The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture is the oldest agricultural society in the United States. Organized in 1785, it has played key roles in developing many of the farming methods and institutions responsible for the abundance that is the hallmark of our modern food system. Practices now commonplace – such as crop rotation and management of soil fertility – have their roots in the robust dialogue and exploration of change that have marked the Society’s meetings and publication activities from its origins to the present day.
The Society was founded by twenty-three of the leading merchants, businessmen and land-owners in the Philadelphia area, four of whom were signers of the Declaration of Independence. While the wealth and prosperity of the country was dependent on agriculture, the founders realized that poor farming practices were already eroding soil fertility. For American agriculture to achieve its destiny, the methods of scientific agriculture that had become so common in Britain needed to become available to the general farmer. This became the Society’s mission—to discover and disseminate the best methods of scientific farming practice.
While the idea of an agricultural society originated with Benjamin Franklin, the catalyst for the organization came from Judge John Beale Bordley, formerly a judge of the British Admiralty Court in Maryland who owned extensive lands on Wye Island. General George Washington was soon elected an honorary member because he was a keen agriculturist involved in developing new methods on his Mt. Vernon acreage.
In addition to hands-on farming, the Society’s influence in the nineteenth century led to the establishment of important research and educational institutions, not least of which are Pennsylvania State University, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
To purchase Elizabeth Mosimann’s Promoting Agriculture in a Changing World: 225 Years of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-2010 written in Philadelphia: 2012, click here.
To read Simon Baatz’s Venerate the Plow: A History of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-1985. Philadelphia: 1985. click here.
To read Stevenson Fletcher’s The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-1955. Revised ed. Philadelphia: 1976. click here.