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Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

Utah Studies

Changes & Challenges (1950s): Mechanization and Science

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8


Students will examine how changes in transportation and technology shifted the focus of agriculture in Utah.

Estimated Time

45 minutes

Materials Needed

  • Changes and Challenges Interactive Timeline
  • The Great Depression article
  • Growing Crops for the Cannery article
  • Green Treasure in Utah
  • Our Family Farm After the War in Alpine, Utah article
  • The Bureau of Reclamation: A Brief History article

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Vocabulary Words

  • synthetic: produced artificially especially by chemical means; produced by human beings

Background Agricultural Connections

Agriculture in the 1950s, Narrative

By 1950, just one-third of Utahns lived in rural areas. The number of farms dropped to 25,800 as the number of people working in industry increased. The average farm size grew to 465 acres. The fifties saw the complete mechanization of agriculture with tractors and other equipment. Advances in science brought higher production on each acre. Demand for Utah agricultural products fell in the 1950s as surpluses piled up. New refrigerated railcars for carrying frozen foods coast-to-coast led to canneries relocating near large national growers. Utah's canneries began closing and many orchards and croplands were planted with hay or grain, or returned to pasture. Fertile land near Utah's cities was lost to new housing developments. Sheep numbers declined due to limits on grazing and reduced demand for wool because of new synthetic fibers. In 1956 Congress passed the Central Utah Project, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, to enable Utah's share of Colorado River water to irrigate hundreds of thousands of acres of new and existing farmland and provide more water to Utah's cities and industry.

Changes & Challenges Unit

This lesson is one in a series of lessons designed to accompany the Utah Studies course taught throughout Utah. The unit explores the settlement of Utah, the self-sufficient nature of the state's people, and the future of Utah agriculture and agricultural land. The Changes and Challenges Interactive Timeline accompanies the following lessons:

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. View the Mechanization and Expansion (1950s-1990s) Era on the Changes and Challenges interactive timeline with your students.
  2. As a class, listen to the narrative on the tile captioned, "Agriculture in the 1950s."
  3. Ask students to consider mechanization, expansion, and urban growth during this era. Discuss the following questions regarding urban growth:
    • What effect do you think development has on agriculture in Utah?
    • Do you think that farmland should be preserved?


  1. Explain to students that World War II greatly changed farm life and society in Utah. By 1940, less than 45% of Utahns were living in rural areas.
  2. Have students read the attached article Growing Crops for the Cannery by Miriam B. Murphy.
  3. After students have read the article, discuss the association questions:
    • What products were most commonly canned in Utah?
    • What were the major challenges in growing crops for canning?
  4. In 1955 a Utah teacher wrote a book titled Green Treasure in Utah. She wrote about several vegetables grown in Utah at the time. Share the section on vegetables (p. 79) with students, and discuss the following questions: 
    • Which vegetable had a week set a side during the year where people were encouraged to eat more of this vegetable and send it to "friends and relatives?"
    • Which two types were grown?
    • Is there any commercial production of this vegetable today in Utah?
    • Why doesn't Utah grow the variety of vegetables grown in the past?
  5. As a class, read the attached article Our Family Farm After the War in Alpine, Utah with students. Discuss the associated questions:
    • How did Mr. Burgess feel about using machinery?
    • What was his attitude toward the new machines that replace
  6. Explain to students that the history of Utah agriculture has been strongly influenced by federal reclamation projects which bring more water to dry lands. Provide the attached article The Bureau of Reclamation: A Brief History for students to read, or find the article on the Bureau of Reclamation website to learn about the role this organization played in bringing water to the western states. You may also wish to share the video link titled "Bureau of Reclamation" from the multimedia presentation.
  7. Discuss the following questions:
    • Why is the word "reclamation" used for water projects in the West?
    • What projects is the Bureau of Reclamation involved in currently?

Suggested Companion Resources


Debra Spielmaker

Organization Affiliation

Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

State Standards for Utah
Grade 7: Social Studies Standard 4
Students will understand the diverse ways people make a living in Utah.
Objective 2
  • Investigate the past and present role of agriculture in Utah. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Identify the importance of farming and ranching to Utah's economy.
    2. Explain the impact the Great Depression on farmers and agriculture.
    3. investigate how agriculture has diversified and improved over time.
    4. Examine the cultural legacy of agriculture in Utah.
Grade 7: Social Studies Standard 1
Students will understand the interaction between Utah's geography and its inhabitants.
Objective 1
  • Investigate the relationship between physical geography and Utah's settlement, land use, and economy. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Read and interpret a variety of maps.
    2. Identify the physical features and regions of Utah.
    3. Compare and contrast the relationship between physical features and regions to settlement, land use, and the economy.
Objective 3
  • Assess how natural resources sustain and enhance people's lives. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Recognize the impact of water, minerals, wildlife, and forests on people.
    2. Distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources.
    3. Analyze how natural resources improve the quality of life.
    4. Assess the importance of protecting and preserving natural resources.
Objective 4
  • Examine how people affect the geography of Utah. Meeting one or more of the following indicators:
    1. Identify Utah's counties and cities.
    2. Assess how people change the landscape.
    3. Examine how altered landscapes affect people.