I'd appreciate any pointer to books or other medias that cover the production of food prior to the industrial revolution (with the regional focus being in Europe or even more narrowly in Germany/Switzerland/Austria and another focus being on the common person)

Points of interest are

  • tools that were used (and if those tools were affordable to the common person)
  • possibility to study or learn agriculture
  • degree of specialization (did every farmer do a bit of everything or were some farmers specialized in, for example, growing wheat while others were specialized in growing vegetables)

I am also intrigued by the question if (and what) farming knowledge might have become mostly forgotten due to the industrial revolution (possibly related to the question History of scientific regression).

  • I would think you could look at many medieval period texts on the lives of serfs and/or peasants for much on what they did or did not know. Although since this period is rather broad you might want to narrow things down a bit to a specific period or workable time range. Life in Europe changed a bit from the Byzantine Empire's wane until the Black Death when life for the underclasses changed.
    – MichaelF
    May 8, 2012 at 12:00

1 Answer 1


The tools used were primarily the standard scythe and plow which had been around for centuries. There were some improvements, such as the mouldboard plough. These tools were made by local craftsmen. The tools were generally either purchased by the landowner or they were crafted by someone in the employ (or servitude) of the landowner. Smaller landowners either made do with what they could craft themselves or that they could barter for.

Agricultural knowledge was generally passed down from parent to child. Formal study in agriculture wasn't common during that time since it was seen as a common pursuit, although there was more interest in biology and animal husbandry than plants.

Most landowners practiced the 3 crop rotation pattern. Which crops were grown/rotated depended on local conditions and markets. Typically, one section would have a grain, such as wheat, barley or rye, another would have a legume, such as peas or lentils, and the remainder wouldn't be planted that season.

You may want to take a look at this online book, A History of Agriculture in Europe and America, for more info. There are some rather expensive college textbooks around that essentially aggregate info from manorial and other such documents. However, you can find much of this source info online for free if you search for it.

  • +1 thank you for the link to the online book; it looks quite promising. May 9, 2012 at 7:05

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