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From Micro to Macro: Sheep to Cows

Afternoon Chef Fan’s! I thought that some of you might like to see what we are talking about this week in the class forums. We had to read a few different articles and then post our responses to 5 questions. Here are the articles and the questions with my responses if anyone is interested.

Read four of the following articles – choose two on sheep and two about cows — and then respond to the “Concepts and questions” section. Focus on the 19th century causes and effects that change the state (you may incorporate contemporary global issues).


  1. An Era of Great Change: 1820 – 1850. William Jarvis and the Merino Sheep Craze
  2. Sheep in Vermont
  3. Billings Farm sheep


  1. Vermont dairy history
  2. History of Cabot Cheese
  3. Current dairy crisis
  4. Value-added

Concepts and questions to consider:

What have you learned and gained about agriculture and food history? Identify links between one cause and effect and explain the connections?

It is very interesting to see the changes that have gone on in Vermont in both the wool and dairy industries. For example in the article about the Southdown Sheep it says: “The reforestation of Vermont which began in the late 19th century would have been much more difficult had sheep remained dominant in Vermont’s agriculture.” (billingsfarm.org) I didn’t know that sheep are actually much worse for the landscape because of the way that their mouths are formed. It is interesting to think about what Vermont would look like if wool production had not been replaced by dairy and butter production. However when the population of cows outnumbered people, 421,000 to 359,000 in 1930 this type of change is somewhat expected. (Cabot Cheese)

Can you apply this information to analyze and explain historical change and perhaps contemporary times?

Looking at the information present in the Cabot timeline it is easy to analyze the effect that the dairy industry had on Vermont’s economy. In 1985 the same year I was born there were still 3000 dairy farms active in Vermont. However I don’t think a better example of change can be seen then the examples that are given in the paper An Era of Great Change: 1820-1850. The paper talks about how William Jarvis basically created the town of Weathersfield, Vermont. It also says that because of his introduction of the Merino Sheep he could also be credited with consolidation of small family farms to bigger farms required to keep up with the demand of wool production.

From the readings, what contributes to entrepreneurial creativity and drive?

Cabot once again comes to mind when I think about this question. What a better solution to the overabundance of dairy milk then to come together and create a coop? This allowed the local farmers to sell their extra milk to Cabot to make butter and more importantly allowed them to sell this butter to other states and boost the Vermont economy. When it got to the point that Cabot butter wasn’t selling as well they started making cheese and the rest is history.

Do the innovations make life easier?

I don’t know if the innovations this week really make life easier. I say this because all the changes that Vermont went through with the industry change over from wool to dairy meant that a lot of people lost everything. Also in the article The Real Price of Milk  it talks about the “1,500 to 2,000 immigrant workers, most lacking legal papers, who toil invisibly behind the scenes in the Vermont’s beleaguered dairy industry, working 80-hour weeks and living in total isolation, often sleeping in the very barns with the cows they tend.” This is a modern day article and I don’t know that life has really gotten any easier for these immigrant workers.

Are there unseen or unanticipated consequences to these changes?

I am going to reference back to The Real Price of Milk and say that yes it does have unseen or unanticipated consequences. I was in Vermont for about 1.5 years while at NECI and I can honestly say that I ever saw or heard anything about immigrant workers or the hardships they faced.  We can also look at the raise in the dairy industry and the economic devastation that it reaped on the wool market as an unanticipated consequence to the farmers that lost almost if not everything. The real lesson here is that any change has some kind of consequence.



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