the ‘Enclosure Acts’ – such as occurred in our timeline. Despite this difference, the overall practice of farming – and the subsequent yields – were much improved by new methods, such as those developed and pioneered in north Norfolk by Coke of Holkham Hall at the start of the 19th-century. These innovations disseminated even faster than in our timeline, in part because of broader skills-oriented education (see ‘Education in the Commonwealth’).

By the 1830s, not only were the ‘viner-beasts’ more mobile – the common eight-legged frame of the Waggon and suchlike, sometimes chained in multiples for heavy-haulage – but the arrival of steam-powered trains meant that farm-goods could be carried, in much larger volume, much further and faster than before. This in turn made the cities more viable – and requiring far less of the literal horse-power that was so essential in our own timeline.

In the later part of the 19th-century, steam-power began to be used for some tasks for which viner-technology was not well-suited: threshing, for example, but not ploughing. The same trade-offs applied to later technologies, such as internal-combustion engines and electrical power. This continued onward well into the early part of the 20th-century – when everything changed again.

Last Update: September 5, 2017  

September 5, 2017    Farming  

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